Black skimmer (Rynchops niger) Pensacola, Florida, USA.

Florida goes to the birds

Susan Barnes

 One of the things we enjoy about having a backyard in Florida is the birds that pass through. My husband has set up what I call an aviary sanctuary, complete with bird feeder and bath, and plenty of trees and bushes on which to perch while birds wait their turns. We spot seasonal visitors in the spring and fall, passing through en route to their destinations, and it’s fun to see who will stop by each year; our fave is a grosbeak.

If you’re into birding, you’ve come to the right place – Florida! More than 500 species of birds have been seen in the Sunshine State, and with the right planning – and a little luck – you may spot a few to cross off of your Life List.

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT), a program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is a network of 510 premier wildlife viewing sites throughout the state, perfect for bird- and wildlife-watching. The trail is divided into four sections, and 9 “gateway” sites have been designated at exceptional birding locations found in each:

Panhandle

Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge near Tallahassee

East

Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, east of Orlando

Tenoroc Fish Management Area in Lakeland, between Orlando and Tampa

West 

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville

Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde, south of St. Pete Beach

South 

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, northeast of Naples 

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, near Boynton Beach

These gateway sites have visitor centers complete with birdwatching tips, loaner optics and copies of free trail guide booklets.

Oh, the birds you may see!

Roseate Spoonbill

 

The roseate spoonbill is commonly mistaken for a flamingo.

In the Panhandle section of the GFBWT, there are more than 70 sites at which birdwatchers will want to roost, from Pensacola to Panama City to Tallahassee and points in between. Keep an eye out for purple Gallinule, swallow-tailed Kite, black-bellied plovers and roseate spoonbill (often mistaken for flamingos) in this part of the state.

 

The colorful painted bunting is always a joy to see. (©️Jack Rogers for floridabirdingtrail.com)

The East region of the GFBWT was the first to open in 2000. More than 180 birding sites can be found from Amelia Island, Jacksonville and St. Augustine south through Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach to Port St. Lucie, and west through Orlando and Lakeland up to Ocala. Of the 40 most popular species sought after in Florida, the bald eagle, painted bunting, Florida scrub-jay and sandhill crane may be found here.

Mother crane and chick

 

Sandhill cranes may be spotted in several regions throughout Florida.

One hundred and fifteen sites make up the West section of the GFBWT, which encompasses Madison in northern Florida, hugging the Gulf coastline through Tampa and St. Petersburg, south through Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, with a few inland counties thrown into the mix. Here, birders may spot the magnificent frigate bird, sandhill crane, snowy plover and swallow-tailed kite.

Limpkin

 

A limpkin takes a walk.

In the South section, birders will find more than 166 sites crisscrossing the state from Sarasota south to Naples along the west coast, through the Everglades, and east to Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and the Florida Keys. In this part of the state, keep your binoculars at-the-ready to spot a snail kite, limpkin, mangrove cuckoo, smooth-billed Ani and white-tailed kite may be spotted here.

Keep track of the species you spy on the Checklist of Florida’s Birds, and you can even become a part of Wings Over Florida, a recognition program for those birders who achieve their Florida life list.

Additionally, birdwatching tours and events are scheduled throughout the state, year-round. Check out floridabirdingtrail.com to find out what’s happening now!

Stay up to date on changing travel conditions; please check with local and statewide authorities for the latest guidelines.

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