Moderate temperatures and ample supplies of food and water bring a number of migratory species to Tampa Bay each winter.
While we are fortunate to have a wide variety of birds that call Florida home year-round, winter is the perfect time to get out and spot some visitors from up North. Warblers, goldfinches, American robins, swallow-tailed kites and white pelicans are just a few of the species to look out for this time of year.
Below are several of the best birding spots in the area, according to the Tampa Audubon Society.
6920 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa
This 240-acre park is a birding hotspot with 187 different species spotted here. Expect to see a variety of water birds and upland birds, including herons, egrets, limpkins, ospreys, woodpeckers, vireos, warblers, red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, and more. A 3,500-foot boardwalk and observation tower make it easy to find great viewing spots. Park entrance is $2. Tampa Audubon Society offers a beginning Birding program at this park on the second Saturday of every month. Check their website for Covid-related updates: www.tampaaudubon.org.
1403 Morris Bridge Rd., Thonotosassa
View everything from yellow-throated warblers to Carolina wrens to the gray catbird at this wilderness preserve north of the Hillsborough River. Visitors can access Flatwoods Park from one of two access points: 14302 Morris Bridge Rd. (more rural) and 18205 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. (more urban). This park is also dog-friendly, offers a paved bicycle loop, off-road bike trails and remote picnicking and nature trails.
3839 Gulf City Rd., Ruskin
This a great location for birding, whether you like songbirds, raptors, wading birds or shorebirds. BE on the lookout for the common grackle, European starling and double-crested cormorant. The catch is it is only accessible by water – meaning you have to travel by boat, kayak, canoe or stand up paddle board (SUP) to reach the preserve. Boat ramp access point and parking are located at the western dead end of Cockroach Bay.
3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde
More than 250 species of birds have been recorded in this park over the years. Fall migration brings neotropical migratory species to the park, as well as occasional visitors from the Caribbean and western U.S. This island’s shorebird diversity is one of the best on the coast. Park entrance is $5.
5620 W Cypress St, Tampa
This location is great for spotting winter ducks, waders, terns and more. Two shaded trails wind through the length of the park offering views of nature and wildlife. One trail is paved and the other is unpaved and connect at various points along the trails. This park also boasts great views of the upper bay and a shallow lagoon on the south. Best of all, there is no entrance fee.
6760 Surfside Blvd., Apollo Beach
This two-acre bayside stretch of sand boasts oystercatchers, shorebirds, raptors and shrikes. In the winter, be on the lookout for ducks and manatees. This park is dog-friendly and there is no entrance fee.
6140 Turkey Creek Rd., Plant City
The highlight of this park is a 700-acre reservoir used for canoeing, boating and catch and release fishing. It is also home to a large wading bird colony. Visitors don’t have to view them from the water; there is a three-mile trail that offers birdwatchers a pleasant stroll through pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks. Entrance is $2 per vehicle.
7409 Picnic Island Boulevard, Tampa
This hidden gem in South Tampa plays host to shorebirds, gulls and pelicans. Bird enthusiasts will also find warblers and the occasional Loggerhead Shrike. Find ducks in the winter and passerines in migration. Entrance to this municipal park is free.
6610 Whiteway Dr., Temple Terrace
This location is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Along the boardwalk at the river’s edge you will find a number of easily recognizable birds, like limpkins, several species of herons and ibis, roseate spoonbills, stilts and other types of wading birds. In the winter, find wood ducks, winter passerines and owls. Entrance is free.
2550 Morris Bridge Rd, Thonotosassa
This park is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Scan the wetlands for waders. Walk south along the canal for passerines and kestrels. Then proceed to parking area for trails along the river or through the woods to several ponds, or cross the dam and take the trail along the dike. Bluebirds, passerines, raptors, and nesting bald eagles can be spotted in area.
No matter which park you choose, getting out in Florida this time of year is a great chance to get a glimpse of our year-round bird residents, as well as several visitors from up North.
By Karen Ring