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About 530 species of birds are found in Florida, with 196 that breed in the state. It can be challenging to know what the best places are for bird watching. This is why we have compiled a list of the best places to help you choose.
The best bird watching spots in Florida are in southern areas such as the Everglades National Park and on the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and at Fort Clinch State Park in the northeast.
A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 12 birding spots in Florida:
|PARK||INTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE|
|The Everglades National Park||Snail Kite and Magnificent Frigatebird|
|Lake Okeechobee||Crested Caracara and Sandhill Crane|
|Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary||Blackpoll Warbler and Cape May Warbler|
|Big Cypress National Preserve||Swallow-tailed Kite and Short-tailed Hawk|
|Dry Tortugas National Park||Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, and Masked Booby|
|Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge||Florida Scrub Jay and Wood Stork|
|Blackwater River State Park||Hairy Woodpecker and Yellow-billed Cuckoo|
|Bald Point State Park||Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Peregrine Falcon|
|Matanzas Pass Preserve||Spotted Sandpiper and Reddish Egret|
|Castellow Hammock Preserve and Nature Center||Rufous Hummingbird and Buff-bellied Hummingbird|
|Crandon Park in Key Biscayne||Mangrove Cuckoo and Broad-winged Hawk|
|Fort Clinch State Park||Black Skimmer and Piping Plover|
Read on to learn more about each of my top bird watching spots in Florida and what they have to offer you.
TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).
Best Places to Bird Watch in Florida
Florida covers 24 million acres of land and shore. The large area includes a variety of habitats for birdlife in Florida This is why so many species are found in the state. You have the wetlands in the south, east, and west coast, the central area, and the panhandle.
1. The Everglades National Park
This is undoubtedly the most famous wildlife area in the entire state of Florida. You have probably heard of the Everglades and the many alligators and snakes there. In my opinion, the prolific birdlife is the number one reason for visiting the Everglades.
This is a must-see spot for all bird watchers. You can see as many as 380 species of birds here, either passing through on migration or staying and breeding in the area.
This is a great place to see many waterbirds but one you will want to spot is the Magnificent Frigatebird. Also, keep an eye out for the Snail Kite:
This is a critically endangered raptor that occurs in the Everglades and feeds mainly on Apple Snails. The Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow is another endangered species found here. To find these sparrows you need to look in recently burned and flooded grasses.
2. Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee is in the central part of the Everglades and should be on your list of bird watching spots. Lake Okeechobee is a designated Audubon Sanctuary and is a large lake, with a 135-mile shoreline. The State of Florida has recognized this area as an important site for bird conservation.
Special birds to see here include Crested Caracaras and Sandhill Cranes. There are also protected rookeries with breeding egrets. You can look out also for Purple Gallinules and Mottled Ducks and you may even spot a Snail Kite overhead.
3. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
This is another Audubon sanctuary that is located in the Everglades. It is a nice area to visit because of the boardwalks that you can walk on.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Roseate Spoonbills, and Bald Eagles are often seen here. Several warbler species are present during spring migration including the Blackpoll Warbler and Cape May Warbler.
There is also a handy bird list that you can download for the area. This makes bird watching a little easier especially if you are not an expert.
4. Big Cypress National Preserve
This is right next to the Everglades and is another good option for wetland birds. This preserve has cypress swamps, hardwood forests, and prairies. You can see Short-tailed Hawks and Swallow-tailed Kites here.
Short-tailed Hawks are not seen in many spots in the United States and are only present in parts of southern Arizona and Florida. Big Cypress National Preserve is a good place to find water birds like Roseate Spoonbills and Anhinga.
The preserve is large, covering 729,000 acres. It is also convenient because you can drive along the roads and keep an eye out for birds. The one road passes artificial canals that are packed with water birds. This is a good way to get close views of herons, egrets, spoonbills, and even gallinules.
5. Dry Tortugas National Park
The park consists of islands and is found west of Key West Florida, which means it takes some planning to visit the area.
You need to take a ferry to get to this park but it is a good choice for finding oceanic birds that you won’t see anywhere else. Brown Noddies, Sooty Terns, and Masked Boobys can be regularly seen. There are thousands of Sooty Terns in the Dry Tortugas.
They nest on Bush Key in summer and spring. Since there are vulnerable nesting birds in the Dry Tortugas, the park is only open at certain times of the year, so you need to check operating hours when planning a trip.
6. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
This is one of my favorite places to visit. This refuge is located east of the city of Orlando. This refuge covers a large area of 140,000 acres and provides a habitat for many animals including birds. There are dunes, saltwater marshes, pine woodlands, and hardwood forests.
What makes the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge so special is that it is on the Atlantic flyway for bird migration. This is one of the main pathways that thousands of migrating birds follow every spring and fall.
Many migrating species rest and feed in the refuge before continuing their journey. You can find birds such as Tricolored Herons, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, and the threatened Florida Scrub Jays.
7. Blackwater River State Park
This is a terrific option for seeing both forest and water birds. This state park is located in Santa Rosa County in the western Florida panhandle.
The park is made up of longleaf pine trees and wiregrass and of course the Blackwater River. You can find many of the usual forest and woodland birds like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, chickadees, cardinals, and titmice. It is also a good place to see the Hairy Woodpecker.
A good reason I like this park is that you can camp here and then also rent out canoes or kayaks. You can canoe and bird watch at the same time.
Why not scan the waters and shores of the river while out on a canoe? If you want to stay on land, you will still see a lot of birds, and if camping, expect to hear some owls.
8. Bald Point State Park
This park is located on the eastern shores of Florida. Bald Point is on a peninsula, which makes this area particularly good for seeing migrant birds. You can find warblers and even Bald Eagles in this area during Fall migration. The habitats here include oak and pine forests and marshes.
I would also recommend this state park for viewing the annual hawk migration. Northern Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, and other raptors like Cooper’s Hawks can be easily seen in migration along the coast here.
You can walk along a boardwalk and bird watch in the nearby marshes. There is also a convenient observation deck where you scan marshland for birdlife.
The park also allows fishing, primitive camping, hiking, and various water activities like swimming and canoeing. It’s a great place to bring the family with while on your bird watching adventure.
9. Matanzas Pass Preserve
This is a park located on the Great Florida Birding Trail, which extends all the way from the northern panhandle area down to the Florida keys. It includes reserves we have already mentioned like the Everglades and Merritt Island State Park.
Matanzas Pass is a special place because it contains three mangrove species. There are boardwalks you can walk on to easily access the mangroves and sands for bird watching.
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can be spotted in the trees. The area is good for spotting Reddish Egrets and Spotted Sandpipers, in addition to many other types of shorebirds.
10. Castellow Hammock Preserve and Nature Center
This 112-acre area is found in Miami. You can walk on the self-guided trail that passes through the indigenous forest. A range of beautiful birds can be spotted here including hummingbirds and Painted Buntings.
Rufous Hummingbirds are known to overwinter in the area. This is a great little park I like when in the Miami area. At least 160 species of birds have been recorded in the Castellow Hammock Preserve.
Buff-bellied Hummingbirds and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are commonly spotted in this area. White-winged Doves and Red-shouldered Hawks are also likely to be seen here.
11. Crandon Park in Key Biscayne
This park is found on the Key Biscayne barrier island. A special bird you can find here in fairly large numbers is the Mangrove Cuckoo. This is a bird that lives in the mangroves of the Florida keys.
This is the main reason Crandon Park is on my list of top spots. The cuckoos are difficult to find because they are secretive. You also won’t find these cuckoos outside of Florida.
12. Fort Clinch State Park
This state park makes my list for the habitats and number of bird species seen here. This park is in the northeastern region of Florida and has lots of grassland and tidal marshes that are excellent for birds. The area boasts at least 258 species of birds.
You can expect to find Piping Plovers and Black Skimmers here as well as many other birds. Look in the marshes for elusive Clapper Rails and in the ocean for the near-threatened Common Eider and Black Scoter.
Best Time to Bird Watch in Florida
You can see the maximum number of birds during migration which happens in the fall and spring every year. However, any time of year will be good for bird watching in Florida because there are always birds around.
It also depends on where you are going in Florida since some areas like the Dry Tortugas are only open at specific times of the year. It is also worth remembering that Florida is very hot in the summer so keep that in mind if you plan to camp out in one of the parks.
|TYPES OF BIRDS||SEASON|
|Orioles and Warblers||Spring from April through to May|
|Ducks and Geese||Winter from December to February|
The Florida State Bird
The Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, is considered the Florida State Bird. These are bold birds that are very vocal. If a mockingbird is in the neighborhood, you definitely will know about it. The mockingbird is in the same bird family as the thrashers.
Mockingbirds often nest near people when they are in suburbia. They are as aggressive as thrashers when it comes to protecting their young from intruders. It is not surprising that the mockingbird is the state bird of more than one state since it is a bold, noticeable, and easily identifiable species.
Bird Watching Laws in Florida
There are laws in Florida regarding bird watching and what you can and cannot do. You are not allowed to possess any wild bird or its eggs or nest. You may not catch, transport, or sell any indigenous birds.
Birds that are not protected under Florida law include invasives such as the House Sparrow, Egyptian Good and Common Starling, Eurasian and African Collared Dove, and Rock Dove.
My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching
Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it.
The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.
A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts.
In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.
These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.
Bird Watching Ethics
There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.
- Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
- Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
- Do not disturb birds on nests.
- Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.
Florida is a fantastic state for bird watching. You have such a range of habitats from marshes and mangrove swamps to hardwood and pine forests. The spots I have chosen include places where you can see a lot of migrants and endangered species like the Snail Kite.