With its theme parks, white sand beaches, nightlife, pro sports teams, cruise ships, and more, Florida is a dream destination for more than 100 million tourists each year. For birders, however, it is the more than 500 bird species recorded in the Sunshine State that make Florida one of the best birding locations in North America. Narrowing down a must-see bird list with these top 30 birds can help birders plan a Florida birding trip without missing any of the state’s specialty birds.
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The anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is found year-round throughout Florida, often sunning itself with its wings spread and neck outstretched on highly visible perches in wetlands and swamps. Anhingas are commonly seen near fresh water, including retention ponds, and the daggerlike bill, long neck, long tail, and white feathers on the shoulders and wings are unmistakable.
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One of the most elegant raptors, the swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) is widespread throughout central and southern Florida from early spring to early fall, though they are less common in the northern and panhandle parts of the state. The deeply forked tail, pied coloration, and long, tapered wings are great characteristics to easily identify this bird in flight.
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Often confused with the mallard, the mottled duck (Anas fulvigula) is found year-round throughout Florida, but is less common in the state’s northeastern corner. The yellow bill with a dark rear spot and the purple speculum are key identification field marks for these dabbling ducks, which are also found along the Gulf Coast into eastern Texas and Mexico.
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A tall duck with a dark back, elegant swoops on its flanks, and slate blue-gray bill, the fulvous whistling-duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) is a year-round resident of central and southern Florida. Typically found in marshes, wetlands, and lakes, these ducks may be part of mixed flocks, often including black-bellied whistling-ducks, which are less widespread throughout the state.Continue to 5 of 30 below.
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The laughing gull (Larus atricilla) is widespread along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Texas, and these gulls are year-round residents on Florida’s 663 miles of beaches. Due to improperly discarded fishing line, it can be common to see one-legged gulls, but they adapt well. Laughing gulls are the only Florida gull with a dark hood during the summer breeding season.
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Brilliantly colored, the purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) is a summer resident in much of the southeastern United States, but stays in the Florida peninsula year-round. The iridescent sheen of its green, blue, and purple body can be difficult to see, but the light blue frontal shield and the red bill with its yellow tip are always visible and key for identification.
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An elegant seabird, the magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) can be seen soaring offshore anywhere along the Florida coast, though it is more common in southern waters. Birders on pelagic trips, fishing charters, or cruises departing from Florida ports are likely to spot magnificent frigatebirds, which can also occasionally be seen from fishing jetties near deep inlets.
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Another southern specialty, the brown noddy (Anous stolidus) is a tropical tern found off the southern Florida coast, including the Florida Keys. Hurricanes may push these birds further north and deeper inland than expected. Brown noddies nest on Dry Tortugas, along with even rarer black noddies, and birders can arrange visits to Dry Tortugas National Park.Continue to 9 of 30 below.
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A tropical buteo, the short-tailed hawk (Buteo brachyurus) is a Florida year-round resident in the southern and southwestern part of the state, and expands its range to central Florida during the breeding season. These birds are most often seen in flight, and the distinct body pattern of both the light and dark plumage morphs can help birders identify them.
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Florida is the only place in the United States where birders can find the snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis), a rare raptor with dark plumage and a severely hooked bill. This bill is excellent for prying into the large snails that make up this bird’s diet, and snail kites have adapted well to feasting on the apple snail, several species of which are invasive and destructive in Florida’s wetlands.
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The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is frequently active during the day. Florida’s populations in the central and southern part of the state are well adapted to suburban living in parks, golf courses, and near libraries. While this is the same species as the burrowing owls of the western United States, the species may one day be split and the Florida owls recognized as unique.
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It’s impossible to visit Florida and not see the white ibis (Eudocimus albus), which is common and widespread everywhere in the Sunshine State. Seeing these birds during the breeding season when their red bills and legs are more brilliant is a treat for any birder, and they’re frequently found in flocks visiting yards and parks, and even mixing with glossy ibises.Continue to 13 of 30 below.
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With its pink-and-white plumage, bare head, and spatulate-shaped bill, the roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) is a target bird for many birders visiting Florida. These coastal wading birds can occasionally be found inland as well, often with flocks of ibises, egrets, and herons. Their plumage is most brilliantly colored during the summer breeding season, and immature birds are much paler.
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Florida may be associated with plastic lawn flamingos, but birders hope to spot the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) when they visit the Sunshine State. Once abundant in the Everglades and along the southern coasts, these birds are much rarer but gradually becoming more frequent visitors. Checking rare sightings can help birders add this rarity to their Florida list.
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Found only in Florida and nowhere else in the world, the Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is a highly desired bird for birders to see. These are bold, sociable jays, and can become accustomed to visitors in areas where populations are monitored. They require scrub oak habitat, and are listed as vulnerable and decreasing as their habitat becomes more fragmented.
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The only native stork in the United States, the wood stork (Mycteria americana) is widespread throughout Florida except the westernmost areas of the panhandle. Easily recognized by its bald head and heavy, drooping bill, this large wading bird is gregarious and frequently found in large groups, particularly in roosts and nesting colonies.Continue to 17 of 30 below.
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The reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) is a coastal wader that prefers saltwater or brackish habitats, and is frequently seen on Florida’s beaches. A year-round resident in the southern part of the state, this egret breeds along all of Florida’s coastlines, and birders can often see its unique hunting behavior, where it shades water with its wings so it can more easily see its prey.
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Primarily a western bird, the long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus) winters along Florida’s coasts, making it a great bird to see for anyone visiting the state during the winter months. They can be seen on coastal mudflats and beaches, as well as in inlets and marshy areas, where their mottled plumage and very long, thin, decurved bill is unmistakable.
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A specialty bird in Florida, the limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is a medium-sized, heavy-bodied bird that closely resembles both waders and rails. Its speckled plumage is easily identified, as is its slow, limping gait. These birds can be difficult to see, but prefer marshes and swamps where they slowly stalk through reeds and grasses as they hunt snails and other prey, often at night.
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The white-crowned pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala) is a large dove found in extreme southern Florida, primarily in the Everglades and the Florida Keys. The white crown and striated neck are key markings, and these birds can be found where berry bushes and other fruits are abundant. They do stay high in foliage, however, and can be challenging to see.Continue to 21 of 30 below.
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A colorful visitor, the spot-breasted oriole (Icterus pectoralis) is rare but occasionally seen in Florida, particularly in the Miami suburbs, where it has been introduced. These birds are the only Florida oriole to show a fully orange head, making identification easy. Where these birds are present, they will visit jelly and orange feeders along with other orioles.
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The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is spread throughout the southeast, and local breeding colonies are carefully managed in the pine woods of northern and central Florida. This management gives birders a good chance to add this distinct woodpecker to their life list, as it may be possible to find guides and tours specifically targeting this sought-after species.
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While the rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is widespread in the western United States, these boldy orange, aggressive hummingbirds are only rare visitors to the eastern part of the country. More overwintering rufous hummingbirds are being noted in Florida, making these distinctive birds welcome visitors when most birders have no hummingbirds at their feeders.
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One of Florida’s most colorful birds, the painted bunting (Passerina ciris) is more widespread in Texas and adjacent states, but because these birds winter in southern and central Florida, they are popular with both resident and visiting birders throughout the colder months. Painted buntings are shy, but will come to established feeders where millet and other birdseed is offered.Continue to 25 of 30 below.
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A large flycatcher with a thick, heavy bill, the gray kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) is found primarily in coastal areas of Florida, though its range does extend further up the coast to South Carolina and west into Mississippi. This is a summer visitor that prefers mangrove swamps and perches in the open, loudly calling, and may even be seen along roadsides and in cities.
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A bold, large, black bird, the boat-tailed grackle (Quiscalus major) is a southeastern coastal specialty and is found throughout Florida, often in large, noisy flocks. In central and southern Florida, these birds have dark eyes, unlike their northern counterparts with light eyes, and it is possible the species may be split in the future, giving Florida its own unique grackle.
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Often confused with grackles, the smooth-billed ani (Crotophaga ani) has a long tail, thick neck, and large bill with a high ridge peak on the upper mandible. These birds are native to South America and the Caribbean, but are rare but regular visitors in southern and central Florida as well. They prefer brushy habitats and are often seen perching on fences, snags, and other vantage points.
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While the eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is widespread throughout the eastern United States, it is only in Florida where male eastern towhees show light yellow-white eyes. It is possible that these birds may one day be split into a separate species, and birders who have already seen the Florida eastern towhee would gain an instant lifer.Continue to 29 of 30 below.
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The common myna (Acridotheres tristis), while established in feral colonies, is not considered native, but it can be worthwhile to see these unusual birds all the same, especially for birders who may never visit their native range in Asia. Mynas are fairly common in urban areas in south Florida, including around Miami and well into the Florida Keys.
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No visit to Florida would be complete without seeing the northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), the official state bird of the Sunshine State. Common and widespread in the state year-round, these bold birds have formidable attitudes and can become bullies around feeders, but their spunky personalities and varied songs make them favorites in the state all the same.