Treasure Coast Birding Guide
Florida's Treasure Coast is home to a multitude of bird species and part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Birding is fun! Use this handy checklist to learn about and keep track of birds that you are certain to see while exploring the area.
Florida is home to two species of these enormous cranes which stand around four feet tall. The Greater visits from the north in the winter and the Lesser is a year-round resident. Almost always seen in pairs, they are gray in color with dark red crowns. Residents stick mostly around freshwater ponds and lakes.
These large raptors can look like juvenile bald eagles with their white bellies and variegated brown underwings. They are actually a hawk found around salt water and feed primarily on fish which can commonly be seen clutched in their talons. Their nests are big stick structures often built on poles, channel markers and dead trees over open water.
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN
These migratory, all white pelicans, are twice the size of their brown cousins and breathtaking to behold. They are often referred to as the “original snowbirds” for their snow-white color and seasonal arrivals and departures. See them in large groups along the lagoon waterfront in Sebastian during the winter months.
Sometimes mistaken for a flamingo, this gregarious wading bird is easily recognized for its bright pink plumage and big spoon shaped bill. There is a growing population of these beauties on the Treasure Coast due to rising water levels in the Everglades. Best seen around inland freshwater wetlands.
Endangered, it’s the only species of bird endemic to the state of Florida. There are only about 4,000 individuals left due to habitat loss. Scrub-jays exist in unique patches of Florida scrub that have been destroyed by development. Scrub-jays are cooperative breeders, meaning offspring receive care from their parents and other group members.
This aquatic bird is sometimes called a “snake bird” for its long slithery neck or “water turkey” for its turkey-like tail feathers. It stalks its prey underwater and then strikes a distinctive pose at the water’s edge to dry out. They inhabit shallow freshwater and can be most easily observed around inland marshes and ponds. Oddly enough, they do not have built-in waterproofing like other waterbirds which is why they are often observed on land with wings spread in order to dry out their feathers.
GREAT BLUE HERON
GREAT BLUE HERON
The largest of the North American Herons. At an average of four feet tall with a wingspan of around six feet, they are magnificent to see in flight. Named for their blue-gray plumage they have yellow bills and black head feathers. They adapt to both salt and freshwater environments and are abundant along the Indian River Lagoon.
This is the snow-white version of the Great Blue Heron. Other than color they’re nearly identical size and habitat and can observed in many of the same places. Some smaller birds can be mistaken for the Snowy Egret, but their yellow bills and black feet make them identifiable.
This medium-sized bird of prey feeds almost exclusively on apple snails and, in the U.S., is found only in Florida. The species is locally endangered due to prolonged drought which affects its primary food source. Lucky observers may get a glimpse at inland marshlands and lakes. Snail Kites are most commonly seen locally around Lake Okeechobee.
DOUBLE CRESTED CORMORANT
Often mistaken at a distance for Anhingas, these diving waterbirds are widely distributed throughout North America and can be found around fresh water habitats. Closer inspection reveals taupe and brown plumage, and aquamarine eyes that sparkle like jewels. These cormorants dine almost exclusively on fish. During breeding season they are seen with two white crests that look a little like ears.
These swamphens are known for their stunning array of colorful plumage. They are migratory but Florida is home to a year-round population. They are omnivorous ground feeders and consume seeds, plants, insects, frogs, snails, and worms. These birds inhabit freshwater environments with dense vegetation and use their long toes to hop across lily pads and other aquatic plants. The best place to see them locally is Lake Okeechobee.
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATE BIRD
These enormous seabirds have forked tails and soar effortlessly, rarely flapping their wings. They are distinguished as winged pirates for their feeding behavior. Instead of diving for fish, they skim the surface and grab prey but they also practice “kleptoparasitism,” meaning that they steal prey from other birds mid-flight!
Adult Snowy Egrets are all white with a black bill, black legs, and bright yellow feet. They have a patch of yellow at the base of the bill. They wade in shallow water to spear fish and other small aquatic animals but sometimes they run back and forth, chasing their prey which is most entertaining to watch!
RING NECKED DUCK
These winter visitors are stunning to see, especially the males. Smallish and squat, adult males have bold black, white, and gray plumage that's hard to miss. They also sport a prominent white band around the bill and a faint brown ring at the base of the neck . Ring-necked ducks breed in Canada and the northern U.S. and spend the winters throughout the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. The best place to see them locally is the Centennial pond at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.
These smaller members of the Heron family are rare to see but oh so worth it. From a distance, they look dark but a closer look in good light reveals spectacular plumage in various shades of deep green and chestnut brown. They hunt fish and amphibians at the water’s edge but do not wade as frequently as larger herons. They may be found around any aquatic habitat but most commonly stick to small bodies of freshwater with dense vegetation.
For More Information About Birding and Local Wildlife
Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail:
A guide to the network of 510 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state of Florida.
Whether you're a beginner looking through your first pair of binoculars or an experienced birder in search of identification tips, it’s all there.
Pelican Island Audubon Society:
A local organization providing classes, field trips and educational programs.
Pelican Island Preservation Society:
Another local organization dedicated to the preservation of Pelican Island, the nation’s first National Wildlife Refuge.