The 8 Best Spots for Birdwatching in Florida

In the past two years, I have found myself exploring the more natural parts of Florida. On hikes and nature walks, I have come across many birders, with their binoculars and cameras looking for rare birds. Because of this, I have started looking into birdwatching in Florida, including where to go and what to look for. I am no expert in this hobby though, so luckily James from Birdwatching Buzz is here with a guest post!

This blog post contains eight locations to try birdwatching in Florida. James has broken it up by year round and seasonal Florida birding spots. He also has some tips for those who are interested in birding! Read on for recommendations and tips from James.

Guest Post by James of Birdwatching Buzz

northern cardinal in florida

Planning a trip to Florida and want something different than a beach vacation? Let me clue you in on a side of the Sunshine State that not enough people see; it’s nature and birds!

There are so many fun activities to do in Florida that it’s nature reserves are sometimes forgotten. But if you want to go off the beaten path and have a few moments of quiet, Florida birdwatching is for you.

If you have never been birdwatching before then you might imagine a retired couple in safari gear. I think that couple is a charming reminder of how beautiful marriage can be but nowadays you will see all sorts of people with a pair of binoculars.

I highly recommend that you try birdwatching too, especially as a family activity. You will get to see some of the most beautifully peaceful parts of Florida and experience the thrill of spotting a rare bird.

To help you plan this activity better, I’ve listed some of the best spots for birdwatching in Florida and which bird species you might see there. I hope this helps in converting you into a birder.

Best Spots for Birdwatching in Florida All-Year Round

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Spend a few days on Sanibel Island and you will fall in love. This part of Florida is quite magical. It has all the ingredients of a romantic beach vacation with J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge as a wonderful nature escape. There are residential birds all year round plus the park is easily accessible by car. If you need a spur of the moment place to go birdwatching – this is it.

Birds to Spot:

  • Rosy Spoonbill
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Black Skimmer

Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area

Piping Plovers are the big winter attraction on Honeymoon Island and the surrounding barrier islands. These adorable little shorebird have big eyes and long legs for the size of their body which makes them so cute to look at. Take a walk along the shore, mudflats or sandflats and you will see hundreds of them. On your visit you might also see a few more shorebirds that are staying warm down south during winter.

Birds to Spot:

  • Snowy Plover
  • Sharp-Tailed Sparrow
  • Prairie Warblers

Everglades National Park

No nature trip to Florida is complete without a visit to the Everglades. As one of the largest nature reserves on the East Coast, there are endless trails to explore and a variety of micro-habitats. Bring out the hiking shoes and go on an adventure. Try to combine different landscapes so that you can see shorebirds and wading birds but also those that like to hide in the scrubs and bushes.

Birds to Spot:

  • American Oystercatcher
  • Marbled Godwits
  • Snail Kite

Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area

This is one of the wilder areas for birdwatching in Florida. If you get lucky, you might even spot a bear hanging out in these dense hardwood hammocks. It is also a sanctuary for birds since there are both swamps and woods. Like the bigger mammals, many of the bird species in these areas are predators such as hawks and owls.

Birds to Spot:

  • Osprey
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk

j n ding darling refuge

Best Florida Birdwatching Spots During Spring & Fall Migration

Dry Tortugas National Park

This small group of islands off the coast of Key West is an excellent day trip for families with kids of all ages. You can win them over with a ride on the catamaran or seaplane and tales of pirates and treasure. Because the islands are so remote, hundreds of species of birds come here to nest. At the same time, it is a popular resting spot for migratory birds. If you can, make this trip in spring.

Birds to Spot:

  • Gray Kingbird
  • Brown Noddie
  • Sooty Tern

Oscar Scherer State Park

Unlike going to the zoo, it is much more difficult to get near a wild bird. However, the scrub jays in Oscar Scherer State Park are very accustomed to humans. If you’re not careful, they might just come to pick on your snacks. This is also a good place to go hiking with smaller kids since there is more shade in the flatwoods.

Birds to Spot:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Yellow-Throated Warbler
  • Mississippi Kite

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Before you worry about getting filthy in a swamp sanctuary, let me put your mind at ease. The National Audubon Society has set up a very extensive boardwalk network so you can walk across the swamp without getting your feet wet. Come around the spring when the local wood storks are in their breeding season. This is one of the most prosperous populations of wood storks in the United States.

Birds to Spot:

  • Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
  • Anhinga
  • Northern Parula

Fort DeSoto County Park

This is another fantastic day trip option if you are in Key West. Spring time is a wonderful time to visit because there will be a huge influx of birds coming from the North. You will literally hundreds of species of birds in just a few hours. Because of its varying landscape, you will see all kinds of land birds but also those that prefer to be around bodies of water.

Birds to Spot:

  • Black-Throated Blue Warbler
  • Wilson’s Plover
  • Least Tern
bald eagle florida birding

What to Know About Birdwatching in Florida

Before heading out for the day, I would like to give you a few tips for birdwatching in Florida. Just so you don’t have to find out the hard way. Experienced birders might already be aware of these precautions but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them.

  • Carry sun protection! The days get hot in Florida so don’t leave your hotel without a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Bring binoculars for everyone. You don’t want to be fighting over sight when you finally spot a bird on your list.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Closed shoes are often better but if you are taking a walk on the beach then hiking sandals might be more comfortable.
  • Drink plenty of water. The last thing you want is to get a headache from dehydration.

Let me know which beautiful birds you spotted and where. I would also love to hear about some of your favorite birding spots in Florida.

best spots for birdwatching in Florida

Thanks again to James for sharing his recommendations and advice for birdwatching in Florida! For more ideas for experiencing nature in Florida, check out my posts on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Florida Freshwater Springs.