When and Where to Find Some of the Most Spectacular Birds in Southwest Florida

Identify ospreys, storks, egrets and the other winged creatures native to Florida.

BY January 4, 2016

Few places are as rich in birdlife as Southwest Florida. Because of our unique geographic location and tropical climate, the area has some of the most spectacular native birds in all of the United States. Bright plumage, odd-shaped bills, prehistoric wingspans—we have enough to make the most ardent birder celebrate. Southwest Florida also happens to lie in the migratory pattern of a number of noteworthy species, and many stunning birds born elsewhere eventually pass through our part of the state.

Evenings and early mornings, when flocks are the most active, are the best times to catch sight of the birds in our area. You’ll want to pick a prime viewing spot, someplace where you’re able to remain still for a stretch of time. It helps to have a good pair of binoculars.

But you don’t need to be a dedicated birder to appreciate the diversity of avian species this landscape offers. In fact, many varieties can be seen right in our backyards or along our beaches. We’ve compiled a list of a few of our favorites, from shorebirds to birds of prey. We hope you’ll be as delighted by them as we are.




With its 7-foot wingspan, long bill and deep gullet, the pelican has a nearly prehistoric appearance. These birds glide over the water, their wingtips nearly touching the Gulf, before diving face-first into the surf to scoop up a mouthful of water and fish. They are, at once, daredevil aviators and impressive eaters. (Photo by Dennis Goodman.)









Found along Florida’s coast, the osprey is often mistaken for other hawks, especially the red-shouldered hawk. Look for its signature white and brown markings, notably a white chest. How to tell the females from the males? The female osprey has brown feathers in a necklace pattern across her chest. “More bling,” as some ornithologists put it. (Photo by R.J. Wiley.)




One of the smallest shorebirds along our beaches, the ruddy turnstone is easy to overlook. Its plumage is a mix of white, brown and black, barely noticeable against the sandy backdrop as the bird races around on tiny feet. These unassuming turnstones mate on arctic shores before making the long trek to Southwest Florida.





The nocturnal great horned owl can be elusive. These birds of prey prefer wooded areas, and if you search for them at dusk you may hear their hoots from the Australian pines. The best way to locate an owl? Look for the pellets it leaves behind. These regurgitated piles of undigested bones and fur indicate a favorite roosting spot. (Wiley)











The white ibis, with its snowy plumage and thin, hooked beak, can be seen traveling through neighborhood yards in the early mornings and evenings. Moving in small flocks, they step lightly over the grass as they probe the soil for insects. You’d never guess such a delicate bird would produce the oddest honking sound. (Wiley)





With the loss of Florida wetlands, especially surrounding the Everglades, the wood stork was once nearly extinct. Through successful conservation efforts, these birds were removed from the endangered species list in 2014. You’ll see them wading through marshy areas and nesting in colonies. Look for their white bodies, black-tipped wings and distinctive bald heads. (Wiley)










This long-legged, long-necked wading bird can be seen throughout Southwest Florida. Look for them in salt marshes, ponds and freshwater lowlands. The largest heron after the great blue heron, the great egret is distinguishable by its yellow bill and glossy black legs and feet. For all its elegance, this slender bird has a hoarse, croaking call. (Wiley)














Once numerous, roseate spoonbills became scarce after early pioneers hunted them for their feathers. The northern millinery industry paid high prices for plumes, and the roseate spoonbill, with its bright pink coloring, offered some of the most coveted. Today, sightings of this bird are rare. When you do see one, you’ll feel as if you’ve been given a gift. (Goodman)



Related Images: