Whether you enjoy birdwatching to spot new species, or to capture them on photographs, Florida has plenty of great spots for finding flocks of birds. Many bird species spend the winter in Florida. Others stop to rest on Florida’s lakes and marshes en route to warmer destinations along the Gulf migration flyway. Southwest Florida has some of America’s top refuges for spotting rare and unusual birds, from waders and ducks to impressive birds of prey.
The best time to spot perching birds in their natural habitat is during the early hours after sunrise or just before sunset. If you want to get upclose, wear light colored clothing that blends in with nature and does not rustle as you walk. Move slowly and stay quiet to get the best results, whether you are in a hide or watching from a natural lookout point.
Stay away from nests, especially if they contain eggs or young birds. Never touch a nest or remove an egg as the parent may desert the nest, leaving the young birds to starve.
Top Birdwatching Locations near Sarasota
The Sarasota Audubon Society manages a 300-acre wetlands site at the Celery Fields. It organizes several trips and activities for birdwatchers every month, so checkout their website. This natural area is the main stormwater collection zone but also serves as a natural recreation area. The ponds, marshes and canals are lined with willow, pines and reeds making it perfect for birds. This area is ideal for birdwatching from the boardwalks, gazebo and hiking trails and is easily accessed from the I-75 exit 210. Unusual birds to look out for are sandhill cranes, limpkins, bobolinks, bald eagles and harriers.
Further south, the Venice Audubon Society manages the Rookery, open daily from dawn to dusk and it is always popular with bird photographers. Shady pavilions overlook the small lake or walk around to spot egrets, blue herons, glossy ibis, green herons, anhingas and many other species feeding and building their nests. Volunteer staff are on hand to help identify species or lend a pair of binoculars. This prime birding site is just off the US-41 in Venice on Annex Road. Look out for purple gallinules, common yellowthroats, black bellied whistling ducks, skimmers and Florida burrowing owls.
Top Birdwatching Locations near Fort Myers and Sanibel
Another popular mecca for birdwatching is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Reserve on Sanibel Island. Walk the boardwalks, hike or cycle the trails or take a guided tour of the refuge with a trained naturalist. Known as one of the finest wildlife refuges in the USA, it has lakes, rivers, swamps, streams, ponds, forests and mudflats with both freshwater and saltwater areas. Birds include wood storks, grebes, anhinga, white and brown pelicans, all types of herons, egrets, ibis, killdeer, kingfishers, mottled ducks and other rare species.
Part of the Florida Birding Trail, Lovers Key State Park is situated between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. You need to allow a few hours to enjoy this scenic spot which has mangrove swamps, hardwood and mixed forests, beaches, dunes and mudflats on Estero Bay. Visitors can go birdwatching by boat, bicycle or on foot and are likely to be rewarded with sightings of red-shouldered hawks, osprey, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, snowy plovers, terns and reddish egrets.
Top Birdwatching Locations near Naples and Marco Island
Located on the northwest coast of Marco Island, Tigertail Beach is an excellent spot for viewing birds in the tidal lagoon and mangrove swamps. Shorebirds such as plovers (piping, Wilson’s and snowy), terns, red knots and other unusual species are commonly seen. Falcons, ospreys, bald eagles and pelicans can be seen diving for fish off the beach. The state-owned Critical Wildlife Area has many nesting colonies in spring and the area is particularly busy during the migration season.
Different bird species can be found at Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which is 23 miles east of Bonita Springs and North Naples. This inland wildlife sanctuary covers a range of different habitats which can be reached from the 2.25 mile boardwalk, As well as the usual herons and egrets, visitors may spot barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, warblers and colorful painted buntings. The wood stork rookery is popular during the breeding season and there are always plenty of volunteer naturalists on hand to help identify different species.
As you can see, there are so many great birdwatching locations in southwest Florida. We hope you get to enjoy them all!