Great Florida Birding Trail

April 2023

By Kevin Mims, Visit Florida

Florida’s mild climate and diverse habitats attract hundreds of bird species, including such sought-after finds as the rare Florida burrowing owl, the snail kite and a wealth of wading birds. The Great Florida Birding Trail leads local and visiting birders to many of these hidden jewels over its 2,000- mile driving tour that includes almost 500 old and new birding locations.

Here’s a sampling of the best each of the trail’s four sections has to offer, as well as some advice on the glorious adventures waiting to be discovered.

Florida is the only place where painted buntings breed and winter. You can spot the male’s vibrant plumage or the female in green. Photography contributed by Great Florida Birding Trail.

East Florida Section

Start at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach, a great introduction to Florida’s species and habitats. Check the entrance road’s hammock and marsh for warblers, waders, wrens and sparrows. Watch for painted buntings in spring and summer, and peruse the pier for seabirds and purple sandpipers and gannets in winter.

The grounds at Bok Tower Gardens are carpeted in cultivated gardens along with the native landscape. Here you can find kestrels, nighthawks, pileated woodpeckers and loggerhead shrikes. Look for hummingbirds in spring and summer, and enjoy the sounds of migratory songbirds in April and September through October.

West Florida Section

Eagles, water birds and common songbirds make the Crystal River Archaeological State Park a nice starter site for beginners. It is a small park with good facilities and easy, paved trails through hardwoods attractive to songbirds in migration.

The oak hammock at Caladesi Island State Park reveals songbird migrants, and the shore shelters wintering shorebirds like red knots and piping plovers, as well as breeders like American oystercatchers.

Shired Island Beach access at the north end of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge offers trails through the coastal hammock past mudflats and open beach. You’ll see everything from wintering shorebirds to shorebird migrants making landfall in spring.

Panhandle Section

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is an extremely rustic refuge, “underbirded” in large part because it takes some effort to access it. Cross Indian Pass via the private ferry or in your own canoe. This barrier island is very large; prepare to hike the extensive sand roads or bring a bike.

Upon entering Ochlockonee River State Park in Sopchoppy, ask at the gate for the locations of active red cockaded woodpecker cavities or recent sightings. Drive or walk the scenic drive road, watching for these pinewoods specialists, as well as pine warblers, eastern towhees and common yellowthroats.

St. George Island State Park is regularly rated one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches, but what all the beachgoers don’t realize is that it’s spectacular for bird-watching, too. Bonaparte’s gulls are reliable in winter and spring, snowy plovers and American oystercatchers nest here, and gull-billed terns cruise the beach in summer.

South Florida Section

Florida’s climate and environmental diversity make it a bird-watcher’s paradise. Photography contributed by Visit Florida.

At Bahia Honda State Park, explore mangrove swamps, hardwood hammocks, a salt marsh and sandy beaches, either on foot, on a bicycle or by boat. Bahia Honda is home to the gray kingbird, a large-billed songbird found along the Florida coast between March and October.

The Big Cypress National Preserve is one of the last refuges of the Florida panther. This is rough country, but you can bird by car. Keep an eye out for the snail kite, an endangered species that feeds exclusively on the apple snail.

Everglades National Park is home to dozens of endangered and threatened species. Hopefully you will see a 6-inch songbird, the black-whiskered vireo, a common visitor during the summer months.