Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

Birdwatching in Florida – Tips, Hotspots, and Guide

Last Updated on

woman looking for birds on nature reserve

Florida is no less than a paradise for birdwatchers. The state hosts a wide variety of wildlife and birds and is situated between the ideal temperate and tropical regions. Florida also serves as a migratory corridor for Caribbean birds and others flying as far as the Canadian Prairies.

If you’re planning to visit Florida, get ready to see Limpkin, Snail kite, Roseate Spoonbill, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Burrowing Owl, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Scrub-Jay. It’s understandable why the state welcomes hundreds of tourists and bird watchers every year.

But before you go out in the woods to witness these incredible birds, you need to list the top birding spots in Florida. This post will look at the top birdwatching spots in Florida along with important tips for all bird watchers.

eagle divider

Top 10 Birdwatching Hotspots in Florida

1. Everglades National Park

Type of spot: National park
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Warblers, Grosbeaks, and Sparrows
Fee: $30/private vehicle, $25/motorcycle, $15/pedestrian
Website: https://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm

Spread over 670 acres of land, Everglades National Park is home to a wide range of birds. The park is known for protecting a vast wilderness area in the eastern US. The good thing is that you’d only have to drive less than an hour from the Miami airport to the park.

Start with Royal Palm’s short and easy Anhinga Trail to get a close view of wading birds. Then, move forward to Snake Bight Trail and Mahogany Hammock to see several woodland species, including Black-whiskered Vireo and White-crowned Pigeon.

You’ll also come across multiple roadside ponds hosting ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, herons, and Wood Stork. When you reach the Flaming Visitor Center, don’t forget to watch out for Swallow-tailed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Shiny Cowbird, and Bronzed Cowbird.

Upon reaching the Shark Valley, you’ll come across a 15-mile road to the “River of Grass.” Here, you’re likely to see Snail Kites, egrets, and many waders, so it’s better to take a guided tram tour to not miss watching any birds.

Pros
  • Wide variety of birds
  • A vast area to wander around
  • Suitable for all types of birdwatchers
Cons
  • Limited access to public

2. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Type of spot: Swamp sanctuary
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Wading birds, songbirds, and raptors
Fee:  $17 admission fee
Website: http://corkscrew.audubon.org/

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary offers an easily accessible natural area to the birdwatchers straight into a bald-cypress forest, wet prairie, and pinewoods. Supervised by the National Audubon Society, this 10,500-acre swamp sanctuary is famous for its Wood Storks breeding colony.

Because of the continuous decline in the Wood Stork population, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary possesses unique importance in preserving these birds. In fact, the sanctuary was founded primarily to protect the Wood Storks from extinction.

You may also see Pileated Woodpecker, Tricolored Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Anhinga, Painted Bunting, Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite, Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, and Barred Owl.

Pros
  • A well-maintained swamp sanctuary
  • Consists of a cafe, art gallery, exhibits, and picnic tables
  • Has a rare Wood Storks population
Cons
  • Doesn’t have a wide variety of birds

3. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Type of spot: Wildlife refuge
Difficulty Level: Medium
Common birds seen: Pelicans, wading birds, shorebirds, and migrant warblers
Fee: $10/vehicle, $1/pedestrian, and $1/bicycle
Website: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling 

Florida’s one of the favorite wildlife refuges for birdwatching, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located near Fort Myers on Sanibel Island. The refuge consists of 6,400 acres of land that hosts cafes, condos, greenery, and wetlands. Its unique name is after a conservation-minded cartoonist.

You’ll have to take a 4-mile wildlife drive at the refuge to witness pelicans, gulls, wading birds, shorebirds, and terns. You may also come across Osprey, Short-tailed Hawk, and Swallow-tailed Kite. Keep in mind that the refuge is closed every Friday.

If you love waterfowl, go towards the low tide. Here, you may witness Gray Kingbird and Black-whiskered Vireo during nesting season. If it’s your lucky day, you may also see the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo and Magnificent Frigatebird.

Pros
  • Easily accessible
  • Hosts cafes and condos
  • A wide range of birding opportunities
Cons
  • Closed on Fridays

4. Dry Tortugas National Park

Type of spot: National park
Difficulty Level: High
Common birds seen: Sooty terns, Brown Noddy terns, Brown Booby, and Masked Booby
Fee: $15 entrance fee
Website: http://www.nps.gov/drto

If you’re ready to go beyond your way for your birdwatching passion, Dry Tortugas National Park is your ideal spot. Visiting this national park is not child’s play because it consists of multiple small islands. So, you’d need a boat or a seaplane to reach this national park.

The best time to visit this national park is in spring. Many northbound birds cross the Gulf during this time and visit the 14-acre main island, Garden Key.

Around summer and spring, various Sooty Terns, Brown Noddy terns, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Black Noddies, Masked Booby, and Brown Booby visit the Bush Key. The general public isn’t allowed to visit Bush Key around this time, but you can use binoculars to see them from Garden Key.

Pros
  • Affordable entrance fee
  • Various birding opportunities
  • Wonderful experience of witnessing birds from boats and seaplanes
Cons
  • Reaching this national park is quite hard

5. Big Cypress National Preserve

Type of spot: National preserve
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Herons, Wood Stork, egrets, and Roseate Spoonbill
Fee: No entrance fee
Website: http://www.nps.gov/bicy

Covering over 729,000 acres of the Big Cypress Swamp, this national preserve is home to plenty of wildlife and habitats similar to Everglades National Park. However, the area isn’t visited much. So, if you want to birdwatch in peace, Big Cypress National Preserve is your ideal hotspot in Florida.

This national preserve consists of hardwood hammocks, estuaries, prairies, and cypress swamps, supporting a range of birds.

You’d have to drive one or both preserve roads and stop in the middle to witness some gorgeous birds. The Road Loop Drive passes through artificial canals, helping you see herons, Roseate Spoonbill, egrets, Wood Stork, and waterfowls like Anhinga and Purple Gallinule.

Pros
  • Less-crowded birding hotspot
  • No entrance fee
  • Vast area to explore
Cons
  • Limited access to public

6. Myakka River State Park

Type of spot: State park
Difficulty Level: Medium
Common birds seen: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, wading birds, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Sandhill Crane
Fee: $6/vehicle, $2/pedestrian and bicyclist, $2/person bus tour fee
Website: http://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Myakka-River 

The 37,000-acre land of Myakka River State Park is an excellent hotspot to see several southern Florida bird species. It is located southeast of Sarasota, hosting several waterbirds and songbirds.

The exciting part about this hotspot is that it offers a range of ways to see birds. It consists of hiking trails of 38 miles, canoeing and kayaking, a suspended forest canopy walkway, a wetland boardwalk, and boat tours. So, it all depends on your choice.

The park hosts many waterfowls, including Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, multiple wading birds, Swallow-tailed Kite, Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, and Crested Caracara.

If you’re a beginner, visiting the Myakka River in winter and spring is recommended. You can easily find a birding naturalist for detailed guidance during this time.

Pros
  • Easy to access
  • Multiple ways to watch birds
  • Wide range of waterfowl
Cons
  • Reaching there may not be easy for everyone

7. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Type of spot: Wildlife refuge
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Waterfowl and wading birds, including herons, ibises, egrets, and Roseate Spoonbill.
Fee: Free for under 15 years, $1/above 15 years, $5/noncommercial vehicles
Website: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island 

Located adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge consists of more than 350 bird species. When visiting this beautiful birding hotspot in Florida, you’ll pass through sandy beaches and dunes, palmetto scrub, freshwater and saltwater wetlands, hardwood forests, and pinewoods.

Start with the Black Point Wildlife Drive, which stretches to 7 miles. It is an excellent spot to see waterfowl and wading birds, including herons, egrets, Roseate Spoonbill, Bald Eagles, and ibises. However, you may not find these birds all year round since their populations usually depend on water levels.

Merritt Island is a safe home to Scrub-Jay, a federally threatened bird species in Florida. So, don’t forget to watch for them along the refuge’s roads.

Pros
  • Easy to access
  • Consists of 350 above bird species
  • Holds rare Scrub-Jays
Cons
  • Bird populations vary with water levels

8. Disney Wilderness Preserve

Type of spot: National preserve
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Wild Turkey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Wood Stork, Sandhill Crane, many wading birds, and Scrub-Jay
Fee: $3 for adults and $2 for kids
Website: http://www.nature.org/

This incredible Florida bird-watching spot is the expansion of Kissimmee’s large Disney Complex. The 11,500-acre area hosts several bird species, including Swallow-tailed Kite, Wild Turkey, Wood Stork, Florida Scrub-Jay, Sandhill Crane, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Crested Caracara, Bachman’s Sparrow, and multiple wading species.

A large preserve area isn’t available for public access, but you can hike near the visitor center. If you get the chance to visit East Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Tohopekaliga, you may witness unique Florida birds, Snail Kite and Limpkin.

Pros
  • Wide varieties of rare bird species
  • Easily accessible
  • Affordable entry fees
Cons
  • Limited access to public

9. St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Type of spot: Wildlife refuge
Difficulty Level: Medium
Common birds seen: Bald Eagle, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Anhinga, Common Gallinule, Clapper Rail, and Purple Gallinule
Fee: $5 vehicle, $1 bicycle or pedestrian
Website: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/st_marks 

With 68,000-acre of saltwater and freshwater marsh, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge also consists of pine forests, grasslands, and savannah. It is located south of Tallahassee, providing a home to Bald Eagle nests, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, shorebirds, and waterfowl.

You’ll likely see pelicans and wading birds, including Anhinga, Common Gallinule, Clapper Rail, Purple Gallinule, gulls, and terns. In spring and summer, you may come across Gray Kingbird and Vermilion Flycatcher. In winter, Henslow’s and Nelson’s sparrows are primary visitors of the refuge, while Seaside Sparrows are seen year-round.

Go to the one-mile Tower Pond Trail to hike and witness several land and waterbirds.

Pros
  • A large number of land and waterbirds
  • Easy to access
  • Affordable entrance fees
Cons
  • Bird populations vary as per the season

10. Apalachicola National Forest

Type of spot: National forest
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Red-shouldered Hawk
Fee: $3 per vehicle
Website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/apalachicola 

It is the largest national forest in Florida with more than 600,000 acres of land. Apalachicola National Forest hosts Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman’s Sparrow.

Other bird species include Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Parula, and Swainson’s Warbler. If you visit the forest in winter, you may see Henslow’s Sparrow in grassy areas of the pine woods.

Pros
  • A vast land filled with several endangered bird species
  • Low entrance fee
Cons
  • Not an attractive spot for amusement activities

eagle divider

FAQs

What Is the Best Time to Bird Watch Florida?

Winter is the best season to witness the various bird species. If you have birdhouses or bird feeders installed in your backyard, you’ll likely see a great diversity of wintering land birds, especially in Northern Florida.

Are There Any Rules for Bird Watching in Florida?

No, there are no set rules for birdwatching in the US.

Conclusion

Florida is a great place to see diverse bird species all year round. Many birdwatching hotspots in the state even host endangered species, such as Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Wood Storks.

While some hotspots cost you an entrance fee, others, like Big Cypress National Preserve, allow you to witness amazing Florida birds without any fees. So, get your binoculars ready to watch some great bird species in these birdwatching hotspots in Florida.


Featured Image Credit: Kayla Farmer, Unsplash

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.

Jeff Weishaupt Profile Picture