Birding Vacations in the Florida Keys: A Paradise For Birders

Famous for extraordinary underwater beauty, the Florida Keys also are among the world’s top destinations for year-round bird watching. Avian rarities abound, and birders, outdoor enthusiasts and nature photographers can enjoy native wildlife and tours in one of Florida’s most precious ecosystems.

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Throughout the Keys, birders can pass by occasional freshwater ponds, tidal lagoons and undisturbed Florida Bay by Everglades National Park. Resident and migrating warblers, vireos, tanagers and thrushes share the habitat with white-crowned pigeons, year-round tidal waders and spring-nesting sea birds.

The 12-county, 116-site Great Florida Birding Trail opened in 2006 and was renamed the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail in 2011. The South Florida segment of the trail includes a dozen Keys native habitat stops such as the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Long Key State Park and Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote birders’ paradise located 70 miles off Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. For trail information, visit floridabirdingtrail.com/index.php/trip/trails/south/P100/.

In the Lower Keys, the National Key Deer Refuge’s 9,000-plus acres of mangrove forests, freshwater and salt marsh wetlands, pine rockland forests and tropical hardwood hammocks are an annual stopping point for thousands of migratory birds and a winter home to many North American bird species. The refuge lies off U.S. Highway 1 at mile marker (MM) 30.5 bayside on Big Pine Key.

At Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, located on Route 905 at MM 106 bayside, birders can view breeding populations of black-whiskered vireos as well as migrating species such as warblers, white-crowned pigeons, terns, noddies, boobies and other unique Keys shorebirds and songbirds. Rare sightings of the LaSagra’s Flycatcher, thick-billed vireo and Zenaida dove also have been reported.

At Long Key State Park at MM 67.5, mangrove swamp, mudflat, rockland hammock, beach and coastal berm habitats can be explored. At low tide, the Roseate Spoonbill may be spotted dipping its round-tipped bill into the shallows searching for a meal, joined by reddish and other egrets.

The Tortugas are the first dry land sighted by trans-Gulf migratory species, so migratory fallouts during late April and early May often become once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Birders have recorded 25-warbler mornings and regularly sighted an Antillean short-eared owl. Common sightings include frigate birds, peregrine falcons and the ruddy turnstone — and the Tortugas’ Bush Key is home to America’s only notable breeding colony of sooty terns.

Known for its underwater splendor, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located at MM 102.5, offers birders nearly 3,000 acres of natural mangrove swamp, hardwood hammock and rocky coast. Walking trails lead birders to gray kingbirds, short-tailed hawks and other locals such as mangrove cuckoos.

From a perch at the Middle Keys’ Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56.2 oceanside, the Florida Keys Hawkwatch team monitors the southernmost migration flights of record numbers of peregrine falcons and other raptors in the continental United States. Hawk watchers count the thousands of buteos, accipiters, raptors and eagles that fly through the Keys as well as peregrine falcons, whose annual migratory numbers are thought to surpass any other location in the U.S.

Visitors can find guided and unguided walks, boat and kayak adventures to explore some of the Keys’ wildest places by visiting www.fla-keys.com/ecotourism.

Tranquility Bay Resort offers the perfect base for a birding vacation in the Florida Keys. If you book directly through Tranquility Bay, you are guaranteed the best deal so call 855-606-4502 to speak with one of our on-site vacation planners and secure an unbeatable package.

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