Seasons of Wildlife

seasons snail

Even though the Florida Keys are located in a subtropical environment, we are still influenced by seasonal changes that affect most of the country. Depending on the season, you'll be able to witness a wide variety of wildlife species that are seasonal residents or are migrating through the area.

  • January and February

    reddish jan

    White pelicans fish in the inland saltwater lakes. Brown pelicans are frequently seen in Lake Surprise and Barnes Sound. Wading birds like great egrets, tricolored herons, snowy egrets, reddish egrets, roseate spoonbill and ibis congregate to fish in shallow inland lakes. A few shorebirds are present, including wintering Wilson’s plover. Wintering resident raptors include broad winged and short-tailed hawks. Some birds actually nest in the winter, including osprey, bald eagles, and red-shouldered hawks. Florida manatees are common and sometimes are observed in aggregations while Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are present year-round. Crocodiles are frequently seen basking in the sun on cold mornings and sometimes the smaller crocs bask on the limbs of red mangrove trees. Tree snails are aestivating (similar to hibernating) through the dry season.

  • March and April

    purple march

    This is peak neotropical northbound bird migration season. If stormy weather causes fallout of migrants, this can be epic birdwatching. If it’s smooth sailing for birds heading north, sometimes just a few will stop and rest. Most years it's average, with a variety of migrants but not the diversity you get on epic years. Birds that have overwintered in the Keys head north, including brown and white pelicans, osprey, blue-winged teal, many shorebirds and wading birds.

    Cuban yellow warblers and prairie warblers are also looking for mates, building nests and raising young along mangrove shorelines and islands. Female crocodiles begin searching and testing areas for nests. While butterflies can be seen year-round at Crocodile Lake NWR, they are much more common in the spring and summer months. Common species include giant swallowtail, zebra longwing, cassius blue, Florida purplewing, julia, mangrove buckeye, and gulf fritillary.

  • May and June

    may schaus larvae

    By early May, most mature female crocodiles have laid eggs and constructed a nest. The peak of flight season for the Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly occurs in May. Mangrove cuckoos return to the Florida Keys Refuges from their wintering grounds. Green heron nesting occurs throughout the mangrove forest. Common nighthawks nest on the berm islands adjacent to Barnes Sound; Tree snails start searching for food as the rainy season begins. Red-bellied woodpeckers, American cardinal, black-whiskered vireo, gray kingbird, and white-eyed vireo are among the common resident breeding land birds.

  • July and August

    crocs july

    It’s crocodile hatchling season! Mother crocs return to their nest, excavate the eggs and hatchlings and place them at the water’s edge. Amphibians like southern leopard frog and narrow-mouthed toad are laying eggs in seasonal pools of freshwater. Blue land crabs begin their mating dance and hundreds may be seen moving through the forest. Key Largo woodrat breeding season occurs throughout the year but peaks in mid-summer.

  • September and October

    wcp sept

    This is a prime location for viewing fall migration warblers including ovenbirds, black-throated blue warblers, and Cape May warblers. Chuck-will’s-widows migrate through by the thousands. This is peak fall southbound bird migration season; including world record numbers of migrating peregrine falcons. You’ll see plenty of our local birds that include great white heron, reddish egrets, magnificent frigatebirds, white-crowned pigeon, gray kingbird, white-eyed vireo, and blue-gray gnatcatchers as well as a large diversity of migrating songbirds, shorebirds, hawks, eagles, ospreys and falcons. We are uniquely situated as the last rest stop for many southbound migrants that stop over for a few days to rest and refuel. Schaus’ swallowtail butterflies sometimes have a second flight period in September.

  • November and December

    woodrat nov

    Most of the winter bird residents are arriving. Pied-billed grebes occur in inland saltwater lakes. American kestrel, belted kingfishers, and catbirds are some of our most vocal neighbors. Turkey vultures migrate by the hundreds and can be seen soaring overhead with hawks, falcons, and eagles. Late southbound migrants like Swainson’s hawks are still passing through. Key Largo woodrats are active year-round and stick-building of nests continues in earnest.