Birdwatching at Celery Fields in Sarasota County.  Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Birdwatching at Celery Fields in Sarasota County. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Bird-Watching 101: A Feathery Field Guide to Sarasota County
Bird-Watching 101: A Feathery Field Guide to Sarasota County
Birdwatching at Celery Fields in Sarasota County.  Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Birdwatching at Celery Fields in Sarasota County. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Birdwatching at Celery Fields in Sarasota County.  Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Birdwatching at Celery Fields in Sarasota County. Photo by Eddie Kirsch

Bird-Watching 101: A Feathery Field Guide to Sarasota County

Sarasota County is home to many native Florida birds and one of the most popular pit stops for hundreds of migratory species. Learn more with our beginner’s field guide.

Welcome to Florida's Gulf Coast: a birder's paradise. Sarasota County is rich in its diversity of native Florida birds, and is also a well-populated pit stop for hundreds of migratory species who fly south every winter to roost in the year-round sunshine. From Gulf beach shores to mangrove flatlands and brackish estuaries; pine flatwoods, scrubland, hammocks and prairies—birdwatching is a fascinating and rewarding endeavor in Sarasota County

Learn about some of the unique feathered friends who flock to our subtropical locale, where to spot them, and how to connect with other local bird-watching enthusiasts and avian experts in our Feathery Field Guide.

Birds of Sarasota

Birds typically spotted along the coasts of Sarasota County include waders, such as herons and egrets (long, slender necks, who navigate local shorelines on their graceful stilt legs); pelicans, gulls and terns, and the fierce aquatic raptors, osprey, who roam the seaward skies and plunge talons-first at speeds up to 50 mph to snatch fish from Gulf and inland waterways.

Herons & Egrets

Keep an eye out near the water for wading birds both grandiose and gangly: Great Blue Herons and their more petite cousins, Little Blue, and the short and stocky Green Heron, as well as Great and Snowy Egrets, and the Cattle Egret—who is also a common sight in agricultural spaces, where this plumed bird rides on the backs of livestock while pecking at yummy ticks and pests. Brown and American White Pelicans, sandpipers, ibises and gulls also frequent Sarasota's coastal areas.

Anhingas & Cormorants

Curious about the sight of those large, long-necked "water turkeys" sunning themselves by the water with their wings spread? Those are anhingas and cormorants, who submerge their entire bodies underwater while hunting, and must dry their feathers before they're able to fly.


While encountering a flamingo outside of Sarasota Jungle Gardens is unlikely, it's a special treat to glimpse a splash of pink feathers in the Sarasota wild. The Roseate Spoonbill is a unique looking, rose-hued wading bird who uses its spoon-shaped beak to sift snacks of small fish, crustaceans and even slugs and mollusks from shallow mangroves and marsh muck.

Songbirds, Hummingbirds & More

Make your way inland toward southwest Florida's pine hammocks, prairies, and sand and pine scrubs to discover a variety of songbirds, woodpeckers, cranes and storks, finch, hummingbirds, and more majestic raptor species including bald eagles, hawks and kites, owls big and small, and the caracara—a falcon, native to South and Central America and the southernmost United States.

Nocturnal Birds

At night, nocturnal raptors like the Great Horned, Barred, Barn and the elusive Short-Eared Owl, as well as smaller cuties such as the Eastern Screech Owl and Burrowing Owl may be heard and occasionally even sighted in wooded areas.

Florida Scrub Jays

A thriving cluster of the native Florida Scrub Jay, a federally-designated Threatened Species, makes its home in the scrub habitats of Sarasota County's Oscar Scherer State Park. The Scrub Jay is the only bird species entirely unique to the state of Florida, and due to its reluctance to travel beyond its home territory, the Scrub Jay is a rare sight outside a modest cluster of scrub habitats in central and southwest Florida.

Wood Storks

Another threatened Florida native is the Wood Stork, a large wading bird who prefers mangrove habitats. The head and necks of the adult Wood Stork are bare, with scaly, dark gray skin contrasting the bird's white plumage. Unlike the Wood Stork, adult Sandhill Cranes have vibrant red crowns. Like the Wood Stork, Sandhill Crane are often spotted in family clusters, and sometimes in large flocks, near ponds and marshes, as well as grasslands and prairies, where they forage for invertebrates and grains.


Look toward the tapping sounds in the trees above to peek Florida woodpeckers, including species such as the big and flashy Pileated (think: "Woody the Woodpecker") Woodpecker, as well as smaller varieties like the Red-Bellied, Downy, Hairy, or Northern Flicker Woodpecker.


Have you ever heard a chorus of shrieking parrots that sound more like they belong in a tropical rainforest than a shopping mall parking lot, or a backyard in the Sarasota suburbs? Gaze skyward, where you may spot the vibrant green feathers of Monk Parakeets and Nanday Conures (also known as Black-Hooded Parakeets). Although not endemic to Florida, these small South American parrots formed invasive colonies throughout south Florida, after escaping captivity beginning in the 1970s, and are not an uncommon sight today in Sarasota.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

A rare, but spectacular sight in Sarasota is the tiny, metallic green Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Weighing in at ⅛ of an ounce, this hummingbird migrates from the Yucatan Peninsula—in a 20-hour, 900-mile nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico—and winters in Florida before continuing north through the Eastern United States to mate. Pro tip: Your nectar-bearing flowers bring all the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to the yard. Try flame vine, passion vine, coral honeysuckle, and jasmine varieties to entice these teensy visitors.

Birdwatching in Sarasota: When to Go

The winter months in Sarasota bring some of the most abundant bird watching opportunities as thousands of migratory birds make their way south to and through Sarasota County, escaping the northern chill. However, with Sarasota County's year-round sunshine and ecological diversity, any time of year offers opportunities aplenty to encounter all kinds of our full-time feathered residents.

Explore the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

The Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail is a comprehensive resource for birdwatchers and butterfly chasers in Florida. Explore the site to learn about trails and habitats, the species of birds and butterflies you may encounter throughout Florida, and wildlife viewing tips in this network of over 510 wildlife viewing spots across the state. We've put together a list below of Sarasota County-specific sites featured on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Thanks to 21st century tech, the modern birder now has access to a comprehensive field guide straight from their smartphone. Before venturing out to explore the Great Florida Birding Wildlife Trail sites in Sarasota County, consider downloading the eBird app to help you identify whichever feathered friends you meet, keep a log of your sightings, and connect with the worldwide birding community.

Arlington Park
You may catch a glimpse of the iridescent purple and blue-green hues of the Purple Gallinule, small waders, and seasonal migratory ducks at this small park that features hardwood hammocks and reclaimed swamp, nestled in an urban downtown Sarasota setting.

Blind Pass Beach Park
You're unlikely to encounter many other humans on this serene, one-mile gulfside stretch of south Sarasota County. Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover are some of the common shore birds birders are likely to encounter combing the beach. Launch a kayak or canoe to explore the mangrove swamps and lagoon off nearby Lemon Bay Aquatic preserve.

Carlton Reserve (T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve)
Pack water and sunscreen! One of the largest sites on this list, Carlton Reserve in Venice, is likely worth multiple visits to visit its varied ecologies. Bordering Myakka State Park, Carlton Reserve encompasses 24,500 acres of hardwood hammock, pine flatwood, prairie and oak scrub. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends phoning the reserve ahead of time at (941) 861-5000 for trail conditions and to request a backcountry map.

Caspersen Beach Park
Two miles of Gulf beach shoreline and coastal hammock provide chances to spot an array of shorebirds, but keep your ears open, too, for the trill of migratory warblers paying a seasonal visit. The park is also home to two families of the rare Florida Scrub Jay.

The Celery Fields
With over 215 species logged by birders from the Sarasota Audubon Society to date, Celery Fields is known among many as the place to go birdwatching in Sarasota County. The 360+ acre site serves as the region's primary stormwater collection and flood mitigation zone — a space consisting of open marshlands, deep ponds, shallow pools and canals, with over 20,000 aquatic plants and trees in its ecology. Two Celery Fields boardwalks, at Palmer Boulevard and Raymond Road, provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The Audubon Society recommends winter visits to spy migrating sparrows, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, and several species of rails, including Sora and Virginia.

Crowley Museum and Nature Center
Explore pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, freshwater marsh and swamp and riverine areas interspersed over two miles of trails at Crowley Museum and Nature Center. Crowley includes a 2,000 foot elevated boardwalk and observation tower. This is a great spot to view birds of prey, including Bald Eagles, Barred Owl, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and Crested Caracara. Smaller, eye-catching species like the White-Eyed Vireo and the Northern Parula, as well as the boisterous Black-Bellied Whistling Duck frequent this biodiverse park.

Indian Mound Park
This tiny Englewood park sits on just seven acres overlooking Lemon Bay, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in exciting birdwatching. Catch a glimpse of an American Oystercatcher using its formidable beak to hammer open oyster shells, or Osprey and Bald Eagles dive-bombing the bay for a fresh fish meal. Ruddy Turnstones, Western Sandpipers, and numerous shorebirds also frequent Indian Mound Park.

Jelks Preserve
The Myakka River borders this 600-acre site in Venice. Pine flatwoods, moss-draped mesic hammock, and epiphytic hardwoods provide shady environments to view various species of warblers, woodpeckers, and the occasional Barred Owl. The preserve's wet prairie and freshwater swamp habitats are home to a number of spindly-legged wader species, Osprey, and the occasional Wood Stork. In the less shaded scrubs, visitors might spot Eastern Towhee and Eastern Bluebirds pecking around for insect snacks.

Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center
Find coastal trails speckled with scenic beach overlooks and more than two miles of pine flatwood trails tracing through the Lemon Bay Park. This site hosts birds of prey, woodpeckers, nesting Wood Duck families, scores of migrating warblers, and the occasional Magnificent Frigate, aka "Man 'O' War" -- a large species whose males inflate a striking red balloon on their throat to attract females during mating season. Call the Environmental Center at 941- 861-5000 to learn about guided bird walks and other educational nature programs at the Environmental Center.

Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park ranges more than 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, pinelands and hammocks housing migratory species, ducks, raptors, songbirds, wading birds, and more. During the peak birdwatching months of November through April, there is a bird naturalist available at the park's Bird Walk from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 in the afternoon most days of the week. Guests can call the ranger station ahead of time at 941- 361-6511 to find out if the bird naturalist will be on duty during their visit

Oscar Scherer State Park
Birders hoping to catch a glimpse of the threatened Florida Scrub Jay should pack up their binoculars for a trip to Oscar Scherer State Park. There are very few spaces, scattered solely throughout central and southwest Florida, that can claim an "abundance" of Scrub Jays—and Oscar Scherer is among the rare habitats where this elusive homebirdy can be found, along with over 200 other species of birds. The Friends of Oscar Scherer offers a neat Checklist of Birds at Oscar Scherer State Park in collaboration with the Sarasota Audubon Society

Pinecraft Park
The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission describes Pinecraft Park as a mesic hammock environment that is more resembling of northern Florida than most locations on this list. This is thanks to the 15-acre park's high, dense canopy of elm, hickory and oak trees where petite hawks like the Sharp-Shinned Hawks and the Cooper's Hawk, make their home along, with warbler and thrush species. The areas of the park bordering Phillippi Creek are home to aquatic species, including types of heron, moorhen (marsh hen) and ibis.

Quick Point Nature Preserve
Boardwalk overlooks and modest trail systems along Sarasota Bay offer birdwatching opportunities among a mix of beachy ecologies, including mangrove estuaries and tidal swamps where waders reign supreme. Look up to spot Osprey, Terns, and gulls riding the thermals in hunt of a seafood snack.

Red Bug Slough Preserve
Although Red Bug Slough Preserve borders a suburban neighborhood, it's easy to feel secluded from the outside world while traversing the quiet, moss-draped trails that connect the hammock and swampy slough. Here, you may spot Green Heron, Wood Ducks and Mottled Ducks, Belted Kingfisher, Limpkins, and more.

Shamrock Park and Nature Center
This park serves as a trail connector between Caspersen Beach and the Venetian Waterway Trail. In addition to Caspersen and Oscar Scherer State Park, Shamrock Park is one of the best spots to view the Florida scrub jay — and its ADA-accessible paved walkway makes it among the most accessible. The local Audubon Society chapter has recorded more than 115 species of bird, here, including the pterodactyl-like Magnificent Frigatebird and, during the summertime, impressive Swallow-Tailed Kites who hunt the shorelines.

Siesta Beach
Serious bird aficionados know the early morning hours are the best time to spot feathered friends, but in the case of Siesta Beach, arriving early is a must. Consistently rated one of the top beaches in the US, humans flock to this beach by midmorning in droves, and often stay for the sunsets — but misty early morning hours offer a quieter opportunity to view migratory shorebirds, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, and rarer species like Red-Necked Phalarope, Razorbill, and Elegant Tern.

Venice Area Audubon Rookery
Wildlife photographers from across the globe flock to the Venice Area Audubon Rookery to capture shots of Great Blue Heron and Egrets, Anhingas, Night Herons, and other gorgeous wading birds who populate the rookery island's deep lake. The Venice Rookery features a shaded pavilion that offers an intimate view of birds' activities on the lake, where they build nests, court and mate, hatch eggs and raise chicks.

Additional Birding Resources

Save Our Seabirds

Visit the "Living Museum" at Save Our Seabirds for an up-close and personal encounter with all types of birds who either live permanently or are undergoing rehabilitation in preparation for their return to the wild at this nonprofit wildlife conservation center. Save Our Seabirds' mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured birds, and to educate the public about environmental sustainability and wildlife conservation. Save Our Seabirds' outdoor "Birdwalk" sanctuary space is filled with native plants, accompanied by educational signage, providing a natural space for the birds in captivity, as well as migratory visitors, to roost.

Sarasota and Venice Audubon Societies

Spend some time with the Sarasota Audubon Society to learn about upcoming birding field trips and overnight excursions, conservation efforts, birding hotspots, Nature Center workshops and educational programs. The Sarasota Audubon Society also offers a handy and extensive local bird checklist, as well as an opportunity to sign up for a rare bird-sighting alert email service, SRQ Bird Alerts.

The Venice Area Audubon Society operates through the Venice Area Audubon Rookery. Check in with the Venice Audubon Center for free environmental programs from September through May, and keep an eye on the events calendar for field trips and other group activities for bird enthusiasts.

Bring Binoculars!

Birdwatching is among one of the most meditative, peaceful and rewarding activities one can explore in Sarasota County— and while winter is birding "season," birdwatching is a fantastic year-round hobby in our subtropical climes.

Our advice is to beat the bugs, the humidity and the heat by making early morning trips to Sarasota County's numerous spots along the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail—or even your own backyard. Keep your field guide handy, and don't forget to bring binoculars. Happy birding!