The diverse natural communities of Florida are home to a wide variety of bird species. Florida supports both migratory birds that stopover within the Atlantic Flyway and resident birds, some of which are endemic. Some birds have adapted to more urban settings and developing areas in the state, whereas others have not responded as successfully. Some species have also extended their range northward, which may be a result of climate changes. Although bird conservation efforts have increased in recent years, habitat loss and habitat degradation continue to be threats to the majority of bird species in Florida as indicated in the State of the Birds Report from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. The Florida Bird Conservation Initiative, a statewide bird conservation partnership, was created, in part, to address challenges highlighted in the report and to promote the sustainability of native Florida birds and their habitats through coordinated efforts.
The following pages include groups of birds either by taxonomic categories or habitat categories. All native bird species are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), regardless of whether they migrate. No intentional take of these birds, their eggs, nests, or young is permitted without proper authorization.
- Florida Bird Sounds (Florida Museum of Natural History)
- Florida Breeding Bird Atlas (FWC)
- Partners in Flight
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Migratory Bird Program (USFWS)
- Birds of Conservation Concern (USFWS)
- General bird survey protocol (FWC)
The American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates, ST), piping plover (Charadrius melodus, FT), red knot (Calidris canutus rufa, FT), roseate tern (Sterna dougallii dougallii, FT), snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus, ST) are found along shorelines, including sandy beaches, estuaries, and inlets. Least terns (Sternula antillarum, ST) and black skimmers (Rynchops niger, ST) are primarily found near coastal shorelines but may also be found inland along freshwater lakes or nesting in man-made areas or structures. Important breeding habitats are coastlines, spoil islands, and gravel rooftops, and occasionally disturbed areas near bodies of freshwater where conditions mimic their natural habitat. Foraging areas include mudflats, wrack lines, lagoons, marshes, mollusk beds, and other tidal areas. Wrack lines are especially important during the breeding season, February through August, to provide food and cover for developing chicks. Some ground-nesting seabirds may nest in alternative sites, such as gravel rooftops, freshly dredged areas, and cleared construction sites. It is recommended that surveys be conducted in natural and artificial habitats.
Disturbance from human activities is a leading threat to nesting shorebirds and this can be partly minimized by protecting nesting areas with posted signs to prevent people and pets from disturbing a nesting colony by inadvertently getting too close. Creation of artificial habitat, such as placing gravel on rooftops, can help improve nesting success in addition to protecting natural beach sites.
- Florida Beach-nesting Bird Plan (Florida Shorebird Alliance)
- Florida Shorebird Alliance: Plans and Reports (Florida Shorebird Alliance)
- BMPs for Vehicles on the Beach (FWC)
- Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds (FWC)
- Shorebird and Seabird Monitoring Protocols (FWC)
- Species Action Plan for Four Beach-Nesting Birds (FWC)
- Conservation Guidelines: Piping Plover (USFWS)
- Conservation Guidelines: Roseate Tern (USFWS)
- Species Profile: Piping Plover (USFWS)
- Species Profile: Roseate Tern (USFWS)
- Species Profile: Red Knot (USFWS)
- Survey Protocol: Piping Plover (USFWS)
The little blue heron (Egretta caerulea, ST), reddish egret (Egretta rufescens, ST), roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja, ST), and tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor, ST) share similar distributions across Florida. They are found mostly in wetlands, mangrove islands, and other suitable vegetation near water. They generally forage in shallow water sites such as mudflats, mangrove pools, tidal areas, and impoundments. Reddish egrets, specifically, are found along the coast of Florida and prefer marine environments. These species generally nest in large colonies of single or multi-species groups.
The wood stork (Mycteria americana, FT) can be found in a variety of freshwater and estuarine wetlands. Wood storks are easily recognized by their gray featherless heads, white plumage, black legs, and pink feet. They are distributed across most of Florida and breed in large colonies from November to March.
Florida’s wading birds generally require fluctuating water levels to support their prey populations. Habitat alteration, including changes to water quality and quantity, is a major threat that has resulted in loss of nesting habitat and foraging areas. Human development has resulted in altered hydrology, water pollution, and an influx of exotic plants and predators that has led to declines in reproductive success of these species.
The Florida sandhill crane (Antigone Canadensis pratensis, ST) is a resident subspecies that occurs in peninsular Florida. It is a tall, gray bird with red and white facial markings. They inhabit grasslands and freshwater marshes, and breed from January through August.
Florida also has an experimental, non-migratory population of whooping cranes (Grus americana) in central Florida. They are the tallest bird in North America, characterized by white plumage with a red crown on their head. The Florida subpopulation breeds between January and May. The release program in Florida was halted in 2008 due to survival and reproduction complications, including habitat loss due to development.
They rely on open grasslands such as prairies, pastures, and marshes. They are dependent on fire disturbance to maintain early successional habitats optimal for nesting and foraging. The main threats to cranes are habitat loss and degradation. Cranes may also experience mortality from car collisions and running into power lines. When birds are nesting, activity within 400 feet of active nests should be avoided.
Scott’s seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus peninsulae, ST), Wakulla seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus juncicola, ST), Marian’s marsh wrens (Cistothorus palustris marianae, ST), and Worthington’s marsh wrens (Cistothorus palustris griseus, ST) are saltmarsh songbirds in Florida. Seaside sparrows typically nest from February to June, whereas marsh wrens nest from April to July. They rely on unaltered saltmarsh; therefore, saltmarsh preservation is critical to their survival.
Cape Sable seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis, FE) are songbirds exclusively found in Everglades and Big Cypress National Parks. This species was originally listed due to its restricted geographic range, and changes in hydrology continue to threaten this subspecies.
Surveying for these species may be difficult due to the limited accessibility of marshes, as well as the cryptic nature of saltmarsh songbirds. Recommended protocol can be found in the Species Action Plans.
The Florida grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus, FE) is a songbird found in the dry prairie region of central Florida. They prefer early successional conditions with a mosaic of herbaceous grasses and low shrubs. Males can be heard singing from late March to July with an insect-like buzz.
The Florida grasshopper sparrow relies on frequent fire to maintain early successional habitats and flooding heavily impacts nesting success of Florida grasshopper sparrows.
The Kirtland’s wood warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii, FE) is a songbird that migrates in the winter from Michigan to the Bahamas, and can be found in south Florida.
The Bachman’s wood warbler (Vermivora bachmanii, FE) also migrates through Florida to their wintering grounds in Cuba. The last sighting of a Bachman’s warbler in Florida was in 1977, and the last confirmed sighting in the U.S. in 1988.
White-crowned pigeons (Patagioenas leucocephala, ST) are found in extreme south Florida in low-lying forest habitats. They have dark plumage with a white head. In Florida, they are threatened by development and habitat degradation.
The Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens, FT) is an endemic bird that inhabits scrub habitats in peninsular Florida. They are characterized by their mostly sky-blue plumage with gray backs and undersides. They breed cooperatively, where the previous years’ young help raise new broods. Scrub-jays breeding season is generally from March to June, and they typically nest in shrubby oaks about 10 feet off the ground.
The greatest threats to the Florida scrub-jay are habitat loss and fragmentation. A large portion of scrub habitat has been converted to agriculture and other developments, which has contributed to the fragmentation of their population. As this development continues, populations will become further isolated.
The Florida burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia floridana, ST) occurs primarily in peninsular Florida in open habitats with low groundcover. They spend most of the time on the ground, unlike other owls, and dig their own burrows. They nest from February to July. They have adapted to live in urban areas and agricultural fields.
The southeastern American kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus, ST) is a non-migratory subspecies of American kestrel that is found in Florida. There are 4 clusters of kestrels across Florida occurring in the western Panhandle, Brooksville Ridge, Trail Ridge, and Lake Wales Ridge. They primarily reside in sandhill habitats with open canopies and herbaceous groundcover. They are secondary cavity nesters; thus, they rely on woodpecker cavities and other pre-existing cavities to breed.
Audubon’s crested caracara (Polyborus plancus audubonii, FT) inhabits wet prairies in south and central Florida. They generally nest from September to June, usually in cabbage palms. The main threat they face is habitat loss from development and habitat conversion. For information on buffer zones and other ways to avoid or minimize impacts to caracaras, refer to the USFWS Conservation Guidelines.
Everglade snail kites (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus, FE) are raptors that almost exclusively feed on apple snails. They nest throughout the year, with highest productivity in February and July, in vegetation over water. They are distributed across the Kissimmee Valley, St. Johns River headwaters, Lake Okeechobee down to Big Cypress and Everglades National Park. Primary threats to the species include loss of suitable wetlands and alterations to hydrology in their habitats. For information on buffer zones and other ways to avoid or minimize impacts to snail kites, refer to the USFWS Conservation Measures.
Florida is among the top three states in number of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), which can be found throughout the state. In 2007, bald eagles were removed from the USFWS endangered species list. Their nesting season in Florida is generally from October 1st through May 15th. They prefer to nest in native pines within 1.8 miles of water. Bald eagles are currently protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act that prohibit the unpermitted “take” of bald eagles, their nests, or their eggs. If land use activities are proposed within 660 feet of an eagle nest, the FWC advises landowners to consult with the USFWS to determine if a federal permit is required.
- Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines: Florida Burrowing Owl (FWC)
- Species Action Plan: Burrowing Owl (FWC)
- Species Action Plan: Southeastern American Kestrel (FWC)
- Recovery Plan: Audubon’s Crested Caracara (USFWS)
- Crested Caracara Consultation Area (USFWS)
- Crested Caracara Survey Protocol (USFWS)
- Recovery Plan: Everglade Snail Kite (USFWS)
- Bald Eagle Monitoring Guidelines (USFWS)
- Southeast Region Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Permitting (USFWS)
- Resources and Contacts for Bald Eagles
The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis, FE) is a small black and white bird with a large white patch on its cheeks. Males have a red streak above the cheek, which is rarely visible. Red-cockaded woodpeckers inhabit fire-dependent pine ecosystems and specialize in making cavities in old-growth, living pine trees for nesting and use the sap to protect their cavities from predators. Longleaf pine is believed to be preferred by red-cockaded woodpeckers for its fire-adaptations and high resin flows. They are cooperative breeders who nest from March to July.
Loss of old-growth pine forests is the primary threat to the survival of this species. Intensive historic logging and fire suppression has degraded most natural habitat to be unsuitable for red-cockaded woodpeckers. Reintroducing fire, installing artificial cavities, translocation, and partnerships with private landowners are among the conservation actions aimed at conserving these declining populations.