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From crystal clear waters to majestic mountains and beautiful theme parks to stunning wildlife, the state is also home to a wide variety of coastal birds of Florida!
Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean, meandering south to the keys, and then around to the Gulf, twisting north and west across the panhandle, Florida has the honor of having a massive and fascinating coastline. And along that entire coastline, you can be sure to spot hundreds of coastal birds of Florida.
In fact, the sunshine state is a spectacular state for bird-watching. There are more than 200 species of birds that call Florida home. It includes seabirds, wading birds, and bird species of almost any color. So, you can’t head to the beach and avoid running into the birds near Florida’s ocean.
Moreover, these birds fly around the lakes, dive into the ocean, dabble in the surf, and hang out on seawalls. It is normal to see a massive flock of birds, especially in the morning and evening, since they are more active during these times.
In this post, we will discuss the coastal birds of Florida and what birds to see on Florida coast. So, let’s get started!
Life Cycle of Coastal Birds of Florida
Some coastal birds of Florida tend to spend their whole lives along the Florida beaches. Bird species, such as gulls, pelicans, and albatrosses, are the birds to see on Florida coast. These birds near Florida’s ocean love to scoop up fish for their meal. On the other hand, wading birds, such as egrets and herons, split their lives between swamps, lakes, and marshes.
Since these wading birds of Florida can fly, they move around more frequently. Similarly, in the case of non-migratory bird species, they tend to breed where they can get plenty of food. It is worth noting that many species of coastal birds of Florida are migratory as they either use the sunshine state as their pit stop or breed there. It is rare to find shorebirds living consistently in the same place for very long.
Moreover, many shorebirds grow up quickly and leave their nests, migrating to their seasonal homes. They then return to their birthplace to lay eggs and raise their young ones. Florida’s seasonal breeding grounds are usually federally protected, helping a healthy population of different bird species to breed.
12 Fascinating Coastal birds of Florida
1. Laughing Gulls
|Scientific Name: Leucophaeus Atricilla|
|Weight: 280 g|
|Wingspan: 37-47 Inches|
Laughing gulls are probably the most common birds to see on Florida coast. When talking about seagulls, these are also the birds that you think of first. Their name is tied to their unique calls that seem like they are having a laugh.
Since there are many species of gulls, you can differentiate laughing gulls by looking at their black or mottled-black head feathers. Like other gull species, laughing gulls also prefer to build their nests in large colonies. These birds tend to be more active during nighttime while also harassing beachgoers for food during the day.
Moreover, laughing gulls love to dine on insects, invertebrates, small fish, and even bird eggs. Although they can forage while swimming, these birds fly lower over the water to catch prey beneath the surface. Among other places, laughing birds are abundant in places like Tampa Bay, Florida Bay, Keys, and Merritt Island.
2. Herring Gulls
|Scientific Name: Larus Argentatus|
|Weight: 640 – 1,700 g|
|Wingspan: 48 – 58 Inches|
In addition to laughing gulls, herring gulls are coastal birds of Florida that you will find in abundance along the Florida beaches. These birds look incredibly beautiful and can easily be differentiated from other gulls due to their pink legs. Additionally, these birds also have a larger size than laughing gulls.
Generally, a typical herring gull has a wingspan of about five feet and weighs about three to four times more than a laughing gull. Moreover, unlike laughing gulls, herring gulls tend to build their nests in secluded areas, ranging farther than other birds.
An interesting fact about herring gulls is that they primarily feed on fish and are a gull species that fishermen use to locate fish offshore.
3. Ring-Billed Gulls
|Scientific Name: Larus Delawarensis|
|Weight: 520 g|
|Wingspan: 40 – 49 Inches|
A small cousin of herring gulls, ring-billed gulls generally strikes a white and gray plumage while also having a distinctive black ring around the yellow bill. It also helps birdwatchers to differentiate between ring-billed gulls and other gull species. However, the legs of ring-billed gulls can vary in colors, including pink, gray, yellow, black, or red.
Like other birds near Florida’s ocean, ring-billed also tend to build their nests in large colonies and swarm in large flocks in the air. These birds generally have a wingspan of up to 46-inch and weigh between 283 to 680 grams. Besides being fed on fish, insects, and invertebrates, they are scavengers like any other gull species.
It means these birds can pick anything they see lying on the ground, whether spilled chips, dropped ice cream, or old garbage. Moreover, these coastal birds of Florida don’t shy around other birds and compete for food, even snatching food from other birds’ mouths. Furthermore, since they are the birds to see on Florida coast, they harass beach-goers to get some food.
|Scientific Name: Tringa Semipalmata|
|Weight: 198 – 312 g|
|Wingspan: 27 Inches|
Willets are also common birds to see on Florida coast. These species can easily be identified by looking at their white and black striped wings. However, these stripes are hard to see when willets fly on the water. Additionally, they also have a gray or brown plumage as well as a long black bill.
These birds move around alone, in pairs, or small flocks. Additionally, willets like to forage on shores, in shallow waters, and in swamps and marshes. When accosted, these coastal birds of Florida will run instead of flying away.
Moreover, like other shorebirds on the list, willets probe the sand to catch aquatic insects, small fish, crustaceans, and worms. While their natural habitat is shallow waters and marshes, they are also abundant near Florida’s oceans.
5. Brown Pelicans
|Scientific Name: Pelecanus Occidentalis|
Brown pelicans are birds to see on Florida coast. These seabird species are big, stocky, and have stretched wings that bow out when gliding. Additionally, these birds are a bit comical, perhaps whimsical, featuring thin necks and long bills with a flexible throat pouch. Because of their stretchy pouch, brown pelicans can easily catch fish.
It is common to see these seabirds wading over the water in search of prey. In fact, all brown pelicans are piscivores, meaning they primarily feed on fish. Moreover, these seabirds often fly low over the water, flapping and gliding in unison. One of the most enjoyable parts about brown pelicans is their feeding behavior. Once they spot a fish below, they plunge headlong in pursuit of a yummy meal.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that in the 60s, brown pelicans were severely endangered, mainly because of a pesticide known as DDT. However, in the ’70s, DDT and other harmful pesticides were banned in Florida, allowing pelicans to make a miraculous comeback.
6. Royal Terns
|Scientific Name: Thalasseus Maximus|
|Weight: 390 – 430 g|
|Wingspan: 39 – 43 Inches|
It is worth noting that there are about 16 species of royal tern in North America. However, the royal tern is one of the 12 species of these birds to see on the Florida coast. At first glance, many birdwatchers may think that royal tern is a gull because they are similar. However, one of the significant differences is that royal terns feature a lighter and more buoyant flight.
In addition, these coastal birds of Florida also have a sleek, narrow bodies, forked tails, and sharp beaks. Their body mass has a scruffy black top and orange beak. These seabirds tend to hover 10 to 30 feet in the air over the water. After a short hover, royal terns gracefully dive into the surf in pursuit of a fish.
Furthermore, royal terns are also the largest tern species. These birds love to roam around big bodies of water; hence you can spot these birds near Florida’s ocean in abundance.
|Scientific Name: Tringa Semipalmata|
|Weight: 200 – 330 g|
|Wingspan: 27 Inches|
Willets are another species of birds to see on Florida coast. Like most sandpipers that tend to be small to average in size, the willets are one of the exceptions. These coastal birds of Florida are among the largest members of the family. Willets are both winter visitors and year-round residents of Florida. In fact, there are two willet varieties distinguished geographically.
Firstly, western willets love to spend summertime in the Rocky Mountains and northern plains of Canada. The second type is eastern willets, found along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia and Maritime southward of Canada. However, both willet varieties can be seen in Florida during winter.
Moreover, in summer, these birds near Florida’s ocean strike a mottled brown color, while in colder months, their appearance can be dull gray to brown. However, throughout the year, willets have black and white bars on the wings that flash when flying.
Furthermore, willet’s menu includes clams, small crabs, snails, and worms. Additionally, while western willets prefer to live along marshes, ponds, and wet prairies, eastern willets prefer to build their nests near beaches, barrier islands, and saltwater marshes.
|Scientific Name: Calidris Alba|
|Weight: 40 – 100 g|
|Wingspan: 14 Inches|
Sanderlings, also known as “peeps,” are common birds near Florida’s ocean. These shorebirds have black eyes, black bills, and speedy little black legs. Birdwatchers can quickly identify sanderlings as they congregate near the water’s edge in search of food.
Moreover, these seabirds usually toddle around in flocks, scurrying on little legs ahead of the surging waves. Sanderlings tend to travel together on the ground in small herds, making them a common sight on the beach. These birds are little chubby and love to dine on sand crabs, marine worms, insects, small mollusks, etc.
9. Little Blue Heron
|Scientific Name: Egretta Caerulea|
|Weight: 290 – 340 g|
|Wingspan: 39 – 41 Inches|
The most striking and distinctive element of these coastal birds of Florida is their stunning bluish-purple plume. These are the common birds to see on the Florida coast and mainly breed near the shore. However, little blue herons remain inconspicuous by embracing a calm attitude for movement and foraging.
Birdwatchers who wish to differentiate blue herons from their cousins should observe their movement during forage. While these birds generally forage with white herons and egrets, their purposely lazy activity makes them stand out from their cousins.
On the other hand, most egrets and herons move faster and more erratic manner than blue herons. These shorebirds love to eat crustaceans and fish, tadpoles, insects, and even turtles.
10. Tricolored Herons
|Scientific Name: Egretta Tricolor|
|Weight: 390 – 413 g|
|Wingspan: 38 Inches|
Aside from little blue herons, great blue herons and tricolored herons are also common birds to see on Florida coast. As the larger version of little blue herons, great blue herons have light blue plumage and larger dimensions. On the other hand, tricolored herons have the same extent, but they strike a white stripe running to their neck.
Both great blue herons and tricolored herons are commonly found in abundance around lakes, marshes, swamps, and oceans. These birds tend to hunt alone. You may also see white herons of the same size and great blue herons. However, these birds have entirely white plumage.
11. Snowy Egrets
|Scientific Name: Egretta Thula|
|Weight: 310 – 370 g|
|Wingspan: 39 Inches|
Snowy egrets are elegant-looking coastal birds of Florida that you can find in abundance near Florida beaches. These shorebird species are tropical birds with a smaller dimension than the horns. However, the body mass is much similar to the great white heron. These magnificent birds feature stark white plumes contrasting with long black legs. Additionally, slight yellow features near the face, black bill, and florescent yellow feet entice birdwatchers to appreciate their elegance.
It is worth noting that, like brown pelicans, the snowy egrets’ population declined steadily in the late 1800 and 1900s. This is mainly due to their breeding plumages that were incredibly in demand for decorating lady hats. Luckily, the Migratory Bird Treaty in the early 1900s saved these elegant birds, allowing them to rebound quickly.
Today, snowy egret birds near Florida’s ocean are abundant, and you can find them prodding and poking for food around rivers, oceans, lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, etc. These birds love to diet on fish, crabs, shrimps, insects, crayfish, snakes, and even tiny frogs.
|Scientific Name: Limnodromus|
|Weight: 88 – 330 g|
|Wingspan: 18 – 28 Inches|
It is common to see Dowitchers strolling around on the Florida beaches. Although these bird species are more prominent than sanderlings, they are lazy because they don’t run as quickly as sanderlings. Dowitchers can have a long, thin bill and gray or light-brown color, depending on the season. These coastal birds of Florida tend to flock as much as 100 times. Additionally, like most other shorebirds, these birds run away when sensing danger rather than taking flight.
In fact, there are two varieties of Dowitchers: short-billed and long-billed Dowitchers. Short-billed Dowitchers have a short bill as compared to large-billed Dowitchers. These bird species are chubby, brown, gorgeous orange, and golden shorebirds featuring a long bill. Moreover, Short-billed Dowitchers are the common birds to see on Florida coast.
On the other hand, long-billed Dowitchers have longer bills and probe the sand in search of food. However, listening to the Dowitchers than looking at their bills can help you differentiate these birds. For instance, while the long-billed produce a song like “peet-peet-ter-wee-too,” the short-billed Dowitchers call “tu-tu-tu.”
The sunshine state is a dream come true for birdwatchers and outdoor enthusiasts. Between thousands of sky-high, squawking, and diving shorebirds, there is no shortage of coastal birds of Florida. The species mentioned above are only a few birds to see on the Florida coast. Many more species of birds are near Florida’s ocean, probing the sand in pursuit of food.
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