Florida itself is home to an abundance of rare and exciting species of birds, some of which you cannot find anywhere else in the United States. Due to its many reserves, state parks, marshes, and sand dunes, these birds are well protected, and understandably a valued part of Florida’s wildlife and eco-systems.
The Snail Kite, for example, only breeds in Florida, Mexico, and Ecuador, and cannot be found anywhere else in America. It spends its time in freshwater marshes but can tend to move around, depending on food sources.
Limpkins can also be found in Florida’s freshwater marshes and swamps, particularly any with tall reeds or mangroves. This species is the last surviving of the Aramidae bird family, making it an incredibly rare find. While they may be slightly difficult to spot, they certainly are not difficult to hear. Its call can only be described as a wild wail with a rattling quality. Interestingly, the noise was used for the hippogriff in Harry Potter, and traditionally, the Amazonian people believed that when hearing the call, the river would not rise anymore.
The white-crowned pigeon is also often spotted in Florida, although primarily found in the Caribbean, where they also spent wintertime. In Florida, they frequent remote mangrove islands or wildlife refuges (of which Florida has many). Due to deforestation and habitat degradation, this species is threatened, placing even more importance on Florida’s protected areas.
And these are only a selection of examples of the fantastic range of rare birds on offer in Florida! So where is best to go and spot these beautiful birds? I’ve put together some information about the most highly rated places where you can spot some of the rarest and most interesting birds.
- J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. With 6400 acres of protected land, this is one of the most popular bird-watching locations in the whole of Florida. There is an abundance of greenery, wetlands, and stunning birds in their natural habitat. This refuge is free to bird-watch in, although entry to the park is around a dollar. Situated on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel, there are countless wading birds, songbirds, and shorebirds enjoying nature. If you get there in the early morning, you’ll not only see them, but you’ll also be able to hear their morning songs. In summer, you can commonly see swallows, American goldfinches, warblers, herons, and bald eagles, making it well worth the trip.
- Dry Tortugas National Park. Almost 70 miles west of Key West lies this phenomenal National Park. With the magnificent Fort Jefferson serving as a reminder that Caribbean piracy is real outside of Walt Disney World, Dry Tortugas offers history as well as scenic nature. This may come on the more expensive side since it can only be accessed by boat or seaplane, but the brilliant blue waters, coral reefs, and marine and birdlife are undoubtedly worth it. Some of the common and rare species of birds that you will encounter here include roseate and bridled terns, red-necked phalarope, double-crested cormorants, brown pelican, and frigate birds, the Caribbean short-eared owl, and many many more.
- Big Cypress National Preserve. This is very similar to Everglades National Park, however, it is much less visited by tourists, which makes it a much more private and secluded place to set up for bird watching! With nineteen different hiking trails to choose from, there is plenty to explore by foot, bike, or bird watching equipment! Here there are purple martins, sedge wrens, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, and countless others. With its vast swamp covering over 729,000 acres, this is the perfect spot for wild birds in their natural habitats. There are ranger-led tours and activities which provide the opportunity to pick an expert's brain on particular species and where to find them, and eight campgrounds to choose from if you would prefer to stay in the area.
- Myakka River State Park. Situated in Sarasota, this beautiful state park is home to a vast range of bird species such as the swallow-tailed kite, osprey, northern harrier, peregrine falcon, and red-tailed hawk, black-bellied whistling duck, and hundreds more. With 38 miles of hiking trails and the options for kayaking and canoeing also, there are plenty of fun and exciting activities to combine your love of bird watching with. There is the option to rent a cabin here, for the ultimate getaway experience, meaning you can wake up surrounded by birdsong, which you will then head out to go and find.
- Anastasia State Park, St Augustine. This is an absolute paradise for bird-watching fanatics. Located along the Atlantic flyway for migrating birds, it is this is the hot spot for varied species. It truly has it all: 195 identified bird species, guided bird walks provided by expert staff, beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes, coastal scrubs, and a phenomenally rare maritime hammock. It is therefore unsurprising that this is one of the most unmissable areas to find beach-nesting birds along Florida’s coast, particularly least terns, Wilson’s plovers, and black skimmers. St Augustine generally has countless activities and things to do and see while you are there, which tie in nicely with bird-watching excursions. Paddleboarding in particular is a fantastic way to enjoy watching rare birds wading into the water, or soaring over the sea’s surface. St Augustine has options to rent a paddleboard, and friendly staff inside the shop will always give you pointers on where to head depending on what you fancy seeing.
Hopefully, this has been helpful in providing some assistance in where to find unusual and spectacular species of birds in Orange County! Florida can be so spoiled for choice when it comes to bird watching that it can be difficult to know where to start, so either choose one of the above at random or see which would best work for you. My advice would be to grab your binoculars, and book a trip now!