Florida’s Best January Birding Destinations

I went to all of these places!

Want to know where to go birding while you are there visiting Florida this winter? Florida is an incredible January birding destination and there are lots of great places to choose from! I drove 1,500 miles over 6 days and visited 24 different locations. They were not all equal, and I’d love to make some recommendations for your future Florida birding trips.

This is a link to my eBird Trip Report, and I’ll include links to each location as well. These will all have photos and map coordinates attached for your convenience! If you don’t use eBird, I definitely recommend it!

Helen and Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary

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Florida Man

Florida’s only endemic bird, the Florida Scrub Jay, will land on your head here. Please don’t feed them, just show up. I’d recommend a hat for your comfort. I got there at sunrise and was early enough to also see a Great horned owl fly into a big nest with prey. That was pretty neat too! 12/10

“Viera” Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands

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Black vultures just relaxing in the path.

Lots of great birds here, very good for larger birds, had 7 different heron species, very approachable sandhill cranes and black vultures, anhinga, limpkin and woodstorks. I walked 2 miles and saw 30 species in about 90 minutes. 8/10

Merritt Island NWR — Black Point Wildlife Drive

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Reddish egret at Merrit Island NWR

A nice auto loop for when you are tired of walking around but still want to look at birds. Bring cash for the entrance fee. Meritt Island also has a lot of habitat to explore if you just want to stay in the area. On the auto loop there are lots of nice views of Blue-winged teals, and pretty good duck variety for central Florida. It is a pretty substantial loop with lots of nice photo opportunities. Definitely another duck/heron spot. 9/10

Sweetwater Wetlands Park

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White Ibis on the beautiful boardwalk at Sweetwater

Pack a snack and some water, this place is incredible! I walked about 6 miles here. There are a few different loops, and I would recommend all of them. They take you both through forest and wetland habitat and there are lots of birds here. I saw Red-shouldered hawks mating, lots of great wetlands birds, as well as some nice warblers and song birds in the trees. This place is super birdy! I saw about 50 species in 4 hours. I’d love to go back 11/10

Paynes Prairie Preserve SP–La Chua Trail

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A great place to get too close to Limpkins

Paynes Prarie was wonderful. La Chua trail has a boardwalk that goes through snail laden waters where The Snail Kites and Limpkin are plentiful! When I was there the trail was flooded at the end so I didn’t get to see Bison that were reintroduced there, but I did see some wild horses as well as aligators. The ability to get this close to limpkins and see snail kites hunt really made this place magical for me. Paynes Prarie also had a single Whooping crane visible from Wacahoota Trail, so I’d recommend looking into that as well! 10/10

Fort De Soto Park

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Piping plover!

Plovers are the cutest bird type, and there are a lot of them here! I had Piping, Wilsons, Snowy, Black-bellied, and I hear there are Semi-palmated plovers too. Lots of shorebirds and waders, terns, gulls and sea ducks. If you go on a bad weather day you have the chance of seeing a Frigate bird as well. There is an entrance fee, but they take cards, it was worth it! There was a lot of diversity and would be well worth the trip. I’d love to return! 11/10

THe Celery Fields

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Painted bunting watching the feeder

Buntings are beautiful, and this was a great spot to see them. I had painted and indigo buntings as well as some Nanday Parakeets. The feeders will also attract some fancy blackbirds in the winter. There is a nice covered area to watch well stocked feeders, Purple martin houses, and across the street there is a good wetland to scope for Gray-headed swamphens and Purple gallinule. Very accessible very birdy spot 10/10

Lucky Hammock and L31W Canal

These two locations are very close and similar habitat. Hammocks are dense thickets which aren’t easily birded, but the birds coming out of these places are very good! I had short-tailed hawks at both, White-tailed kite at the Canal, and some great flycatchers at the Canal, including a Cassin’s Kingbird and Scissor-tailed flycatchers. Great rarities pop up at the canal, and it is a good change in diversity, but there can be a lot of walking and you might really have to work for the birds here in the dense thickets. This’d be a good spot for a day with good lighting, bring water and walking shoes, you can really walk as far as you want at these spots! 7/10

Key West – Tropical Forest & Botanical Gardens

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An ovenbird hunting for bugs in the shadows

This spot had the most warblers I have ever seen in January with 6 species of warblers and one vireo! A fancy tanager was also reported there. It is a beautiful garden with lots of great plants and lots of great song birds! I loved this spot and would love to go back! They have the coolest palm trees there (and domestic Red Junglefowl! 11/10

Belle Glade Marina & Torry Island

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Tricolored munia was a fun rarity that loved eating the grass seed.

One of my favorite places on the trip! It had a perfect blend of songbirds like buntings and warblers feeding in the long grass, as well as flycatchers and swallows eating the insects over the pond. There were also good numbers of waterfowl and herons. This place has incredible birding potential and I’d put it high on any Florida birding list! 11/10

Ding Darling

I didn’t go here. ?/10 This place is supposed to be incredible though. I missed a lot of places, do you have a recommendation for others reading here? Leave it in the comments! Share this with your friends, and if you want to support me, consider getting a shirt, sticker, or book from my store! Happy birding friends!

Bald Eagle or Golden Eagle?

Lets look at raptors today! Bald eagle or Golden eagle? The real hard question happens when we see immature Bald eagles, because they don’t have the obvious white heads. But, there are a few easy tips to distinguish the Bald eagle from the golden eagle: 1) The golden eagle is mostly brown. 2) When the golden eagle does have white, its at the base of its tail or on its wrists. 3) Immature bald eagles always have white armpits, regardless of how white the other parts of its plumage are.
Another note, This is a west-coast centric raptor post. The Red-shouldered hawks, especially the juveniles, look different than the east coast variety.
If you are curious what any of these look like compared to a Red-tailed hawk, check out this blog post.

West Coast Hummingbirds

West Coast hummingbirds typically come in two flavors: Rufous and Anna’s. Anna’s Hummingbirds are year round breeders and can be found in neighborhoods at hummingbird feeders in from B.C. to Baja. Rufous Hummingbirds are migrants that spend their winters in Mexico and fly all the way up to Alaska to breed. If they beat the flowers blooming, they will furiously guard sapsucker wells!

Common West Coast Falcons

We have three falcons that grace us with their presence west of the Cascade Range. The most common is also the smallest – the American Kestrel. They can be found anywhere there is a powerline and a field. Merlins will only visit us in the Winter and love eating our songbirds. Look for them perched high on top of trees. And our third but most notorious falcon is the Peregrine. They nest in cities under bridges and on buildings and love eating pigeons When it is shorebird migration, look for them cruising mudflats in search of delicious peeps. Looking for more raptor guides? Check out my extensive Red-Tailed Hawk ID Guide, or my Cooper’s Vs Sharp Shin guide.

Common Pond & Wetland Birds

When you are ready to venture to your local wet spot, be it a pond or wetland, expect to see some of these guys there. Great blue Herons, and Great Egrets especially. Also, listen hard for a metallic rattle, and that’s a kingfisher calling as it flies from perch to perch. Wetlands offer lots of different feeding opportunities, from little fishes, to aquatic insects as well as flying ones. This biodiversity is very attractive to swallows and other migratory birds as well.

Common West Coast Swallow Identification Guide

Another great set of migrants has arrived, and now its time to figure out how to identify them! Swallows and swifts can be tricky in flight, but these tips should help you ID them in the field. Trickiest, perhaps, is distinguishing between the violet-green swallow and the Tree Swallow. The main thing to look at on these birds is where the white is. On the violet-green, white goes above the eye, and goes very high up the back on the flanks just behind the wings.
Looking for more ID guides on migrant birds? Check my west coast warbler guide.

West Coast Migrants and More!

Yellow throats, Tanagers and Grosbeaks all are very welcome and fairly common spring migrants. Cedar waxwings… they are here all the time, but I didn’t know where else to slot them in. Black phoebes are increasing their range yearly and spreading north and east, starting from California and the Oregon Coast. Lastly, look for olive-sided flycatchers on conspicuous snags and perches where they will return after catching a big insect. They say quick three beers, and are probably one of the easiest flycatchers to identify (besides the phoebe).
For more warblers check my last post about common wood warblers.

West Coast Wood Warblers

Common Blackbirds (and Starlings)

Male blackbirds in good light are pretty easy to identify. This guide should help you with ID all of our most common blackbirds in Oregon and Washington. If you are in California, Grackles are something to lookout for. Good news, They are huge! The tricky blackbirds are the females, especially the female red-winged blackbird. Check my sparrow infographics to compare and make your ID life easier.

West Coast Pigeons and Doves