Wildlife & Habitat

Skimmers on Egmont Key

The Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1974 and protects a diverse community of animals and plants, many of which are either threatened or endangered

  • Gopher Tortoise

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    The highlight species everyone talks about when they visit Egmont Key is the gopher tortoise due to their abundance and close proximity to the visitor areas on the island. The Egmont Key gopher tortoises are commonly found roaming the brick roads and trails of the island year-round, and they won’t budge when they see you walking by on the same trails. Please do not touch these tortoises or feed them. Gopher tortoises are very efficient at finding their own food and water. You may see their burrows all around the island’s interior. These burrows provide essential habitat to other species on Egmont Key.

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  • Terns

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    Thousands of terns steal the spotlight along the Egmont Key shores in the summer months. Egmont Key sustains the second highest royal and sandwich tern nesting colonies in all of Florida. Their numbers are spectacular in all sorts of fashion, including the thousands that can be seen nesting within one cohort in an open sandy spot and the hundreds that may be witnessed diving for fish in any given beach on Egmont Key. At all times during flight several of these terns can be seen flying with one or more fish on their beaks to bring to their chicks or their mates that are taking turns watching over the eggs or chicks. The entire island is enchanted by the terns loud calls during every second of sunlight and darkness. Over 7,000 pairs of royal terns have nested on Egmont Key at one time.

  • Laughing Gulls

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    Laughing gulls are among the most common gulls in North America, but Egmont Key is an extra special place for laughing gulls. Each summer, Egmont Key hosts the most nesting laughing gulls recorded in the entire state of Florida. Over 32,000 pairs of laughing gulls were recorded nesting on Egmont Key in 2007; that’s over 64,000 total birds in a sanctuary that’s about 97 acres in size.

  • Coastal Berm

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    The most predominant habitat in Egmont Key is the coastal berm. These berms formed by storm-deposited sand are characterized by a mixture of tropical herbs, shrubs, and trees. At Egmont Key, this community is dominated by cabbage palm. Other plants associated with this habitat type are strangler fig, saw palmetto, sea grape, and Florida privet. It is not uncommon to see Florida box turtles and gopher tortoise roaming and making burrows around this type of habitat in Egmont Key.

  • Coastal Grasslands

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    Coastal grasslands is a plant community dominated by herbaceous plants such as sea oats, sand spur, muhly grass, and beach panicum. Few or no shrubs and trees can be found here. This serves as a transitional area between coastal berm and beach dune communities. The transition zone between the coastal grasslands and the beach dune is where thousands of royal terns prefer to nest on Egmont Key along with thousands of nesting laughing gulls that take over most of this habitat areas in Egmont Key each summer.

  • Beach Dunes

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    Beach dunes are formed by wind and wave action. These dunes are characterized by low-growing pioneer plants adapted to nutrient-poor soils and unstable environments. Sea oats, sand spur, railroad vine, and hairy beach sunflower are common plants of this community. Over 600 brown pelicans nest in this habitat type in Egmont Key each summer, preferably on the higher vegetation that grows on the dunes.