Seasons of Wildlife
January – 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. Marsh drawdown coincides with shorebird migration. Osprey nesting peaks in March. Florida manatees can be seen all year, except during extreme cold snaps. Some adult roseate spoonbills leave to head to nesting grounds in March. Juveniles are present year-round. Cold water fish species present in January and February. Speckled sea trout, sheepshead and redfish in the marshes along Wildlife Drive.
April – June
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 are present, as are neo-tropical migratory birds. White pelicans and other migratory birds begin to move north. 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 generally 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 year. Female alligators begin to lay eggs in June. Adult roseate 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 near shore; larger individuals reside in deeper water.
July – September
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 (August). Alligators are present, often visible at dawn and dusk. Sea turtle hatchlings start to emerge from the nests (August). Snook and redfish are abundant in refuge waterways. Snook move into the shallows to feed (September).
October – December
Many shorebirds and colonial birds are present. White pelicans and other migratory birds arrive in greater numbers. Marsh drawdown coincides with shorebird migration (October). Birding improves during December. Annual Christmas Bird Count takes place. Sheepshead and redfish move into shallows.