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Birds hold court at Wakodahatchee Wetlands & Green Cay


There may not be a more accessible environment to observe our feathered friends than two man-made wetland preserves west of Delray Beach — Wakodahatchee Wetlands and Green Cay Wetlands.

And while all manner of birds and other wildlife hold court here year-round, these wetlands are especially lively during the fall and spring migrations.

Best time to visit is early morning. And bring your camera.

Great Egret at Wakodahatchee Wetland
Great egret on the boardwalk at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands are just two miles apart, making them an easy outing to enjoy both in one day. Both are in the far western suburbs of Palm Beach County, near the edge of Everglades habitat and thus close enough to see a variety of birds who frequent the region.

Both preserves are man-made wetlands designed to treat highly treated water from a county water treatment plant, filtering the water as it seeps into the underground aquifer that is essential to South Florida’s water supply.

But you’d never know it when you look at it.

Nearly 100 varieties of native trees and plants were planted and natural habitats restored, and exotic species removed, turning both preserves into “wild” wonderlands and attracting an incredible variety of birds and other wildlife, a match for any state or federal lands you may have visited recently.

Wood storks, anhingas and herons all nesting together in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. (Bonnie Gross)
Wood storks, anhingas and herons all nesting together in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach in the spring. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

When we have visitors determined to see alligators, but no time to trek to the Everglades, here’s where we go. Both boardwalks are handicap accessible, and are perfect for families with wheelchairs or strollers.

I love spotting the occasional roseate spoonbill and the wonderfully colored whistling ducks. At times, Wakodahatchee has a lot of black-necked stilts, whose eye-catching black-and-white color scheme looks like it was created by a graphic designer.

We’ve seen swimming marsh rabbits and a bobcat and more varieties of birds than I can name.

The birds of Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Wakodahatchee Wetlands has a three-quarter-mile boardwalk, and along the way, you will see birds that are so used to the passing people and you can get extraordinarily close.

More than 170 species of birds have been identified here, including the purple gallinule, green herons, yellow-rumped warblers, bald eagles, a variety of hawks and flocks of shore birds, to name just a few.

No doubt you will come across visitors with cameras with long lenses — this boardwalk is a nature photographer’s paradise. Wildlife, even the birds, cluster close to the boardwalk, providing surprisingly easy viewing. Several varieties of turtles can be seen darting in and out of the shade of the boardwalk, and alligators linger nearby.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands is particularly fun to visit in spring when many varieties of birds nest quite close to the boardwalk. Here’s a report on Wakodahatchee in spring when wood storks nest.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands Preserve

13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach
Wakodahatchee Wetlands website

Wakodahatchee Wetland hours: Open daily from sunrise to sunset.

The boardwalk is .75 miles long and is handicapped accessible. There is restroom.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands admission: Free.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands parking: The large parking lot fills up on winter weekends, when 500 to 1,000 people may visit over the course of a day, and you may have to wait for a space. There is good turnover among visitors. We were fifth or sixth in a line of cars on a sunny Sunday and we waited only 15 or 20 minutes for a space.

Are pets permitted at Wakodahatchee Wetlands? No. Lots of things are NOT permitted, including pets, food, alcohol, jogging or speed walking, biking, skating, smoking or fishing.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands 2022 4 map wakodahatchee Birds hold court at Wakodahatchee Wetlands & Green Cay
Wakodahatchee Wetlands map

Green Cay Wetlands and Nature Center

Green Cay Wetlands has a much bigger parking lot and a longer boardwalk — 1.5 miles. It also has a nature center overlooking the 100 acres of restored wetlands. The 9,000-square-foot nature center features interactive exhibits and a gift shop.

The birding may be better at Wakodahatchee, but Green Cay makes for a more relaxing, less crowded walk. And you never know what you’ll spot. I’ve seen a bobcat here and a turtle laying dozens of eggs right next to the boardwalk on one of the islands. On most visits, I’ve spotted alligators too.

Here’s a list birds and other wildlife you might see at Green Cay.

Be sure to pause at the entrance and see what birds have gathered at the bird feeder in the shade. It’s a good spot in winter to see painted buntings and cardinals.

Green Cay Wetlands map
Green Cay Wetlands map

12800 Hagen Ranch Road, Boynton Beach
(561) 966-7000.

Green Cay Wetlands hours: Boardwalk open daily from sunrise to sunset. Nature center exhibits open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

Green Cay Wetlands admission: Free

Restrooms are clean, indoors and open from 6:45 a.m. to sunset.
Green Cay website.

More things to do to enjoy nature in Palm Beach County:

Birding resources from Florida Rambler

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Philip J Bruno

Thursday 23rd of March 2017

this link is not working... . (Here’s the official bird list at Green Cay) is there a site i can view showing the birds of Green Cay that is working? thanks. phil

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 25th of March 2017

Sorry. Looks like Palm Beach County moved or removed those documents. I have substituted in the article another list that might be helpful.

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