A Guide to the Birds of Florida’s Wetlands (with sounds)

Florida offers plenty of birding opportunities. This article provides a list of birds, images, and sounds of birds that live at ponds, lakes, estuaries, swamps, and other wetlands in the State of Florida.

Bird species are arranged in descending order from the largest #1 to the smallest #51.

The list is further divided into four color-coded size groups using as reference the size of familiar birds such as a crane, a duck, a pigeon, and a sparrow.

Scroll down the list or jump to one of the size groups.

Birdwatching at Florida’s wetlands can be done using your cell phone to identify the birds you see.

Click on the size group below to jump to the possible size group the bird you see at a Florida wetland may belong to. Explore species in the size group. If the bird you see is not there, use the arrow to return and refine your search and review the next size group.

Florida has plenty of wetlands. This means that the state has a lot of habitat for birds that favor ponds, lakes, and other wetlands. Visitors to the state and residents often ask about the birds they see sitting by ponds or lakes.

Where can I find Wetland Birds in Florida?

Everywhere! There are ponds, lakes, and other wetlands at every turn.

Florida’s wetlands constitute the breeding and wintering grounds for many resident and migratory birds.

The State of Florida is one of the most diverse states in the U.S.A. where up to 196 species of birds are considered breeders and over 500 have been recorded in the state at least once.

Why these 51 Species?

These are the 51 birds you are most likely to see at wetlands in the State of Florida. They are the most frequently reported by bird enthusiasts living in the state as well as visitors.

The 51 birds listed here are not difficult to find and observe as they are generally large, fairly common, and rather vocal.

When it comes to the ease of seeing them, these are birds that favor mostly open or semi-open habitats where they can be readily spotted or heard calling.

BIRDS ABOUT THE SIZE OF AN SANDHILL CRANE

1. Sandhill Crane

sandhill crane

Unmistakable. Very tall and slender. Overall gray with rusty stains. The forehead and crown are bright red. Both sexes look alike. In pairs or large flocks near wetlands, pastures, or agricultural land. Sometimes rather tame. It has a loud trumpeting voice.

2. American White Pelican

american white pelican

Unmistakable. Very large and pure-white while swimming or perched. In-flight, it shows black in the wings. The bill is long and yellow, with a pouch. White Pelicans fish together by corralling and concentrating fish. They occur in Florida during the winter months.

Generally silent.

3. Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate spoonbill

Unmistakable pink plumage with scarlet shoulders and red legs, in adult birds. Immature birds are uniformly pink. The bill is very long with the shape of a spoon at the tip. Wades in water swinging its bill from side to side in search of prey.

4. Wood Stork

wood stork

All white with black wings visible in flight. The legs are very long. The bill is long, thick, and slightly decurved. The male and female look alike. Adult birds have a dark wrinkly head and neck. They wade at the edges of shallow wetlands and lakes generally in flocks. Allan-Hopkins/Flickr/CC by 2.0 

5. Bald Eagle

bald eagle florida wetlands

The adult Bald Eagle is unmistakable. The juvenile is dark brown and goes through several plumage stages prior to acquiring the majestic plumage of the adult. It favors lakes, ponds, lagoons, and estuaries. USFWS/Flickr/CC by 2.0 

BIRDS ABOUT THE SIZE OF A DUCK

6. Muscovy Duck

muscovy duck

Plumage may vary from mostly black with white wing patches to combinations of black, white, and brown. The Muscovy Duck is an introduced domestic and semi-domestic duck found at the edges of ponds and lakes. They appear to be largely associated with ponds in towns near humans.

Generally Silent.

7. Canvasback

canvasback

The male is mostly white with a chestnut neck and head and a black breast. The female is brown with flakes of creamy white. Both sexes have a characteristic bill that slopes from the forehead toward the tip of the bill in a sloping and continuous manner.

8. Great Blue Heron

great blue heron

Tall and large with gray plumage. It has long legs and a large and strong orange bill. It also has a black cap that often projects onto a crest. Both sexes look alike. Seen alone at the edges of ponds and wetlands where they search for fish and any other small vertebrate.

9. Double-crested Cormorant

double crested cormorant

Breeding adults are black with bright orange bare skin on the throat and face. Non-breeding adults and immature birds are dusky-gray with brown necks and breasts and dull orange bare skin. It dives for fish in all types of bodies of water. Often seen with its wings wide open. It resembles an Anhinga.

10. Anhinga

anhinga

Long neck with a yellowish pointy bill. Males have a black head, neck, and belly. Females have a brown head, neck, and breast. Both sexes have a patterned black and white back. Dives for fish in all types of wetlands and lakes. Often seen with its wings wide open. Resembles a Double-crested Cormorant.

11. Osprey

osprey

Brown upperparts. Pure white on the throat, neck, and belly. The head shows a mask-like black and white pattern.  Flies over lagoons, ponds, and estuaries scanning for fish near the surface of the water. It plunges into the water to catch fish. Ospreys can breed in Florida and can be found in the state year-round.

12. Mottled Duck

mottled duck

Dark-brown patterned body with a lighter brown unpatterned head. Both sexes are similar but males are darker. The bill in males is yellow and olive-yellow in the female. Both sexes have orange legs. Found in pairs or small flocks. Tips its tail up as it reaches for food at the bottom of shallow wetlands.

13. Northern Shoveler

northern shoveler

The male has a green head, a large black bill, and yellow eyes. The breast is white with chestnut sides and a blackish back. The female is patterned with brown and black spots and streaks. She has a dusky-orange bill. Both sexes have orange legs and blue wing panels. Favors shallow wetlands.

14. Mallards

mallard

The male has a glossy green head and a yellow bill. The breast is chestnut with a grayish-brown body. The female is patterned with brown and black spots and streaks. Both sexes have orange legs. Common in ponds and other wetlands. In Florida, it breeds with domestic mallards and Mottled Ducks producing intermediates plumages.

15. Ring-necked Duck

ring-necked duck

The male Ring-necked Duck is mostly black with light gray sides and bright orange eyes. The bill is bluish-gray with a white band on the tip. The female is brown with a similar bill. She has white at the base of the bill. It Favors small ponds where it dives to the bottom of wetlands to forage for food.

16. Limpkin

limpkin florida

Brown with white streaks. It resembles a heron. Tall and slender with a long straight bill. Usually alone walking at the edges of wetlands, lakes, and ponds. Feed nearly exclusively on apple snails. It has a loud voice.

17. American Bittern

american bittern

Mostly orange-brown with a complicated pattern of stripes, spots, and streaks in shades of blackish, brown, and buffy-brown. A secretive large heron that generally remains inside vegetation growing at lakes and wetlands edges. Found in Florida during the winter months.

18. Great Egret

great egret

Tall, slender with a pure-white plumage. The bill is thick and bright yellow. It has a pale eye. The neck is very long. The legs are dusky. The Great Egret is the largest of all white herons and egrets (except for the white morph of the Great Blue Heron). Generally seen at the edges of ponds and wetlands but it can also be found away from them.

19. Reddish Egret

reddish egret

Two-color morphs. The dark morph is bluish-gray with a reddish neck and head. The light morph is white. Adults in both morphs have a pale eye and pinkish base of the bill with a black tip. Juveniles can be confusing. The Reddish Egret rushes with the wings spread in a stereotypical manner, which identifies the species.

20. White Ibis

white ibis

Adult birds have an all-white plumage with a red face and red decurved bill. The legs are also red. The tips of the wing are black, which is noticed in flight. Juvenile birds have a brown back and a white belly with a reddish bill and gray legs. Mottled birds, white and brown, are sub-adults.

21. Glossy Ibis

glossy ibis

Adults are reddish with iridescent greenish on the wings. It has a long and decurved bill and grayish legs. Immature birds are blackish. It is usually found in flocks foraging for invertebrates at muddy edges of bodies of water or wet pastures.

 

22. Lesser Scaup

lesser scaup

The male has a glossy/black head, neck, and breast. The back is grayish with white flanks. The bill is bluish without a white band on the tip. The female is brown and has white at the base of a dusky bill. Both sexes have orange eyes. It dives to the bottom of the small relatively shallow ponds to forage for food.

23. Black-bellied Whistling Duck

black-bellied whistling duck

A colorful duck with a reddish body and gray head. The long legs and bill are red. The belly is black. It shows a broad white band on the wings, visible in flight. Male and females look alike. Generally in pairs or medium-sized flocks. It is rather noisy especially when in flight, hence the name Whistling Duck. It often perches on trees.

24. Wood Duck

wood duck

The male Wood Duck has an ornate plumage. The female is brown with a distinctive eye-ring. The Wood Duck nests in natural cavities and also in nesting boxes placed near water. It is smaller than a Mallard and favors ponds, wetlands, and flooded woods.

25. Black-crowned Night-Heron

black-crowned night-heron

Black back and cap. The rest of the body is gray. The bill is dusky with a greenish base. The legs are yellowish. Juvenile birds are brown with white streaks. This heron is strictly nocturnal. It forages for fish and other small vertebrates at the edges of wetlands, ponds, and lakes.

26. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

yellow-crowned night-heron

The adult is mostly bluish-gray. The head is patterned with black and yellowish. The legs are yellow. The juvenile is brown streaked with white. It is a nocturnal heron that favors salt and brackish water wetlands.

27. American Coot

american coot

Blackish with white under the tail. The bill is white with a red spot on the upper forehead and a black ring on the tip of the bill. The legs are green with long toes. It feeds on floating and submerged vegetation, usually in flocks. It favors mostly freshwater, but can also be found in brackish water.

28. Red-shouldered Hawk

red-shouldered hawk

The breast and belly are orange-brown barred with white. The back is wings have a checkerboard pattern in shades of black, gray, and brown. Immature birds are a dull version of the adult with a streaked belly. A hawk is usually seen perched still looking down for prey. It has a loud and peculiar voice.

29. Gray-headed Swamphen

gray-headed swamphen

Mostly purple-green with a lighter greenish/gray head. It has a conspicuous red forehead bill, and legs. This bird has recently been introduced and is currently expanding its range onto most Florida wetlands. It favors the vegetated edges of ponds and lakes.

30. Pied Billed Grebe

pied-billed grebe

Dusky brown with a compact and roundish shape. The bill is light bluish with a conspicuous black ring in the middle. Juvenile birds have a head patterned with black and white. Usually seen alone or in pairs in ponds where it dives for fish and invertebrates.

31. Snail Kite

snail kite

The male is dusky-gray with orange bare skin on the base of the bill. The female is brown above and pale brown below with black streaks. Both sexes have a hooked bill and a white patch on the lower back, visible during flight. It feeds nearly exclusively on apple snails.

32. Tricolored Heron

tricolored heron

Mostly bluish-gray with a white belly. It has a white stripe along the neck. The bill is bicolored and straight. It has orange bare skin in front of the eye. The legs are grayish. It forages for fish and other small prey along the edges of ponds and lakes. Immature birds have a rusty tone to their plumages.

33. Little Blue Heron

little blue heron

The adult is blue-gray with a purplish neck. Juvenile birds are pure white and go through a bluish and white blotched plumage prior to attaining the adult plumage. All age stages have a pale eye and a bluish-gray bill with a black tip. Favors the vegetated edges of freshwater wetlands.

34. Snowy Egret

snowy egret

Medium size, all-white plumage. The bill is black with yellow bare skin in front of the eyes. The legs are black with yellow feet. Generally, alone at the edges of ponds and lakes where it stalks fish. Never away from water. It is similar to the Cattle Egret, and an immature Little Blue Heron.

35. Cattle Egret

cattle egret

Medium size and an all-white plumage. The bill and legs are normally yellow but can turn yellow-reddish during the breeding season. The creamy patches on the back, cap, and breast are more intense in breeding birds. Forages at the edges of wetlands but more often found away from water. Similar to Snowy Egret.

36. Blue-winged Teal

blued winged teal

The male has a blackish head, black bill, and a white crescent in front of the eye. The body is brown with black spots. The female is patterned with brown and black spots and streaks. Both sexes have a large blue wing panel. Forages by dabbling or tipping its tail up to reach invertebrates in shallow wetlands.

37. Hooded Merganser

hooded merganser

The male has an unmistakable black and white hood. The breast is white with black stripes. The female is brown with a bushy crest. Both sexes have orange eyes and thin bill. It dives underwater for fish and invertebrates. Generally in pairs or small flocks in ponds and lakes.

38. Green-winged Teal

green-winged teal

The male has a black bill and a chestnut head with a broad green swatch behind the eye. The body is brown with grayish finely barred sides. The female is patterned with brown and black spots. Both sexes have a green panel on the wings. Forage by tipping its tail up to reach invertebrates in shallow wetlands.

BIRDS ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PIGEON

39. King Rail

king rail

Mostly orange-brown with a back streaked with black. The flanks are barred with dusky and white. The bill is long and orange-gray in color. Males have brighter plumage than females. It favors the vegetated edge of freshwater ponds and wetlands. The similar Clapper Rail favors saltwater marshes.

40. Common Gallinule

common gallinule

Blackish overall with a white sideband. It has a conspicuous bright red forehead and base of the bill. The legs are green. Alone or in loose flocks at the edges of wetlands or walking on floating vegetation. Immature birds are a grayish dull version of the adult without the red forehead and base of the bill.

41. Purple Gallinule

purple gallinule

Bluish-purple head, neck, breast, and belly. The back is greenish. It has a blue forehead and a red base of the bill. The legs are yellow. Both sexes look alike. Usually alone walking on floating vegetation on ponds, and shallow edges of lakes. Immature birds are a greenish dull version of the adults.

42. Green Heron

green heron

Mostly bluish-gray with a black cap and chestnut neck and breast. The bill is dusky. The legs are orange. Immature birds are brown with dusky streaks and yellowish legs. A shy heron that forages for fish in reeds and cattail. Always associated with water.

43. Least Bittern

least bittern

Mostly orange and black. The female is a dull version of the male (featured here). The Least Bittern remains motionless in cattail and reed stands close to the water as it stalks for unsuspecting fish. It flies low over the vegetation and drops after short a distance.

44. Black-necked Stilt

black necked stilt

Black and white with a long thin bill. Its legs are very long and red in color. Both sexes look alike. Walks or wades in shallow wetlands and mudflats as it looks for invertebrates. Rather vocal when disturbed.

45. Belted Kingfisher

belted kingfisher

The male is gray-blue and white while the female has a rusty band on the belly. Both sexes have strong bills and shaggy crests. Dives for fish in shallow waters. It is smaller than a pigeon and favors shallow waters of lakes, streams, and estuaries.

46. Killdeer

killdeer

Brown back with a black and white breast and forehead. The belly is pure white. Both sexes look alike. While generally associated with wetlands, the Killdeer is also found in open pastures and even in football and baseball fields in urban areas. It is rather vocal when it takes off.

47. Sora

sora

Yellow-billed with black around the base, throat, and neck. The sides of the head, neck, and breast are gray. The back is brown streaked with black. The juvenile is a dull version of the adults. It favors marshes with grasses and reeds. Generally shy. It can be detected by their typical calls.

48. Caspian Tern

caspian tern

Large tern, mostly white with a solid black cap and thick bright red bill. Flies over ponds, lakes, and estuaries looking for fish near the surface. It plunges into the water to catch fish. Generally vocal.

49. Greater Yellowlegs

greater yellowleg

Bright yellow legs and long thin bill. The back is brownish with shades of black, gray and brown. The belly is pale. Very similar to the Lesser Yellowlegs (not featured here) with which share many of the same characteristics. The Lesser Yellowlegs is smaller but this is noticeable when both species are side by side.

BIRDS ABOUT THE SIZE OF A SPARROW

50. Boat-tailed Grackle

boat-tailed grackle

The male is glossy black with a long tail held in V shape. The female and juvenile birds are mostly brown with blackish back. Seen generally in flocks a the edges of ponds, canals, lakes, and other wetlands. In Florida, the Boat-tailed Grackle also visits parks and parking lots.

51. Red-winged Blackbird

red-winged blackbird

The male is black with bright red shoulder patches. The female is brown with blackish streaks. It breeds in wetlands. it is slightly larger than a sparrow and favors open areas. It can form large flocks during the non-breeding season.


Final Remarks:

To go beyond the Birds of Florida’s Wetlands, see the 40 Bird to be Seen in Everglades National Park.


Next Read:

Everglades National Park: A visitor’s Guide

Dry Tortugas National Park: A Visitor’s Guide

References:

Credits Sound Recordings.

Recordings
: Xeno Canto.

  • Andrew Spencer:  Common Loon, Ruffed Grouse, Song Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo, American Redstart, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet.
  • Paul Marvin, Bald Eagle, American Black Duck, Osprey, Wood Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Raven, Great Black-backed Gull, American Robin, White-throated Sparrow, Purple Finch, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler.
  • Frank Lambert: Dark-eyed Junco.
  • Steve Hampton: Long-tailed Duck.
  • Stanislas Wroza: Black Guillemot.