Every fall, the skies over the Florida Keys fill with thousands of birds from hundreds of species heading south for the winter.
The migrating birds follow the land as far as it goes, and that includes the narrow strip that is the Florida Keys, often stopping to chow down before heading over water to the Caribbean or Central or South America.
In the Keys, a remarkable citizen-science project occurs every fall called Florida Keys Hawkwatch.
Headquartered in Curry Hammock State Park, volunteers will staff a viewing outpost every day from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31, 2019, identifying and counting birds overhead.
Last year the Hawk Watch project in Curry Hammock State Park county counted 19,067 raptors!
The Keys Hawkwatch is one of more than 100 conducted around the country in collaboration with the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
The Hawkwatch project selected Curry Hammock State Park as its headquarters because the Middle Keys are only .62 miles across at the widest point and thus the birds compress into a narrow space overhead.
The Curry Hammock site is famous in birding circles for the number of peregrine falcons that are spotted here. On a world-record day in 2015, volunteers counted more than 1,506 peregrine falcons in one day!
Peregrine falcons feed on other birds — pigeons, doves, waterfowl, parrots. They’re the size of a crow, but are often called the fastest animal in the world because they can reach 150 mph while making a dive.
Here’s a report on the 2018 Hawk Watch, with statistics by species.
Hawkwatch welcomes volunteers with binoculars and the birders there will answer questions from visitors. Hawkwatch sets up shop on the second-floor deck of the building housing the campground bathrooms at Curry Hammock. (This area is usually only open to campers and park rangers ask that you respect the privacy of campers.)
Want to witness the migration on your own? You’ll find advice on identifying raptors here.
Here are three good spots for birding.
Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon and Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine offer excellent opportunities to view migrating birds on your own.
Curry Hammock State Park, 56200 Overseas Hwy., Marathon, FL 33050. (305) 289-2690. “If you enjoy watching bird migration then this site won’t disappoint; on a good day it’s one of the best sites in the United States,” according to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
The park has a campground, but very few vacancies at this point. In addition to watching the skies, you can kayak around the island and into coves where birds roost. Day-use fees: $5 per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle; $2, Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers; $4, Single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle.
Bahia Honda State Park, 36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, FL 33043. (305) 872-2353. Here’s where to look for birds in Bahia Honda. The park has a campground and cabins, but, again, they are very hard to reserve. Day-use fees: $8 per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle; $2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers; $4 Single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle.
National Key Deer Refuge. Visitors Center in the Big Pine Shopping Center, 179 Key Deer Boulevard, Big Pine Key. (305) 304-9625. Explore Big Pine Key and No Name Key by bike should produce plenty of wildlife, or your can take a self-guided tour of Ohio Key and Long Beach ares of the refuge to spot migrating hawks. Here’s advice on where to look for birds here.
More things to do in the Florida Keys
- Print out this mile marker guide to enhance your road trip to the Florida Keys.
- The Florida Keys Wild Bird Care Center is a great stop on your visit to the Keys.
- Florida Rambler’s guide to the best beaches in the Florida Keys
- Florida Rambler Guide to the Lower Keys
- Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- Visit historic Pigeon Key in Marathon
- Kayak or canoe to historic Indian Key
- Camping in Middle Keys: Curry Hammock State Park
- Camping near Key West