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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
12800 Hagen Ranch Road, Boynton Beach
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:
- Delray Beach is a great weekend getaway. Here’s a guide to visiting the lively historic city.
- Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens: Feel harmony in nature
- A great beach at MacArthur State Park
- Kayak to Munyon Island in MacArthur State Park
- Lake Trail, a bike trail on the elite island of Palm Beach
- Palm Beach: Full of history and manicured beauty
- Peanut Island for snorkeling and camping
- Hiking and bike trails at Grassy Waters Preserve, West Palm Beach
Birding resources from Florida Rambler
- Florida Great Birding and Wildlife Trail: How to use this excellent website.
- Flamingoes in Florida: Back for good?
- Birds hold court at Wakodahatchee Wetlands & Green Cay in suburban Palm Beach County
- Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray: Wood storks nesting in spring
- Peaceful Waters Sanctuary, Wellington: Top birding spot in sububan Palm Beach County
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: Birds, beauty galore
- White pelicans: How to see spectacular birds wintering in Florida
- Circle B Bar Reserve: Lakeland park is terrific for wildlife
- Thousands of birds migrate over Keys in fall
- St. Augustine Alligator Farm bird rookery is thrilling for birders
- Fort Myers Bunche Beach: Heaven for birders, kayakers
- Naples Bird Rookery Swamp: 9 ways it’s great for hiking, biking
- Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge: Wild spot to hike and see wildlife
- Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.