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Florida birding festivals: Where bird lovers flock

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Last updated on July 5th, 2024 at 12:13 pm

If you spend time outdoors in Florida, there’s a good chance you’ll end up seeing and appeciating birds.

Florida is such a bird-y spot! It’s so big and varied — forests, grasslands, wetlands — plus it has the longest coastline of any state in the lower 48.

Birders from beginners to pros gather each year to share their passion, learn new skills and join in outdoor adventures at Florida birding festivals.

There a lot of birds to see. The Audubon Society says 516 species have been recorded in the state, including more than 100 species who stop in Florida on their migration journey.

These events occur all over the state attracting both Florida residents and visitors. (Dare I call them snow birds?)

Burrowing owls at Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City.
Florida birding festivals: Burrowing owls at Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City.

Some events have struggled after the pandemic. The large and popular Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, for example, is not coming back in 2023 after two years of cancellations.

But some festivals are continuing, and they need support.

Here’s a roundup of major Florida birding festivals. If we missed yours, please add it to the comments field at the bottom of this article or email floridarambler@gmail.com.

Florida Birding and Nature Festival, Tampa Bay area, Oct. 17-20, 2024

This four-day event takes place in Apollo Beach at the Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center and will feature field trips, boat excursions, seminars by experts, nationally renowned keynote speakers and a free nature expo.

The festival coincides with the peak of fall migration of birds through Central Florida. More than 180 species have been observed during the Festival.

The outings, led by knowledgeable guides and in some cases the managers of the nature habitats visited, include walking, boat and canoe trips and a bus tour of Central Florida birding hot spots. Some field trips explore sites not normally open to the public.

A Thursday bus tour will explore the Circle B Bar Reserve and Saddle Creek Park, birding hot spots in nearby Lakeland. A sunset cruise Thursday will take visitors to Coffeepot Bayou Bird Island, where Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills and other water birds’ roost.

Most of the field trips are scheduled Friday through Sunday. Among the destinations: Egmont Key, the Cross Bar Ranch in Spring Hill, Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, Blackwater Creek Preserve, Fort DeSoto Park, and the Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve. Last year’s popular trip to the Schultz Nature Preserve, which highlights butterflies and dragonflies as well as birds, is on the agenda again as is the fascinating session on bird banding.

Field trip space is limited so early registration is advised.

Environmental warrior Clay Henderson will present the Friday keynote address. Henderson had a long career as an environmental lawyer, educator, and writer. He is the former president of the Florida Audubon Society and is the author of “Forces of Nature,” an environmental history of Florida and winner of the 2023 Stetson Kennedy Book Award.

World renowned photographer and ornithologist Tim Laman will be the Saturday keynote speaker. The National Geographic photographer will share his favorite bird photographs from more than 25 years. Laman also will lead photography seminars.

The festival also will offer two days of in-person and Zoom broadcasted seminars, with experts who will explore fascinating nature topics such as the mysteries of wildlife migration, the underappreciated virtues of the vulture, environmental threats to the mighty killer whale and the lessons of 50 years of research into the dolphins of Sarasota Bay.

A free Nature Expo on Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center will feature displays from numerous environmental organizations, nature-related businesses, and artists. Exhibitors will sell binoculars, artwork, bird boxes and native plants that attract birds and butterflies

Eco-pond, across from the campground in Flamingo in Everglades National Park is full of birds in November. Here, American avocets rest below a roseate spoonbill. (Photo: David Blasco)
Florida birding festivals: At the eco-pond, across from the campground in Flamingo in Everglades National Park, American avocets rest below a roseate spoonbill. (Photo: David Blasco)

14th Annual Everglades Birding Festival, Davie, Jan. 16-20, 2025

Where: Holiday Inn Express, 2540 Davie Road, Davie, in Broward County.

What: This South Florida festival focuses on the beautiful cypress swamps and Everglades prairies where you can spot wintering species such as waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors. South Florida is considered one of the top 10 birding  destination in the country. Organizer Paddy Cunningham is a birding professional; her company Birding Adventures takes small groups of birders throughout Florida and to such tropical birding destinations as Jamaica and Colombia.

For the festival, organized trips take participants to Everglades National Park, the Upper Keys and local birding hot spots in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.  Target birds for the festival include the snail kite, limpkin, wood stork, painted bunting, roseate spoonbill,  short-tailed hawk, purple gallinule, common myna, crested caracara and more.

Florida birding festials: White pelicans on the mud flats of Snake Bight near Flamingo in Everglades National Park,  (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida birding festivals: Some run field trips to Everglades National Park. These white pelicans were on the mud flats of Snake Bight near Flamingo. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Rookery Bay Festival of Birds, Naples, January 2025

Where: Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, 300 Tower Road Naples, Florida 34113

What: Rookery Bay, a 110,000-acre reserve that stretches from Naples to Ten Thousand Islands, is a terrific place for birding in the winter. Its festival offers boat tours and field trips to many nearby birding hotspots including boat trips to see thousands of birds fly off at sunrise and return at sunset to Rookery Bay, tours by bike and kayak in Big Cypress, a field trip to Corkscrew Swamp and a Swamp Tromp in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

Authors, biologists and other experts will give talks throughout the festival on topics ranging from how drones are helping researchers study scrub jays to a conservation success story about saving petrels and people. Here’s the schedule.

Florida Scrub Jay (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Scrub Jay (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Scrub Jay Festival, Venice, April

Scrub jays are charmers — curious, friendly and beautifully blue. It is the only bird endemic to Florida (found only in Florida.) All those are good reasons to celebrate with the Annual Scrub Jay Festival, this year combined with an Earth Day Festival.

Where: Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, 34229. The festival will take place at the Lake Osprey picnic area from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Park entry and the event are free. There is a fee for a guided tram tour.

You can join a guided hike and learn about the scrub habitat while in search of scrub-jay sightings. The event includes live music on the park stage; a photo contest exhibit; kids activities and games; food vendors; and family-friendly booths and exhibitors. A scrub-jay presentation will include a Q&A.

Florida’s Birding & Photo Fest, St. Augustine Beach, April, 2024

Where: Celebration Hall, St. Anastasia, 5205 A1A South, St. Augustine Beach

What: This is for birders who are also avid photographers. It offers 110 photography and birding events including field workshops and classroom sessions. There are many opportunities for boat tours, many speakers and multiple classes and field options every day for five days. One of the unique locations where photographers capture images is the historic St. Augustine Alligator Farm, which has a bird rookery that is full of nesting birds right off the boardwalk in April.

Florida birding resources from Florida Rambler

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