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The Florida Keys Birding – A Guide to Birding Hotspots in the Sunshine State

florida keys birding
American Flamingoes – one of many beautiful bird species to be found in the Florida Keys: Photo by Matt Felperin

Introduction to the Florida Keys Birding

Nestled in the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the Florida Keys are a top spot for birders. With their blend of coastal habitats, tropical forests, and mangrove swamps, the Keys provide a diverse set of habitats that support a rich variety of bird species. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the Florida Keys birding opportunities, uncovering the incredible birding locations and the stunning bird diversity to be found there.

Birding Hotspots in the Florida Keys

  1. Dry Tortugas National Park: About 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote and pristine island known increasingly for its birding opportunities. The park is home to nesting colonies of seabirds, including magnificent frigatebirds, brown pelicans, and sooty terns. Birders can also see migrating songbirds and shorebirds stopping for rest breaks on the island during the spring and fall migration seasons.
  2. Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden: Located on Stock Island, just minutes from downtown Key West, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a hidden gem for birders seeking to explore the island’s tropical flora and fauna. The garden is home to a variety of resident and migratory bird species, including warblers, woodpeckers, and herons. Birders can explore the garden’s trails and boardwalks, winding through mangrove forests, hardwood hammocks, and wetland habitats. You never know what secretive surprise might be waiting for you!
  3. Florida Keys Wildlife Refuges: The Florida Keys are home to several wildlife refuges and protected areas that provide critical habitat for resident and migratory bird species. These refuges, including the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the National Key Deer Refuge, offer birders the opportunity to observe a variety of bird species in their natural habitats, including wading birds, raptors, and waterfowl.
  4. Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the lower Florida Keys, the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for birders seeking to observe the majestic great white heron. (Whether the great white heron is a color morph, a subspecies of the great blue heron, or a completely separate species is still a topic of research.) The refuge has mangrove islands, seagrass beds, and shallow waters that provide ideal foraging and nesting habitat for a variety of bird species, including herons, egrets, and shorebirds. Oh, not to mention several species of sea turtles nest here.

Bird Species of the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are home to a diverse array of bird species, ranging from coastal seabirds and shorebirds to migratory songbirds and resident raptors. Some of the most iconic bird species found in the Keys include:

  • Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis): The brown pelican is a common sight along the coastlines of the Florida Keys, where it can be seen diving into the water to catch fish with its distinctive plunge-diving technique.
  • White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala): The white-crowned pigeon is a resident bird species of the Florida Keys, often observed feeding on fruits and berries in the island’s tropical forests and mangrove swamps. You’re unlikely to find this bird anywhere in the United States outside of southern Florida.
  • Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja): The roseate spoonbill is a striking wading bird with a pink plumage and a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. It forages in the shallow waters of the Florida Keys, probing the mud for small fish and crustaceans.
  • Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor): The mangrove cuckoo is a secretive bird species that inhabits the, you guessed it, mangrove forests of the Florida Keys. It is known for its distinctive call and elusive behavior, making it a sought-after species for birdwatchers.

Tips for Birdwatching in the Florida Keys

  • Bring binoculars and a field guide to help identify bird species. Sibley’s Guide to the birds of eastern North America is a good start.
  • Visit birding hotspots during the early morning or late afternoon when bird activity is highest.
  • Respect wildlife and observe birds from a distance to avoid disturbance, particularly during breeding seasons.
  • Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen and a hat – you know, if that’s your thing.
  • Join a guided birding tour or participate in birding events and festivals to enhance your birdwatching experience.

Conclusion

The Florida Keys offer a wealth of birding opportunities for birders of all levels. From the remote islands of Dry Tortugas National Park to the lush tropical forests of Key West, the Keys are home to a diverse array of bird species that captivate and inspire bird-lovers from around the world. The Keys offer a good opportunity to enjoy some typical Caribbean birds without having to leave the U.S. Whether you’re an experienced birder or a novice, exploring the Florida Keys is an unforgettable experience that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the natural beauty and biodiversity of this unique island chain.