Beaches and birds: they're a natural pairing. But what kinds of birds are those creatures squawking, soaring and diving along the beaches and shorelines of the Sunshine State? Learn to discern your terns from your gulls with this helpful beach bird guide:
Graceful and acrobatic, gulls are hardly cautious around humans. They will not hesitate to swoop down and take a potato chip right out of your hand.
Laughing gulls, so named because their call sounds like a laugh, are easily identified by their black head and red bill.Herring gullsare much larger, with a white head. The smallring-billed gullhas a black ring around its yellow bill. They all tend to intermingle.
Enjoy watching gulls, but please don't feed them. Yes, it's fun, but it makes them aggressive and dependent on humans for food.
Terns look a lot like gulls – gray above, white below – but they are a separate species. They have a lighter, more buoyant flight with sleeker, narrower bodies and wings, forked tails and very sharp beaks. Terns will hover briefly over the water, 10 to 30 feet in the air, and then dive gracefully to catch a fish.
The largest terns are theRoyal tern, with an orange bill, and theCaspian tern, with a blood-red bill. The smallest tern is named, appropriately, theLeast tern. It has a yellow bill, black cap and white forehead. In between is theForster's tern,which dons a black cap and orange-red bill.
Sanderlings, Dowitchers and Willets
Sanderlings, dowitchers and willets are shorebirds. Find them on the beach near the water's edge, looking for food by probing the wet sand with their bills. When humans approach, shorebirds will often run away rather than take flight.
At slightly more than six inches in length, one of the smallest Florida shorebirds is thesanderling. A black bill, jet black eyes and speedy black legs give them away. You'll see them, usually in groups of a dozen or fewer, scurrying on tiny legs ahead of surging waves.
Dowitchersalso frequent the shoreline, but are larger and run less than sanderlings. They have a long, thin bill and are usually gray or light brown in color, depending on the time of year. You’ll see them in flocks of 100 or more at times.
One of the larger Florida shorebirds is thewillet. With a relatively long bill, long legs and gray body, a willet is fairly easy to pick out, especially when mingling with sanderlings and dowitchers. You’ll see willets in small flocks, alone or in pairs.
Herons and Egrets
These long-legged wonders are my favorites. Herons and egrets gather near water anywhere in Florida. Here are some of the most common species:
White herons and egrets
- Snowy egret – White with black legs and bright yellow feet.
- Great egret – White with yellow bill, black legs and feet.
Grey or blue herons
- Great blue heron – Large, blue-gray heron, mostly white head, yellow bill. Solitary.
- Little blue heron – Small, bluish heron with reddish neck and head. Blue bill with black tip.
- Tricolored heron – Blue-gray heron with white underparts and light-colored throat.
Other Florida Beach Birds
- Roseate spoonbill– Bright pink, long-legged wading bird with a spoon-shaped bill.
- Ibis– The white ibis has a white and red face with a curved, red bill.
- Black skimmer– Jet black above, white below. Lower bill extends farther than upper bill. Flies over shallow water “skimming” its lower bill in the water until it snatches a fish. Very active at sunset along the beach.
- Oystercatcher– Small shorebird usually seen alone or in pairs. Black on top, white underneath, with long reddish-orange bill.
- Brown pelican– This brown-feathered bird is easy to approach, especially on a fishing pier. Their large bill has a pouch to help them hold fish. You may spot a white pelican in Florida in the winter. Unlike the brown variety, white pelicans do not dive for fish.
Birds Nesting on the Beach
Many terns and other Florida shorebirds lay their eggs in the sand. The eggs are hard to see and must be constantly guarded, or a hungry predator will eat them. The eggs must also be shaded by an adult or the sun may overheat them.
When you see signs warning that you are in a bird nesting area on the beach, be sure to stay clear, even if you don't see any birds at that moment.
Litter and Birds
Litter can be deadly to birds and other wildlife. Fishermen should properly dispose of their used fishing line. Birds can get their feet tangled in a piece of monofilament line.
Other plastic items with holes can also become traps, so please dispose of all trash properly and help keep our birds healthy.
If you encounter a bird that appears to be injured, do not try to rescue it yourself.Contact the local beach patrol, lifeguard, park rangers or other authorities. They can contact local bird rescue volunteers, who are trained to capture and transport injured or sick seabirds. (Donotdial 911.)
If you see baby seabirds on the beach that seem to be abandoned, do not approach them. They may not be abandoned at all. Your presence may prevent the parent birds from returning with food. If in doubt, alert the authorities mentioned above.
If you hook a bird while fishing, very gently reel in the bird. Do not just cut the line. Cover the bird's eyes with a light towel, cloth or shirt to help calm the bird, then gently remove the hook. You may need to push the point through the skin and cut off the barb before you can extract the hook. Seek help if the bird seems to be in distress, but you can release it otherwise. Most fishing piers have posted instructions for dealing with hooked birds.
Where to Find Florida Beach Birds
You can find Florida’s beautiful seabirds on any beach or bay shoreline, or in and around mangrove trees, seawalls and piers. Mornings and evenings are particularly good times to watch birds, since they are most active during those times.
Many of Florida's shorebirds, egrets and herons are even active after dark and can be seen on the beach during a full moon. A great place to watch pelicans and herons is on any pier with fishermen.
In Florida, many of our seabirds are migratory and can be seen in greater abundance during fall and winter migration. A few places that are especially good for Florida beach birding:
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Honeymoon Island State Park
- Fort De Soto County Park
- Sanibel Island (J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge)
- Fort Myers Beach(lagoon and mud flats by the Holiday Inn)
- Marco Island'sTigertail Beach
- Fort Clinch State Park
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Everglades National Park
You might also like to try the, a 2,000-mile driving tour connecting 492 great birding hot spots.
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- American Oystercatcher. i. The American oystercatcher is one hard-to-miss sea bird. ...
- Snowy Plover. i. This tiny sea bird is distinguished by its Speedy Gonzales-esque run along the shoreline and its small puffy look. ...
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There are many different birds that love shores: gulls, ducks, pelicans, sparrows, geese, and terns are all popular beach birds to see. Even vultures, eagles, and other raptors as well as the occasional heron, egret, and swallow may be found in beach and shoreline habitats.What are the little birds that run along the shoreline? ›
These small sandpipers are called Sanderlings. Rachel Carson, whose book Under the Sea Wind set a high standard for nature writing, described Sanderlings as running “with a twinkle of black feet.” Carson depicted Sanderlings' foraging along the beach as “keeping in the thin film at the edge of the ebbing surf . . .What are the small birds on the beach in Florida? ›
Sanderlings, Dowitchers and Willets
At slightly more than six inches in length, one of the smallest Florida shorebirds is the sanderling. A black bill, jet black eyes and speedy black legs give them away. You'll see them, usually in groups of a dozen or fewer, scurrying on tiny legs ahead of surging waves.
The Sanderling is one of the most widespread of all shorebirds.Which is the bird that runs very fast on sand? ›
The ostrich is the world's biggest and fastest bird. It is also a bird that cannot fly, but it can run very fast indeed – as fast as a car. Ostriches are found in the wild in deserts and savannahs.What is a shoreline bird? ›
Description. Shorebirds form one of the most interesting, important, and spectacular groups of birds in Canada. They comprise a diverse group of species, including the plovers, oystercatchers, avocets, stilts, turnstones, sandpipers, yellowlegs, snipes, godwits, curlews, and phalaropes.What are the tiny birds in Florida called? ›
Chickadees and titmice. Small, curious woodland birds. The Carolina chickadee is a common resident except in South Florida; Tufted titmice live in cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, longleaf pine sandhills and suburbs.What are shore birds called? ›
shorebird, any member of the suborder Charadrii (order Charadriiformes) that is commonly found on sea beaches or inland mudflats; in Britain they are called waders, or wading birds. Shorebirds include the avocet, courser, lapwing, oystercatcher, phalarope, plover, pratincole, sandpiper, and snipe (qq. v.).What are sandpipers eating on the beach? ›
Common foods include midges, mayflies, flies, grasshoppers, crickets, worms, snails and small crustaceans. Spotted sandpipers are foragers; they'll poke into sand or mud with their bills, lunge at moving prey, catch flying insects or pick bugs off of plants.
Sandpipers are familiar birds that are often seen running near the water's edge on beaches and tidal mud flats. The common sandpiper has a brown upper body and a white underside.What bird in Florida sounds like it's laughing? ›
The strident laughing calls of this well-named gull are among the most characteristic sounds around tidewater along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, especially in summer. It seems to be mostly a warm-weather bird, with the majority departing from Atlantic coastal areas north of Florida in winter.What does a Florida Ibis look like? ›
This ibis is almost entirely white, save for the black-tipped wings and brilliant reddish pink legs and bill. The bare skin around their blue eyes is also reddish pink. Juveniles (fall through winter) are brown above and white below with a streaky brown neck. The legs and bill of juveniles are orange-pink.What are the white birds on the beach called? ›
A gull, or rather, a seagull, is a white and grey bird that hops along the shoreline in massive packs. Typically, you'll find them trying to steal your beach food, crowd your group, and squawk loudly at passersby.What are the black birds at the beach called? ›
A wiry black bird called a cormorant dives under waves and comes up with a fish in its beak. This is a familiar sight to many people who spend time near the ocean.What are the white birds in Florida beach? ›
Snowy egrets are large, mostly white birds that are slightly smaller in size than great herons. They have long black legs and bright yellow feet to contrast their all-white appearance. You'll mostly find them in tidal zones prowling for small fish that are trapped, invertebrates, snakes, insects, and frogs.
According to various questionably reliable internet sources, like WhatBird.com and MyVocabulary.com, a group of sandpipers is called a "bind," a "contradiction," a "fling," a "hill," or a "time-step." Most of these terms are ridiculous, given the way sandpipers tend to tear around like little raver marching bands, ...What bird goes under water Florida? ›
Habitat: Also known as the snake bird or water turkey, the anhinga is a year-round resident of Florida.What is the most abundant bird in Florida? ›
The most common bird in Florida: the most frequently seen bird in the state is Northern Cardinal. It is reported on 47% of bird watching lists. The official State Bird of Florida is Northern Mockingbird.What is the hardest bird to identify? ›
Due to its close resemblance to the gray-cheeked thrush, Bicknell's thrush is a difficult species to identify correctly in the field.
They're using the four keys to visual identification: Size & Shape, Color Pattern, Behavior, and Habitat.What is a peep shorebird? ›
'Peeps' is the birding term used to describe several species of sandpiper of the genus Calidris that are near impossible to tell apart. These small shorebirds all have short legs and similar plumage and frequent mud flats in search of the same food.Which bird can fly backwards? ›
NARRATOR: The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly in any direction. The unique architecture of its wings enables it to fly forward, backward, straight up and down, or to remain suspended in the air.Which bird can't fly but can run very fast? ›
Meet the emu, the second-largest bird in the world after the ostrich. Emus can't fly but can run very fast. An emu's small, palm-size wings are hidden under a mound of feathers and help it balance as it runs at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.Which bird is international symbol of happiness? ›
The symbol of a bluebird as the harbinger of happiness is found in many cultures and may date back thousands of years.How many shore birds are there? ›
There are about 212 species of shorebirds world wide including jacanas, snipes, crab plovers, oystercatchers, ibisbills, stilt and avocets, stoen-curlews and thicknees, coursers and pratincoles, plovers, sandpipers, godwits, curlews, dowitchers, stints, phalaropes, and seedsnipes.What does a Sandgrouse look like? ›
Sandgrouses are about 22 to 40 cm (about 9 to 16 inches) long and have gray or brown plumage, pointed wings, short legs, and (in most species) pinlike central tail feathers. They fly swiftly and walk rapidly. As game birds they are hard to kill because of their tough skin and thick feathering.What does a shelduck look like? ›
How to identify. The shelduck is a big, white duck, with a dark green head, bright red bill, orangey-brown band around the breast, and black patches on the back and wings.What is the rarest bird in Florida? ›
Grasshopper Sparrow: The Rarest Of Florida Birds
The grasshopper sparrow is now the rarest of Florida birds. A widespread disease has killed these birds. These could be the next bird extinction since 1987 when the dusky seaside sparrow became extinct. Grasshopper Sparrows are around five inches long.
Brown Thrashers are larger than other brown songbirds in Florida. They tend to be secretive, and the best places to look for them are near thick brush and shrubbery. However, Brown Thrashers are also commonly seen on the ground spreading around leaf litter, looking for bugs to eat.
This species of marsh wren has a dark brown neck, upper back, head, wings, and tail, and a light brown belly. As with all marsh wrens, they have a white band above their eye and a white-streaked black triangle on their back (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).What is the difference between a plover and a sandpiper? ›
Piping Plovers are plumper and paler, with shorter bills than Least Sandpipers. Piping Plovers tend to occur higher up on the beach than Least Sandpipers.What is the difference between a sandpiper and a sanderling? ›
Sanderlings have a rounder, chunkier appearance of the body and bill. The face pattern is blander, their head is larger, their body looks “chunkier” from all angles, and their bill is stouter. Though not typically helpful in the field, semipalmated sandpipers have a fourth toe.What kind of bird is a sandpiper? ›
sandpiper, any of numerous shorebirds belonging to the family Scolopacidae (order Charadriiformes), which also includes the woodcocks and the snipes.What sandpiper bobs up and down? ›
Spotted Sandpipers are often solitary and walk with a distinctive teeter, bobbing their tails up and down constantly.Why should you not feed birds at the beach? ›
Yet emerging evidence suggests that feeding wild birds poses risks. Bird feeders can fuel the spread of avian diseases, alter migratory behavior, help invasive species outcompete natives and give predators, including free-roaming neighborhood cats, easy access to birds and their nestlings.What do birds eat in the sand at the beach? ›
Yellowlegs, plovers, sandpipers, and other shorebirds are all seen picking things out of the wet sand and mud. They pick at insects and other small organisms such as worms, spiders, gnats, snails, ect., but they also eat biofilm, a thin layer of nutritious slime on the sand.What does a Florida sandpiper look like? ›
Measurements. In breeding season Spotted Sandpipers have bold dark spots on their bright white breast and an orange bill. The back is dark brown. In winter, a Spotted Sandpiper's breast is not spotted; it's plain white, while the back is grayish brown and the bill is pale yellow.What does a shore bird look like? ›
They're both relatively large, leggy, and long beaked, with strong black and white patterning in the plumage. The pied patterns are classic of these two birds. The avocet is unique in having a strongly upturned bill and gray legs.What are the white birds at the beach called? ›
A gull, or rather, a seagull, is a white and grey bird that hops along the shoreline in massive packs. Typically, you'll find them trying to steal your beach food, crowd your group, and squawk loudly at passersby.
They're approximately 11 inches long and are brown with buff-colored stripes on the back and a striped head. Like other sandpipers, snipe have relatively long wings and short tails. The most distinguishing characteristic of the common snipe is its long, straight bill.What are the little white birds in Florida called? ›
White Ibis are the other most common white bird you will see in the estuary, and all over Florida, from yards and roadsides to wetlands. They are very gregarious, often moving together in groups across the landscape in search of insects in the grass, or fish in the water.