Florida has a unique geographic location that makes it a top destination for birders in the US. The state offers a tropical climate and multiple habitats preferred by birds. You can see a greater variety of species compared to other US states so Florida is certainly an important stop in the travel plans of any birder. It can be quite difficult to create a list of the best birds to see in Florida as this level of variety gets easily overwhelming. If you don’t wish to miss any highlight species of Florida, make sure you include the following birds when planning the trip.
Before looking at the bird species, it’s important to prepare accordingly so here are some essential birding gear to consider:
Most experienced birders are already equipped with reliable binoculars but if you’re just getting started, here’s a great model to try. Compared to other binoculars on the market, the Celestron Nature DX is designed to meet the needs of birders and other outdoor enthusiasts. It delivers an ideal mix of value for the money and earned the approval of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology.
No serious birdwatching enthusiast can go looking for birds without packing a high-quality camera. It’s essential to be able to immortalize your great finds quickly and efficiently so we recommend investing in a powerful point & shoot digital camera like the Panasonic Lumix FZ80. Some of the highlights include 60X zoom, 4K video capture, and great performance in poor lighting.
- Field Guide
Learning to identify birds can be tough unless you grab an illustrated field guide during your explorations. It’s highly recommended to invest in a paper-based one specifically for the state of Florida. This kind of field guide is usually a superior option to digital alternatives considering practical aspects and overall feel. Check out the recently updated Birds of Florida field guide.
1. Swallow-Tailed Kite
If you want to see a truly spectacular bird in Florida, you can’t miss the swallow-tailed kite. This raptor flies with unparalleled elegance throughout the southern regions of the state, sometimes reaching central Florida as well. Swallow-tailed kites have amazing aerial skills as they fly in dazzling patterns to chase insect and reptile prey. It’s recommended to pay a visit to the swamps of Florida in the summer if you’re hoping to catch a good view of this bird. Its deeply forked tail and elegant black/white plumage make it hard to confuse with other birds.
2. Magnificent Frigatebird
With a shape resembling a pterodactyl, magnificent frigatebirds can be spotted soaring effortlessly along the coast of Florida. These birds are highly skilled fliers that will often attempt to pirate fish from other birds during flight. Aside from its characteristic all dark appearance and forked tail, male magnificent frigatebirds can be identified easily by looking for a patch of red skin on their throats. The red pouch inflates during the breeding season making recognition even simpler. Females can be distinguished by their white breast patch.
3. White Ibis
Birders exploring the shallow wetlands of Florida will be rewarded by discovering many eye-catching birds. One of them is the white ibis. This is an attractive wading bird with a white plumage that contrasts strongly with the red legs and face patch. Aside from the characteristic coloration, you can recognize the white ibis by observing its football-shaped body and the curved bill designed for efficient probing after aquatic invertebrates in marshes. You can find white ibis birds any time of the year in Florida as long as you look for them in their preferred habitats.
4. White-crowned Pigeon
Though it normally resides in the Caribbean, the white-crowned pigeon can sometimes be seen in southernmost Florida. It’s the only place in the US where you can see this species. Due to this pigeon’s preferences for feeding on fruit, it’s worth exploring fig, cocoa plum, and other trees to spot the bird. White-crowned pigeons show off a distinctive white patch on their heads with an elegantly patterned neck. This is a fairly large dark grey pigeon that’s not particularly easy to approach considering its shy nature. Scanning the skies can often be a better solution to increase your chances of seeing the bird.
5. Florida Scrub-jay
As its name seems to imply, the Florida scrub-jay can be found exclusively in this state. This is a blue and gray bird with a fairly tenuous environmental position. It’s a fairly rare find outside reserves and wildlife refuges. Florida scrub-jays experience a severe decline in populations due to habitat loss. The birds favor young oak scrub that relies on periodic burning to spread. Finding a Florida scrub-jay can take extra effort. When it’s not foraging on the ground, the jay’s characteristic long tail can be seen when the bird sits perched on tall branches.
6. Roseate Spoonbill
No birding trip to the coast of Florida can be complete without seeing the flamboyant roseate spoonbill. This bird has a wacky and colorful appearance that makes it easily stand out in shallow fresh or salt waters. Roseate spoonbills are wading birds featuring a delicate pink-and-white plumage. True to their name, they have a spoon-shaped bill that’s adapted for grabbing crustaceans and fish with ease. You can spot groups of roseate spoonbills together with ibises and egrets year-round in Florida. The unique horizontal posture during foraging makes it simpler to recognize from a long distance.
7. Snail Kite
Snail kites are elegant raptors that can be usually found in Central and South America. The range of the bird extends to Florida where it’s a fairly rare occurrence. It can be recognized by its strongly curved bill that’s specialized for getting snails out of their shells. The snail kite is also easy to identify by its dark gray plumage and relatively high soaring behavior. Search for this rare raptor in suitable wetlands of Florida. This bird has a tendency to roost communally and can be often encountered together with other waterbirds.
8. Wood Stork
Florida is one of the best places in the US to see the large wood stork. It’s a permanent resident of the state but you need to focus mostly on southeastern wetlands where the wood stork spends its time probing for fish and crustaceans. Aside from its characteristic bald head, this wading bird is easy to identify by checking for a long, hefty bill. The wood stork is taller than many other birds living in marshes. When not found feeding in the water, this bird can be observed roosting and nesting in trees above water.
9. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
If you’re heading in northern and central regions of Florida, you might be able to spot a red-cockaded woodpecker. This bird has a fairly extended range in the southeastern US. Unfortunately, it’s quite a rare sight nowadays because of severe habitat loss to logging. Unless you visit a federal preserve, it’s safe to say that you won’t easily find it. The Red-cockaded woodpecker is a small bird with a patterned black-and-white back appearance. The name of the woodpecker comes from the male’s red streak of the cheek that’s very hard to see.
10. Boat-Tailed Grackle
With a large presence in Florida, the boat-tailed grackle is another must-see species for this state. It lives in noisy flocks while showing off a glossy blue-black appearance. Females have brown and black plumage. Boat-tailed grackles are lanky songbirds featuring a characteristic V-shaped tail. They can often be seen using their pointed bills to scavenge trash in urban places. Considering that they like hanging out around marsh edges, there are many areas in Florida where boat-tailed grackles can be observed. Birds tend to walk boldly and maintain cocked up tails.
11. Purple Gallinule
Birders who enjoy searching for colorful species shouldn’t miss the purple gallinule. It’s a permanent resident in Florida’s freshwater wetlands but it’s quite patchily distributed. It’s a common sight in most suitable habitats but you sometimes have to really search for it as it can blend surprisingly well in dense vegetation. The gallinule’s brilliant purple plumage is beautifully accentuated by a vibrant red bill and iridescent green-blue patches. You can also identify the bird easily by its long yellow legs that are used to step gracefully on floating vegetation.
12. Short-Tailed Hawk
Found mostly in Florida when it comes to its US range, the short-tailed hawk can be admired soaring on thermals high in the sky. These small hawks show off dark and light morph types while standing out through their characteristic banded tails and broad wings. Observing this short-tailed hawk will require a powerful pair of binoculars because the bird will rarely sit perched. The raptor preys on smaller birds and can sometimes be seen together with flocks of vultures when soaring. The winter season is recommended for spotting a short-tailed hawk in Florida.
13. Painted Bunting
Another colorful bird to watch for in Florida, the painted bunting’s range extends to this state even though it’s more abundant in Texas or other regions such as Mexico. Your best chance to spot a painted bunting in Florida is during the winter season in southern parts of the state. Migrating birds are found in central Florida. Seeds are the favorite food of the painted bunting and this bird can be attracted to feeders. While females show a subtle lime-green appearance, males boast a unique color combination of red, blue, green, and yellow hues.
Resembling a giant rail, the limpkin is a permanent resident of Florida. This is a tropical wetland bird that can be usually seen only in this state when it comes to its US range. It features a speckled brown plumage and a long bill that’s suited for eating snails and other aquatic invertebrates. For this reason, spotting lots of snail shells in freshwater wetlands can be considered a strong indicator that limpkins are nearby. If visual identification is too difficult in dense vegetation or low-light conditions, you can try listening for the limpkin’s distinctively haunting cries.
15. Laughing Gull
A handsome gull that’s found in large numbers on Florida’s coasts, this species makes characteristic calls that have a strident quality. The laughing gull can be visually recognized by its dark hood and red bill. It’s also worth looking for contrasting white eye crescents. Another important detail is the noticeably darker mantle of the bird compared to other gulls. These distinctive features are only shown by breeding adults whereas nonbreeding laughing gulls are very similar to other typical gulls. Florida’s beaches are ideal places for spotting the laughing gull year-round.
16. Burrowing Owl
A unique owl that can be found in Florida year-round, this species prefers burrows for roosting and nesting. There’s a fairly large population of burrowing owls in Florida. You can spot them during the day so that makes it relatively easy to see compared to its nocturnal counterparts. Burrowing owls tend to hunt later in the day and they can be observed chasing after insects or small rodents and reptiles. Visual identification is pretty much effortless as the bird has a typical owl appearance with bright yellow eyes and sandy spotted plumage.
17. Reddish Egret
A coastal wader that spends a lot of time on Florida’s beaches, the reddish egret is an attractive heron species to look for. Adults have two morphs. Aside from the dark morph with the characteristic reddish head and chest feathers, some Florida populations can be entirely white. The light morph stands out through other details such as the shaggy-looking neck. Reddish egrets are active stalking foragers of shallow salt waters. It’s quite a sight to observe this heron’s distinctive hunting behavior.
18. Gray Kingbird
After wintering in the Caribbean, gray kingbirds visit Florida’s coasts. This is a breeding species that’s quite abundant in the state even though it has a fairly limited range. Your best bet for finding the bird is to check pine woods and mangrove swamps. The southernmost parts of Florida are preferred by gray kingbirds for breeding. These are noisy birds that can be more easily heard than seen considering their inconspicuous gray plumage. The dark mask is one important detail that can help with the identification of the gray kingbird.
A year-round presence in Florida, the anhinga can be encountered in many of the state’s wetlands and swamps. The bird favors areas with freshwater where it sits perched in full sun to dry or to maintain warm body temperature. To identify anhinga birds, it’s recommended to look for their characteristic snakelike heads in the water. Males have dark bodies and long tails. Their wings are streaked with silver patches. Anhinga is a stealthy waterbird that’s commonly seen swimming in shallow waters. During strong late-afternoon heat, the bird can soar quite high in the sky.
20. Brown Noddy
The brown noddy is a dark-bodied tern that can be seen off Florida’s coast. It’s hard to spot from the mainland but you can increase your chances with the help of a performant spotting scope. As opposed to other terns, the brown noddy doesn’t engage in plunge-diving but prefers grabbing fish from the surface of the water. While the bird’s body is completely dark brown, the white cap makes it stand out to recognize it more easily. In case of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, brown noddies can seek refuge deeper inland.
21. Spot-Breasted Oriole
This type of oriole lives primarily in Central America but populations can be found in Florida as well after a successful introduction. It can take some effort to find a spot-breasted oriole even if it has a bright yellow-orange appearance. Urban parts of Miami can provide some good nesting areas for this bird so you might encounter it there if you really search for it. Aside from the dark spots on its chest, the oriole is easy to identify by the complete orange head that sets it apart from other orioles in Florida.
22. Smooth-Billed Ani
A glossy all-black cuckoo, the smooth-billed ani lives in shrubby habitats in tropical regions. There’s a small population in Florida as well where the bird’s range extends from the Caribbean. Though it used to be more widespread, it’s now quite difficult to spot a smooth-billed ani in Florida. You need to pay attention to the bird’s early morning song. In terms of visual identification, it’s recommended to look for an oversized bill that can take your mind to a parrot. This feature aids the bird when hunting insects and lizards or when foraging for fruits.
23. Black-whiskered Vireo
Another bird that lives in the Caribbean forests, the black-whiskered vireo makes an appearance in the mangroves of Florida. That’s pretty much the extent of this tropical bird’s range. Finding a black-whiskered vireo can pose some difficulties for birders and not just because of the specific habitat it favors. There’s also the decreasing bird’s breeding range in Florida. The summer season is the best time to find this vireo. Look through the coastal mangrove swamps of the state and watch for the distinctive head markings of the bird.
24. Common Myna
One unusual bird to spot in Florida, the common myna established fairly large colonies in the state despite being a native of Asia. Birders can find noisy flocks of common myna in urban areas. This is a fairly large bird whose plumage offers a mix of black and brown hues. Some distinctive features include the yellow bill and legs. Considering the aggressive nature of this bird, it’s not surprising to see that it has been easily introduced in many other parts of the world beyond its native range.
25. Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous hummingbirds are usually found in western parts of North America but the bird’s range can extend to Florida as well. This hummingbird can pay a rare visit in many regions of the state, especially at dedicated feeders. Boldly colored with a rusty-orange shade, the rufous hummingbird can seek refuge in the state in the winter so that’s the best period to spot it. The aggressive territorial behavior of this species has given the bird a certain reputation. It can often chase away larger bird species from its territory.
26. Fulvous Whistling-Duck
With an established year-round presence in Florida, the fulvous whistling-duck can be considered an important highlight for the state’s avian life. This is a long-legged waterfowl that prefers warm freshwater marshes. Adult birds show off cinnamon-colored underparts contrasting with the dark bluish legs and bill. Fulvous whistling-ducks have a tendency to roost in trees and they will frequently occur close to rice fields. This species will often live in mixed flocks with more common ducks such as the black-bellied type. The latter are distinguished by their bright pink bill.
27. Mangrove Cuckoo
If you’re exploring the southern coasts of Florida in search of tropical birds, you shouldn’t miss this species. The mangrove cuckoo is only found in mangrove swamps in the region when it comes to its US range. Similar to other cuckoos, this bird has a secretive nature and can be quite challenging to spot. Visually, the species is similar to yellow-billed cuckoos. You can recognize a mangrove cuckoo more effectively by listening for its distinctive ringing calling. Make sure you visit various places in Florida to increase your chances of finding this bird. Coastal hardwood hammocks are also recommended habits to explore.
28. Northern Mockingbird
The northern mockingbird is the official state bird of Florida so it’s definitely an important sight to consider. It can be found throughout the state year-round. Northern mockingbirds are admired for their distinctive attitude and unique singing personality. They can be quite aggressive with other birds when visiting feeders. Adult birds feature slender gray bodies that seem quite plain. It’s the unique singing capability of the northern mockingbird that makes it attractive to birders. You can expect it to imitate different bird songs and keep a very tight singing schedule.
29. Long-Billed Curlew
Though it’s more widespread in western US regions, the long-billed curlew has also been sighted in Florida in the winter. It’s considered the biggest shorebird in North America. True to its name, the bird features a particularly long and thin bill with a slight curvature. It’s the perfect tool for probing coastal areas in the search for its food. Recognizing a long-billed curlew is fairly easy even if you only spot its silhouette. The bird’s graceful profile stands out while the cinnamon-washed plumage provides good camouflaging power in its natural habitat.
30. Eastern Towhee
With a bold combination of black and rusty brown, the eastern towhee is a large sparrow that can be found in Florida. Its range extends to the entire eastern part of the US but it’s worth visiting the state of Florida because the species here shows yellow eyes. Spotting an eastern towhee can be quite challenging as it lives in dense undergrowth. You can hear its calls commonly if you’re looking for it in the right scrub habitat but still have trouble visually spotting it. Considering that eastern towhees tend to forage on the ground, it’s recommended to check the leaf litter very closely.