For wildlife enthusiasts and specifically birders, Florida is home to the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000-mile, self-guided trail connecting over 500 sites for birding and wildlife viewing. From Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola to Key West and the Dry Tortugas, the trail traverses the entire state. Here are the best sites along the Great Florida Birding Trail in the Florida Keys to scope out the various birds in their natural habitat.
Lower Keys & Key West Cluster
There are three designated sites along the trail in Key West: the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and the Dry Tortugas. The Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden covers over 15 acres on Stock Island where more than 160 species of birds have been recorded. Keep your eyes peeled for white-crowned pigeons, black-whiskered vireos, kingbirds and scissor-tailed flycatchers. The beachside Fort Zach is a haven for migratory birds, like spring warblers and frigatebirds. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a short-eared owl or red-legged honeycreeper. With the Dry Tortugas a remote island oasis 70 miles west of Key West, you’ll spot birds here you won’t see anywhere else in the United States. For instance, it’s the only breeding colony for sooty terns. Other birds to look out for include brown and black noddies and a vast variety of boobies. Even more unique, pelagic species like birdled terns and band-rumped storm-petrels can be spotted in the channels.
Middle Keys & White-Crowned Pigeon Cluster
The Middle Keys are considered the White-Crowned Pigeon Cluster along the Great Florida Birding Trail. From Big Pine to Long Key, there are five sites to see along the trail: the National Key Deer Refuge: Blue Hole, Jack Watson and Fred Manillo Trails, Bahia Honda State Park, Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, Curry Hammock State Park and Long Key State Park. This stretch of the Keys and the Overseas Highway, with its floating bridges and infinite aquamarine seas, is amongst the most scenic, and these areas along the birding trail are absolutely breathtaking.
Bahia Honda offers spectacular views and tropical hardwood hammocks, coastal berm and dune communities for some of the richest birding habitats. You can hike up to the bridge that once supported the Overseas Railroad for gorgeous views and ideal hawk watching, especially in the fall. The National Key Deer Refuge trails also offer great hiking and birding where you may spot green herons, belted kingfishers and thrushes.
Upper Keys & Pine Rockland Cluster
The Upper Keys connect to Florida’s mainland and two of the state’s most fascinating eco-systems: Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. There is so much to see along the trail here, including John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Everglades National Park Main Entrance, Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area and Biscayne National Park: Convoy Point. The Everglades marshland is home to the largest population of wading birds in the United States. You can hike the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails where you may spot herons, purple gallinules, great crested flycatchers and warblers. While Biscayne National Park and John Pennekamp State Park are mostly underwater, there are still exceptional bird sightings along the mangrove swamps, hardwood hammocks and coastal rocky areas along the shore. Look for mangrove cuckoos, frigatebirds, black-whiskered vireos and cormorants.