From aquatic to wading birds, the Florida Keys is one of the most unique ecosystems supporting a wide range of bird species. Whether you’re a serious birder or just a casual lover of nature, keep your eyes peeled for some of these most common birds of the Florida Keys.
As with any coastal area, seagulls are abundant in the Florida Keys. These grey-white birds have black markings on their heads and wings, long bills and webbed feet. As carnivores, they nest in densely packed colonies and scavenge for live food, which typically consists of small crabs and fish. While they’re coastal birds, they rarely venture far out to sea and have long lives. They’re also known for their loud squawking calls.
The brown pelican is the smallest of the eight species of pelicans and one of only two species that dives into the water to feed on small fish. Common in the Florida Keys during the winter months, the brown pelican is recognizable for its large bill and gular pouch, as well as its squat body, short legs and large webbed feet. They’re often found moseying along marinas searching for prey. They also form habitats within the Florida Keys’ abundant mangroves.
The osprey, or seahawk, is a common bird in the Florida Keys and always a treat to spy whether you find him perched in a nest or sailing stealthily along wind currents. As a fish-eating bird of prey, the osprey is recognizable for its sharp, hooked beak, brown upper parts, white-grey underparts and head, as well as its wide wingspan, which can be as long as 71 inches. Often mistaken for the bald eagle, the osprey is found around the world and you have an excellent chance of spotting one in the wild in the Florida Keys.
Cormorants are aquatic birds with dark black feathers and can dive as deep as 45 feet propelled by their webbed feet and wings fishing for prey. They’re often found offshore in the Florida Keys perched on mangrove branches and islands with their wings outspread soaking up the sun. They are coastal birds, as opposed to oceanic, and colonize around the shore in trees or mangrove islands.
Frigate birds are typically spotted in the Florida Keys flying high in the sky on wind currents where they’re able to soar for weeks at a time. Recognizable for their long, pointed wings and forked tails, they cut a striking silhouette. These predatory birds feed on fish chased to the surface of the water by larger pelagic fish like tuna and are also known to steal prey from other seabirds and even chicks from their nests. They get their name because when sailors spot them out at sea, they know land is near.
The ibis is a long-legged wading bird found in shades of light pink and white in the Florida Keys. Their down-curved bill is designed for probing through the mud for crustaceans. These coastal birds nest in trees and can sometimes be found in flocks in residential neighborhoods in the Florida Keys.
Both the white and great blue heron species are found in the Florida Keys. These regal, long-legged wading birds make the coastal wetlands their habitat where they can be seen strutting with their long, curved necks preying on small fish.
When in Key West, you can’t forget about the local population of chickens that roam the island freely. Dating back to Cuban immigration to the island, chickens have been a part of Key West’s landscape for decades. While some consider them a nuisance, there’s no denying that they’re part of Key West’s quirky charms. They definitely stop traffic, especially when a mother hen is trailed by a gaggle of baby chicks. They also make for a natural alarm clock at sunrise depending on what part of the island you’re staying in.
While flamingos aren’t exactly a common sighting in the Florida Keys, you still have a chance to spot them and they are quite a vision to behold. These rare pink wading birds often balance on one leg and sometimes use their webbed feet to kick up prey in the mud. During winter months, your best chance of spotting flamingos in the Florida Keys is offshore on shallow sandbars or mangrove islands. They are social birds that live in colonies and can range in color from pale pink to bright red.