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Seasons of Wildlife

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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.  We ask that you consider the health and welfare of the wildlife as you are observing them, and use binoculars or telephoto lens to get up close.

  • January and February

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    Winter bird residents are found throughout the Keys. White pelicans fish in salt ponds and in surrounding shallow saltwater. Brown pelicans are everywhere. Wading birds like great egrets, tricolored herons, snowy egrets, reddish egrets, roseate spoonbill and ibis congregate to fish in shallow salt ponds. A variety of shorebirds are present, including a few wintering piping plovers. 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. Blue- winged teal overwinter in Lower Keys lakes and ponds. Florida manatees are rare visitors to the shallow Florida Keys waters while Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are present year-round. Alligators bask in the sun on cold mornings and are present year-round at Blue Hole. Tree snails are aestivating (similar to hibernation) through the dry season.

  • March and April

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    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.

    Sea turtle nesting season starts in April. Greens and loggerheads nest on beaches throughout the Florida Keys.

    Peak season for Bartram's Hairstreak Butterflies flying in pine rockland. Sawgrass Skipper Butterflies are active in wetlands.

    It is also peak wading bird nesting (reddish egrets, great white herons, Wurdemann’s heron, black-necked stilt). Cuban yellow warblers and prairie warblers are also looking for mates, building nests and raising young along mangrove shorelines and islands. Alligators may be heard bellowing to attract a mate.

  • May and June

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    This is peak fawning season for Key deer (young fawns will have spots). Green and loggerhead sea turtle nesting is ongoing. Magnificent frigatebird roost by the hundreds on some backcountry islands. Brown pelicans nest in Key West NWR. Mangrove cuckoos return to the Florida Keys Refuges from their wintering grounds. Green herons and possibly anhinga are nesting at Blue Hole. Bartram's Hairstreak Butterflies' primary flight season ends in the pine rocklands. Tree snails start searching for food as the rainy season begins. Tarpon fishing season hits its peak as large tarpon move back into the area channels and flats. 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

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    Key deer bucks' antlers are growing and covered in velvet. Key deer fawns are still being born. White-crowned pigeons are nesting by the thousands on backcountry islands. They fly inland to hardwood hammock and pine rockland to feed on fruits of poisonwood, blolly, seagrape, pigeon plum and other tree species. Swallow-tailed kites start the bird migration season early, passing through the Keys on their way to South America. Amphibians like southern leopard frog and narrow-mouthed toad are laying eggs in seasonal pools of freshwater. You may see their tadpoles in shallow water and hear them singing at night. Sea turtle eggs begin to hatch.

  • September and October

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    Key deer rutting (breeding) season begins. Bucks scrape off their velvet and sharpen their antlers on local shrubs and trees to prepare to challenge other bucks for the right to breed. 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 and 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. We have recorded over 250 bird species in the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges! Sawgrass Skipper Butterflies are flying in wetlands. Sea turtle eggs are hatching in the evening hours and young sea turtles are making their way across the beaches and out to sea.

  • November and December

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    Most of the winter bird residents are arriving. American kestrels and belted kingfishers are some of our most vocal neighbors. Turkey vultures arrive 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.

Page Photo Credits — Key deer fawn and doe: Mickey Foster, Sea turtle:USFWS, Great white fledglings: Tom Wilmers/USFWS, Key deer fawn: Noni Cay Photography, Osprey: Kristie Killam/USFWS, White pelicans:Kristie Killam/USFWS
, Peregrine in flight: Tom Wilmers
Last Updated: Dec 04, 2015
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