Florida has much to offer, including the opportunity to add bird watching to your itinerary. Birds can be seen at close range statewide at certain times of the year. Here’s where to go to view and photograph Florida birds.
While I use high-end Nikon cameras, all of the birds seen on this trip were close enough to take beautiful photos with point and shoot cameras with a telephoto lens.
Where to Go to View and Photograph Florida Birds: An Overview
Starting in the Northeast part of Florida, we observed a tree filled with beautiful white egrets and their babies. Another tree hosted the spoonbill. What an interesting and beautiful sight! In the same area we visited a huge wildlife refuge. Then, we visited a small island in Southeast Florida which hosts a large variety of birds. Finally, a city park in Fort Lauderdale is home to many darling burrowing owls.
St Augustine: The Alligator Farm
Standing on the boardwalk, with more alligators than one can count swimming in the water below was frightening. Was the boardwalk built for crowds of people? The alligators and birds at the Alligator Farm attract large numbers of people, including photographers and sightseers.
In addition to the many other attractions at the Alligator Farm, there were seemingly hundreds of alligators and native birds. The trees were home to herons, egrets, spoonbills and wood storks. It is said that the birds congregate in the trees surrounded by water because they know they are safe from predators. A predator would not dare to swim to the trees from fear of being a meal for an alligator.
Within the alligator infested waters, there are small islands with trees located very close to the boardwalk. There is one prominent tree that especially caught my eye. Less than 50 feet from me stood an Oak tree and every branch was home to one or more egrets and their babies! It was an awesome sight and for those photographing, a unique photo op.
Do take the time to read about the exhibits at the Alligator Farm before you go. There is so much to see and to photograph. We wished we had allotted more time there. Also read about the many entrance fee options. We wished we had purchased a pass which allowed early and late hours for photographing. The early light was lovely.
St. Augustine: Boat Tours
In St Augustine, we took several boat tours and found the most interesting tour to be the “Animals of the Estuary Boat Excursion.” St. Augustine is a delightful, interesting and historic city with historic sites, a charming and quaint downtown and many tours. It is composed of the mainland and islands. A good city map is vital to navigating the area.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
The 140,000 acre (217 sq. mile) Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuse is located south of St. Augustine and very close to the Kennedy Space Center. The Refuge contains over 68 species of amphibians and reptiles, 330 species of birds, and 31 mammal species.
Among the wildlife population are: alligators, anhingas, bald eagles, bobcat, glossy and white ibis, heron and egret, manatee, osprey, roseate spoonbill, salamander , shorebirds, and sea turtles.
The Refuge is an outstanding refuge to visit. Start at the Visitor’s Center and ask about the location of the wildlife. The Rangers in the field maintain contact with the Visitors Center. We saw birds on Black Point Drive and at Bair’s Cove, many manatees. We heard there were alligators in the center of Bio Lab Road, but missed them.
Venice, Florida: Audubon Rookery
The Venice Audubon Rookery is located in southwest Florida at the city of Venice. The Rookery is a very tiny island within a pond in the urban area. It is easily accessible. There is a flat surfaced path around the pond. The path puts the viewer close to the island.
Additional species of birds can be seen including: anhingas; blue, green, tri-colored and black crowned night herons; snowy and cattle egrets; and, ibis. You can see the birds building nests, courting, incubating eggs, and caring and feeding their chicks. There is a large amount of information about the rookery on the internet including the precise location.
Fort Lauderdale Area: Brian Piccolo Park and Velodrome
The Brian Piccolo Park is a 17- acre city park meant for urban play and sports activities. There are, however, a number of burrowing owls which have decided to make it their home too. The area is roped off; however there is parking and access within 15 feet of the owls. They are darling and seemingly have little fear of people.
Additional Birdwatching Opportunities for Florida Birds
There are many other opportunities to view wildlife and Florida birds.
Sanibel Island and Everglades National Park are major destinations. Look at when and where the photography tours are scheduled.
Flamingo Gardens features over 3000 species of rare & exotic, tropical, subtropical, and native plants and trees. It is also home to the largest collection of Florida native wildlife, including alligators, bobcats, eagles, otters, panthers, peacock, and flamingos.
Butterfly World is an aviary and has about 80 species of butterflies.
When to Visit Florida to View Birds
The late Spring at the time of the Florida Bird Festival is a good time to go to see birds with chicks. The photos in this article were taken in late April and early May immediately before, during and after the festival. Another way to time a trip is to look at the time the photography tour companies visit an area. (Searching “photo tour Florida birds” gave me good results.) The National Audubon Society’s website has a large amount of information including information about travel and how to photography birds.
Weather Issues: Tips for Clothing and Camera Gear
A few cautionary notes! The weather may be hot and humid—very humid. We experienced high temperatures, humidity, lightning and torrential rain.
It will likely be hot, so dress accordingly. Bring clothes that breathe. It is advisable to bring a hat for the sun and a rain poncho and umbrella. Insect repellent is recommended for early and late in the day.
Do bring a cover for your camera. Be sure to bring an extra camera battery, battery charger and several memory cards.
The hotel and car will be air-conditioned. The photography gear will be cooler than the air. A serious photographer should take some time to read about dealing with condensation problems. The problem is real! There is information on the internet.
I brought along a strong flash and Better Beamer which are helpful for sunrise photography. A 500mm lens on a DX camera is helpful for some photos. Tripods were allowed, but check the current policy.
You will also want a map of Florida and of the cities you plan to visit.
- St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (The Alligator Farm), https://www.alligatorfarm.com/
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island/
- Venice Area Audubon Rookery, https://www.veniceaudubon.org/
- National Audubon Society, https://www.audubon.org/bird-guide/
- Everglades National Park, https://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm
- Flamingo Gardens, https://www.flamingogardens.org/
- Butterfly World, https://www.butterflyworld.com/
- On our site: Florida Everglades: Diversity and Natural Beauty
- On our site: DeLand, Florida: West Volusia County’s New Vibe
- Also on our site: Lake Worth and Lantana: A Florida Culinary Tour
- Visit Florida, https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us.html
-All photos by Adrianne Brockman.