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There are over 250 species of birds that use the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges.

  • Osprey

    osprey pic

    Pandion haliaetus
    Ospreys are a common resident of the Florida Keys, and can often be seen perched on bridges and flying about shallow coastal waters. The nests of osprey are conspicuous large stick platforms, which are often placed on dead trees, cliffs, man-made nesting poles, and other structures.  From below, ospreys are mainly white with dark patches on each wrist and dark primaries. Ospreys hold their wings in a shallow “M” shape while in flight. The upper side of the birds is dark, with a white head containing a dark, thick stripe through the eye.
    Ospreys are the only raptor in North America to feed almost exclusively on fish. These remarkable hunters can dive up to almost three feet into water feet first to catch fish. Once a fish has been caught, ospreys turn the fish so its head is the direction the bird is flying to reduce the amount of wind resistance.
    Beginning in the 1950’s, osprey populations began to crash due to high concentrations of contaminants like DDT in the environment. The population of ospreys in the Northeast was almost completely extirpated. Increased pesticide regulations have allowed the osprey to make a remarkable comeback. 

  • White Ibis

    white ibis pic

    Eudocimus albus
    The white ibis is a common bird within the Florida Keys NWR Complex. This species is present year round and often can be seen foraging along the side of the road and by the shoreline. The diet of white ibis consists mainly of crayfish and other invertebrates, which ibis find by probing the ground with their long bill. During the breeding season, ibis build nests out of small sticks in trees. 
    There are many species of wading birds in the Refuge that are mainly white in coloration. White ibis can be identified by their pink face and downward curving bill, with a bright blue eye. The leg coloration is also pink, with black wing tips visible in flight. The juvenile birds have mostly brown wings and a dusting of brown on their neck and head feathers.

  • Peregrine Falcon

    peregrine tom w pic

    Falco peregrinus
    The Peregrine falcon is one of the largest falcons in North America. Typical of falcons, Peregrines show pointed, angular wings in flight, which allows them to fly at incredible speeds. Adult birds are dark slate-gray on their back, wings and most of the face. The “sideburn” facial markings are a good identifying feature of Peregrines. The breast is pale, with some light barring on the underside of the wings.
    This wide ranging species has breeding populations spanning from the Arctic tundra to southern Mexico. In natural settings, Peregrine falcons nest on cliff faces. These birds have adapted to human development, and now can often be found nesting on skyscrapers, bridges, and other tall structures. When hunting, these falcons sometimes perform aerial dives reaching incredible speeds – over 200 mph!
    The Peregrine falcon is an iconic species in the eastern part of North America. This species experienced drastic population declines in the 1900’s, and by the 1970’s the Peregrine had been eliminated from most of its historical range in the east. This population reduction was caused by high levels of chemicals entering the food chain and causing a reduction in Peregrine falcon survival and reproduction. Thankfully, Peregrines are making a good comeback and are recolonizing their historical range. Fall migration is a great time to see Peregrine falcons at the Florida Keys NWR Complex. The migrating falcons concentrate in high densities in the Keys before continuing south across open water.


  • Double-Crested Cormorant

    dc cormorant kk

    Phalacrocorax auritus
    Double-crested cormorants are one of the most common water birds found at the Florida Keys NWR Complex. These large, black birds with orange bills are often seen perched awkwardly on powerlines above water, resting on bridges, or swimming low in the water with only their long neck above the surface.
    Cormorants may appear to be awkward on land and in the air, but they are skilled swimmers. Fully webbed feet located far back on the cormorant’s body act as efficient propellers under water. Double-crested cormorants have a diet composed completely of fish, and often are found in areas where small fish are found in large concentrations. Interestingly, cormorants do not have waterproof feathers like many other species of water birds. To dry out their feathers, cormorants perch with their backs to the sun with wings outspread. Cormorants congregate together and form colonies during the breeding season. Here in the Florida Keys, cormorants build nests of sticks in mangrove trees. In other parts of the continent, nests are built on cliff ledges, short vegetation and bare rock. 


  • Royal Tern

    royal tern

    Thalasseus maximus
    Royal terns are a common year-round beach denizen in the Florida Keys NWR Complex. There are many species of terns that can be seen in the Keys throughout the year, and royal terns can be distinguished from other terns by their large body size, slim orangish bill, forked tail and black crest at the back of the head during the non-breeding season. A full black cap is present during the breeding season. Sometimes this species can be observed diving head first for fish. Royal terns also like to rest on channel markers, buoys, sandy beaches and anything else that stands above water.
    Royal terns create a bowl-shaped scrape in the sand where they lay their eggs. The chicks are fairly developed upon hatching and within two or three days have departed from the nest scrape. Royal tern chicks old enough to leave the nest form a crèche. This assemblage of tern chicks from throughout the colony is a behavior to protect chicks from predation. When a predator is detected, the chicks form a tight group and move around on land and in the water together. Amazingly, parent terns only feed their chick(s), which they identify by the chick’s unique call amidst the mass of other terns.


  • Mangrove Cuckoo

    mc kp

    Coccyzus minor
    Mangrove cuckoos are one of the most difficult species of birds to see in North America due to the cryptic behavior of this species. Cuckoos eat insects, and they hunt by sitting still and silent for long periods of time watching for prey.  As the name suggests, they inhabit dense mangrove habitats, which are extremely difficult for birders to navigate through. Because of these things, little is known about the population of mangrove cuckoos in Florida.
    Mangrove cuckoos are a medium-sized perching bird. Typical of cuckoos, the tail is very long with large white spots. The underparts are a buffy orange to pale cream color under the chin. The bottom mandible is yellow while the top is black, similar to yellow-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus). However, mangrove cuckoos have a grey cap and a thick black eye stripe.