Winter Stops on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

Jason Boeckman
Jason Boeckman

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a magnificent network of more than 500 sites throughout the state, designed to protect Florida’s native species in their natural habitats. And just as human snowbirds are drawn to our warm, sunny shores, actual birds are repeat visitors to important stopover points on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Pack your binoculars to spot migrating birds as they settle into their winter abodes.

Dedicated birders could spend an entire vacation spotting the wildlife at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. More than 245 species call this protected land their home throughout the year, and the American White Pelican is one of the star attractions. Making their way to these wetlands between October and March, these large birds can often be spotted scooping up fish just off the 4-mile-long Wildlife Drive. Keep your eyes open for other local favorites such as the roseate spoonbill and the boldly colored yellow-crowned night heron.

Learn more fun facts about white pelicans in Southwest Florida.

From the uplands to the wetlands, Estero Bay Preserve State Park is a pristine stopover for migrating birds and home to year-round residents. Florida’s first aquatic preserve protects 10 miles of Estero Bay with trails that run through salt marshes, mangroves, flatwoods and tidal salt flats. Watch out for bald eagles, along with varieties of winter warblers and sparrows.

Other sites along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail include Lakes Regional Park, where wading birds are a common sight. Cayo Costa State Park is a remote barrier island that offers an undisturbed sanctuary for ospreys, snowy plovers and more. Positioned alongside the Caloosahatchee River, Caloosahatchee Regional Park has a diverse array of terrain where birds are abundant.

Click here for even more wild and protected areas to spot migrating birds.

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