10 Day Florida Winter Birding Tour
Florida is a fantastic birding destination and in winter it comes alive! The Winters are mild in Florida, attracting an assortment of species, including resident species as well as birds from northern areas that migrated here for winter.
Private and small group, customised safaris can be booked on request
Next Group Departure Date: To be confirmed
Full Itinerary – Florida: Winter Birding Tour
Arrival in Orlando
Welcome to central Florida! Upon your arrival at the Orlando International Airport you will be met by your expert bird guide and transferred to our chosen hotel in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle.
Orlando, nicknamed “the City Beautiful”, is one of the most-visited cities in the world. This is primarily due to the city’s proximity to the Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, LegoLand, Fun Spot America and Universal Studios Orlando Resort. This is why the city is also known as the “Theme Park Capital of the World”.
Other attractions include the Orlando Eye (a huge observation wheel), numerous world class golf courses, the Harry P Leu Gardens, excellent restaurants, the Mennello Museum of American Art, and a rich performing scene. Orlando is also home to many national and international conferences, and is also a major industrial and hi-tech centre. Orlando is the home city of two major league professional sports teams: the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer (MLS).
The geography of Orlando is mostly wetlands. The terrain is generally flat, and the area is dotted with hundreds of swampy areas and lakes, the largest of which is Lake Apopka.
Depending on what time your flight arrives, there may be time to visit one or more of these attractions.
We will get together at a restaurant and get to know each other over our welcome dinner tonight. We will discuss our previous trips and which bird species are high on everyone’s target lists for this trip. Then we will get a good night’s sleep; tomorrow we really start birding!
We will start our day with breakfast in the hotel and then head to our first location on this tour.
We’ll be familiarising ourselves with the wonderful birds of Florida with a trip to Lake Apopka, specifically the North Shore, a world-renowned birding destination. It is the 4th largest lake in the state (surface area of 30,800 acres/125 km2), and is situated about 15 miles northwest of Orlando. This former agricultural area suffered from years of pollution, but these days it is a mecca for birds and for birders from near and far.
Almost 370 different species have been recorded here (the most for any inland site in the U.S.) and we’ll utilise the trails and observation towers to tick our first species of the trip. While there are six main access points to the lake, the main attraction is the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. Specials we could see include Sora, Purple Gallinule, Groove-billed Ani, Fulvous Whistling Duck and more.
Some of the more common water-associated species we will see include American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Common Gallinule, Blue-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Snowy Egret, Pied-billed Grebe, Glossy Ibis and Lesser Scaup.
We will also see others like Anhinga, Limpkin, Western Osprey, Northern Crested Caracara, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Wood Stork, Great Blue, Great and Western Cattle Egret, Little Blue and Tricolored Heron, Ruddy and Mottled Duck, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Ring-billed Gull, Black-necked Stilt, Belted Kingfisher, Gull-billed Tern, King Rail, American and Least Bittern and Grey-headed Swamphen.
Passerines that we could tick include American Robin, American Tree, Savannah and Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Fork-tailed and Ash-throated Flycatcher, American Goldfinch, Buff-bellied (American) Pipit, Yellow-rumped, Pine and Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.
Rare birds usually show up at this location as well, and we will make sure we don’t miss something like Greater White-fronted Goose, Willow Flycatcher or Shiny Cowbird.
We’ll also see American Alligators and there’s a possibility for North American Otter, Southern Watersnake, Marsh Rabbit, raccoons and even Bobcat. We will return to our hotel for dinner and to update our trip lists after an exciting first day of birding.
Ocala National Forest
We will have an early start today as we check out of the hotel after a quick breakfast and head north.
We should reach our destination, the Ocala National Forest, after about 90 minutes.
This beautiful forest (at 607 sq mi/1,570 km2 the second largest protected forest in Florida) is one of the last remaining large sandhill ecosystems in the state that were once historically so abundant. The forest was established in 1908. The word Ocala is thought to be a derivative of a Timucuan term meaning “fair land” or “big hammock”. The forest contains the largest concentration of sand pine in the world as well as some of the best remaining stands of longleaf pine in central Florida. There are also small stands of evergreen oaks, slow-moving rivers and wet prairie areas, along with swamps and marshes.
Here we have the possibility to see all 8 species of woodpecker the state has to offer, including the iconic Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a federally endangered species. We should also be able to locate Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Red-headed, and Pileated Woodpecker as well as the Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Two other top targets, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow, live in the same habitat and we’ll also look for mixed feeding flocks of songbirds that can contain Carolina Chickadee, Carolina and House Wren, American Goldfinch, Blue-headed Vireo and Pine Warbler.
A different section of the same forest will provide the scrub habitat essential for locating our state’s only endemic bird, the Florida Scrub Jay. This species lives only in a unique oak scrub community, dominated by a layer of evergreen oaks and adapted to regular high-intensity fires, with well-drained, bare sandy patches. This rare habitat is unfortunately under increasing pressure from agriculture and housing developments, leading to a decline in numbers for this special species. We should also find Eastern Towhee in this area, and could also tick Red-tailed Hawk, Tufted Titmouse, Ovenbird, Northern Bobwhite, Hermit Thrush and Barred Owl.
Mammals are well represented in the forest too, and we could see White-tailed Deer, Wild Boar, Bobcat, Red and Grey Fox, Southeastern Pocket Gopher and numerous small animals, including squirrels, bats and raccoons. With lots of luck we could even see Nine-banded Armadillo and American Black Bear!
Today we will start with a hearty breakfast before we head northwest into the Florida Big Bend and Panhandle toward the capital city of Florida, Tallahassee.
Tallahassee is the site of the Florida State Capitol, Supreme Court of Florida, Florida Governor’s Mansion, and nearly 30 state agency headquarters. The city is also known for its large number of law firms, lobbying organizations, trade associations and professional associations, including the Florida Bar and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The city is home to many entertainment venues, theatres, museums, parks and performing arts centres.
We will spend the day in some hotspots around the city, looking for some wintering birds not seen anywhere else on the tour. Places we could visit include Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park, Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Apalachicola National Forest, Lake Elberta, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and others. We will make a collective decision on where to go depending on which species we still need on our trip lists at this point.
Greater and Lesser Scaup is likely along with Red-throated Loon, Canvasback, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch. There is also a possibility for Seaside and Henslow’s Sparrow, Vermilion Flycatcher and Virginia Rail as well.
More common species we could encounter include Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Black and Turkey Vulture, Anhinga, Wood Stork, American White Ibis, Canada and Snow Goose, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Bufflehead, Redhead, American Black Duck, American Oystercatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Forster’s Tern, Wilson’s Snipe, Least and Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Chipping and Nelson’s Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Black-and-white and Orange-crowned Warbler, and many others.We will also see many colourful butterflies today, even in winter!
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore
Today we are back in central Florida to visit two key sites in the state.
First up is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge covers 140,000 acres (570 km2) of Florida’s largest barrier island, and is famous as the last refuge of the nigrescens subspecies of the Seaside Sparrow, which is now extinct as a result of human flooding of its marshland habitat. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and visitor complex are also situated on the island and NASA can actually restrict access to the refuge based on its operational needs.
The refuge provides a range of habitats, from saltwater estuaries and freshwater impoundments and marshes, to dunes, hardwood hammocks, and scrub. More than 330 avian species have been recorded here, along with 31 mammals, 117 species of fish and 68 amphibians.
Merritt Island is a ‘gateway site’ for the Great Florida Birding Trail and attracts thousands of waterfowl and large numbers of American Coot in winter, as well as large flocks of migrant and wintering shorebirds, gulls and terns, herons, egrets (including good numbers of Reddish Egret), Sora, Northern Pintail, American Avocet, Roseate Spoonbills and American White Pelicans. Areas of scrub harbour one of the largest remaining populations of Florida Scrub Jay. The Black Point Wildlife Drive can be particularly productive, and Northern Gannets can be seen off the beach at Playalinda in the winter. The space shuttle launch facility is easily visible from the parking lot here. Also look out for the gorgeous Painted Bunting at the entrance gate!
Next up we visit the neighbouring Canaveral National Seashore for some more opportunities for new species and better photographs of ones we may have seen previously. The park was created in 1975 by an act of Congress, so this 25 mile stretch of pristine Atlantic Ocean beach, dunes and Mosquito Lagoon (the longest expanse of undeveloped land along the east coast of Florida) should remain undisturbed forever.
Here we will walk along the beach, scanning the sea, the lagoon and mudflats for birds. Small flocks of Black and Surf Scoters may be seen here, and Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers are often spotted harassing terns and gulls. Other species we could tick include Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser, American White and Brown Pelican, Ring-billed and Laughing Gull, Royal and Forster’s Tern, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egret, Horned Grebe, Black-bellied Plover, Common Gallinule, Killdeer, Sanderling, Willet and many more.
Joe Overstreet Landing
Today we will bird at another of Florida’s top spots!
Just south of the theme parks and bright lights of Orlando, the sod fields and cattle ranches of the beautifully rural Joe Overstreet Road and Landing provide excellent habitat for some of the state’s birds.
Located north of Kenansville, the dirt farm road runs from Canoe Creek Road (FL Rt. 15) to the landing on the eastern shore of Kissimmee Lake.
Here we will look for Bald Eagle, the USA’s national bird, as well as Western Osprey, Northern Crested Caracara, Snail Kite, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Meadowlark, Wild Turkey, Sandhill Crane, Black Skimmer, Western Cattle Egret, American White and Glossy Ibis, Anhinga, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Boat-tailed and Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Mockingbird, Red-headed and Pileated Woodpecker, Wilson’s Snipe, Forster’s Tern, Black-bellied Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Eastern Bluebird, Palm, Prairie and Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and American Tree Swallow.
Rarities that have been spotted here before that we will look out for include Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Long-billed Curlew and Whooping Crane.
This site is very good for butterflies too, and we should some spectacularly coloured ones on our visit today.
Downtown Miami exotic birding OR optional pelagic trip
We’ll spend the day chasing introduced and exotic species in the greater Miami area, visiting parks, green areas and urban neighbourhoods. Whether you believe they are invasive pests (although some of them are very well established) or wonderful additions to your lists, it can’t be denied that they are all beautifully coloured and make for wonderful photographs. And almost all of them are ABA countable!
We could see Yellow-chevroned, White-eyed, Scarlet-fronted, Green, Red-masked, Crimson-fronted, Mitred, and White-winged Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Common Myna and Spot-breasted Oriole. There is also a chance for Lilac-crowned Parrot, Scaly-breasted Munia and even Blue-and-yellow Macaw. Don’t forget about the resident species though; we could see Grey Kingbird, Northern Parula, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Boat-tailed Grackle and White-crowned Pigeon in the city too.
We will break for lunch at the Titanic Brewery for some local British-influenced beers and food. We’ll finish the day at Brewer Park in South Miami where we’ll hope to see Orange-winged Parrots and Chestnut-fronted Macaws coming in to roost.
*Please note: there is an alternative option for those not interested in exotic birding, namely a full morning pelagic birding trip with a local expert. Expected species include Royal, Sandwich and Foster’s Tern, Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Booby, plus the possibility for Masked Booby, Bridled Tern, White-tailed Tropicbird, shearwaters, jaegers, phalaropes, scoters or storm-petrels. We’ll have lunch at the marina restaurant and continue birding in some of the local parks in Miami for wintering warblers.
Please inform us well in advance if you plan to partake in the pelagic cruise. We will get together for dinner, chatting the night away and updating our trip lists.
Everglades National Park
Today we visit one of Florida’s (and the United States’) most famous national parks or reserves.
The Everglades National Park is the largest (1,509,000 acres/6,106 km2) subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and is one of only three places on the planet to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. It is also a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty. The park provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species, including the West Indian Manatee, American Crocodile, the elusive Puma (Florida Panther), and also boasts a bird list of 350 species. The park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, but also contains 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles.
The park contains 9 distinct ecosystems, ranging from freshwater sloughs to tropical hardwood hammocks, pineland and mangroves, but also a large marine component.
We will concentrate our efforts on the southern part of the Everglades, specifically the area around Flamingo, the southernmost headquarters of the park. Unfortunately the visitor centre was severely damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and is currently closed.
We’re going to begin the day before sunrise and look for American Barn Owl, Eastern Whip-poor-will and Lesser Nighthawk along the road. At daybreak we’ll search for Broad-winged, Short-tailed, and Swainson’s Hawk, as well as Louisiana and Northern Waterthrush. Other species include American White Ibis, Wood Stork, Western Cattle, Reddish, Great and Snowy Egret, Green, Tricoloured, Great and Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Skimmer, American White and Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Royal and Caspian Tern, American Avocet, Clapper Rail, Sora, Western, Stilt, Spotted and Least Sandpiper, Bonaparte’s, Laughing and Ring-billed Gull, Marbled Godwit, Killdeer, Dunlin, Willet, White-crowned Pigeon, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Nelson’s and Swamp Sparrow, Marsh and Sedge Wren, White-eyed Vireo and American Tree Swallow.
Plus we will see American Crocodiles that inhabit the southern Everglades, and with a lot of luck we might even spot an elusive Puma, called a “Florida Panther” by the locals.
When traveling back north, we’ll make a quick stop at Lucky Hammock to check the area for songbirds. It is a small isolated square of lush trees among the agricultural fields, and is known as an excellent site for wintering land birds and. Despite its tiny size, this hotspot has a bird list of over 200 species!
Recent records here included Yellow-breasted Chat and Least Flycatcher, and we will also look for Chuck-will’s-widow, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Great Horned Owl, American Bittern, King Rail, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, Painted and Indigo Bunting, Clay-colored, Grasshopper, Lincoln’s, Swamp, House and Savannah Sparrow, Northern Rough-winged, Barn and Cave Swallow, and Brown-crested and Great Crested Flycatcher.
Blackpoint Marina, Wilton Manor & Green Cay Wetlands; transfer to Orlando
We’ll begin the day at Black Point Marina in Miami. It is a starting point for fishing and diving expeditions, especially among locals. The nearby Biscayne National Park consists of large picnic pavilions, bikeways, jogging trails and a jetty, which extends 1.5 miles into Biscayne Bay. Here we will search for species like Mangrove Cuckoo, Magnificent Frigatebird, Black Scoter, Lesser Scaup, Muscovy and Mottled Duck, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Belted Kingfisher and many more. Sightings of the latirostris subspecies of West Indian Manatee (“Florida Manatee”) are common at Black Point, and seeing these strange-looking aquatic mammals will be a highlight.
We’ll then travel north to the town of Wilton Manors to search for Blue-crowned Parakeets and end the day at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach. The 100-acre (0.4 km2) property has a mile-long boardwalk across open water, wetlands and mudflats, offering excellent photographic opportunities of wetland species.
We will look for Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, American and Least Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Heron, Mottled, Wood and Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Purple Gallinule, Red-breasted and Hooded Merganser, Limpkin, Painted Bunting and many others. In 2015, a La Sagra’s Flycatcher even wintered here, and a pair of Eastern Screech Owl have been seen here for a few years too! Also, the Atala butterfly in all of its life stages can be seen on the Coontie plants in the parking lot.
After our exciting final day, we’ll make the drive back to Orlando via the Florida Turnpike. It will take us about 2 and a half hours to reach our comfortable hotel close to the airport.
We will freshen up and get together for our farewell dinner at a nice restaurant tonight. We will finalise our trip lists, enjoy dinner and exchange contact details and even some photos, having made friends for life on our Florida birding adventure.
*Please note: the hotel accommodation is for your own account tonight, but we can make some good recommendations for you.
*Please enquire about this extension well in advance of the main tour.
We will enjoy breakfast at the hotel and then you will be transferred to the Orlando International Airport for your onward or homeward flights after an amazing Florida birding tour.
Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at