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Seasons of Wildlife

Seasons Intro

All animals in the Refuge are wild, should be respected, and can potentially cause harm. To be safe, do not interact with or feed the wildlife, avoid dangerous situations. Keep your distance. If you approach and they change their behavior, you are too close. The best time to view wildlife is during low tide.

  • January to March


    One of the best times of the year for birding!
    Abundance of shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds, passerines, and raptors. 
    Alligators can be seen on cold mornings basking in the sun.
    Neo-tropical migratory birds are present and start migrating through march.
    Impoundment drawdown to coincide with shorebird migration.
    Osprey nesting peak in March.
    Some adult spoonbills leave the Refuge to head to nesting grounds in March. Juveniles are present year-round.
    Cold water fish species present in the Refuge during January and February.
    Speckled Sea Trout, Sheepshead, and Redfish in the impoundments on Wildlife Drive.

  • April to June

    Snowy Plover

    The beginning of April is a good time for birding. At the end of the month, the diversity and abundance of birds declines and stays low for the summer.
    Shorebirds and colonial nesting waterbirds present.
    Neo-tropical Migratory birds present.
    White pelicans and other migratory birds begin to move north in April.
    Peak of wading bird nesting (April).
    Peak of snowy plover nesting on Sanibel beaches (April).
    Black-necked stilts begin to nest at the Bailey Tract (April).
    Yellow-crowned Night herons nest near the exit of Wildlife Drive (April through June).
    Manatees can be seen mating at area beaches (April/May) and seen in Tarpon Bay all summer.
    Mangrove Cuckoo sightings are more frequent (May).
    Sea turtles nest on Sanibel beaches (May to October).
    Male alligators may be heard bellowing to attract a mate. Frog calls may be heard more frequently in the evening as rains begin in late may.
    Dolphins can be seen in Tarpon Bay all summer.
    Female alligators begin to lay eggs in June.
    Adult Spoonbills return slowly (June).
    Many fish species are present.
    Snook spawning season begins (June).
    Tarpon season starts at the end of April and is in full swing on the island by May. Smaller Tarpon can be seen inshore while larger individuals reside in deeper water.

  • July to September

    Endangered Species Promo

    Birding slows down significantly. Wading birds and some shorebirds will still be present.
    Manatees can be found in Tarpon Bay all summer.
    Early migrant birds may be found in the Refuge (August).
    Alligators present, often visible at dawn and dusk.
    Sea turtle hatchlings start to emerge from the nests (August).
    Snook and Redfish are abundant in the Refuge's waterways. Snook move into the shallows to feed (September).

  • October to December

    White Pelicans

    Many shorebirds and colonial birds present. White Pelicans and other migratory birds are arriving in more numbers. 
    Impoundment drawdown to coincide with shorebird migration (October). Birding improves during December. 
    Annual Christmas Bird Count takes place 
    Sheepshead and Redfish move into Refuge shallows.

Page Photo Credits — White and Brown Pelican- Kent Jager, American Alligator - Liz Noffsinger, Snowy Plover - USFWS, Manatee - Theresa Baldwin, White Pelicans - Jan Master
Last Updated: Mar 05, 2015
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