Bird Watching in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are world renowned for their water-based activities and wildlife, and for good reason! Islamorada is seated in the center of the Keys and regarded as the sport fishing capital of the world. Anglers from across the globe flock to the Keys to take advantage of the waters rich in various species and easy accessibility to all kinds of fishing. With such a reputation for fishing and marine wildlife, it’s understandable that magnificent creatures of the land and air are often overlooked, although they are plentiful in Islamorada and the surrounding Keys. 

One community that appreciates the Florida Keys for more than just its world-class fishing is the bird watchers. While fishing will always hold as the main attraction, it is true that the birds found in the Florida Keys can be just as rare, interesting, and worth the trip to see. 


You may have become familiar with bird watching lingo “The Big Year” which was popularized by a blockbuster movie starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. The movie chronicles competitive bird watchers who attempt to identify as many birds as possible in a given calendar year. A “Big Day” applies the same goals to a 24 hour window. 

Avid bird watchers often include the Florida Keys as a perfect spot to go birding, sometimes for fun, sometimes in the hopes of completing a Big Day or working towards a Big Year. The reason is similar for why avid fishermen seek out the Keys as well. The unique ecosystem and warm weather makes for a perfect environment for seeing many different species in close geographic location. Taking advantage of seasonal migratory patterns, bird watchers can observe both native and transient species all in one place. 


John James Audubon was a well-known ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He was famous for his studies documenting all types of American birds and for his artwork depicting the birds in their natural habitats. While this certainly doesn’t encompass every species that can be seen in the Keys, the following unique birds were documented during Audubon’s 1832 trip through the Florida Keys: 

Photo: Keyz Charters

Pipiry Flycatcher

Mango Humming bird

Mangrove Cuckoo

White-headed Dove, or Pigeon

Zenaida Dove

Key-West Dove

Blue headed Ground Dove or Pigeon

Roseate Spoonbill

Photo: KeyZ Charters

Great White Heron

Reddish Egret

Louisiana Heron

American Flamingo

Violet-green Cormorant

Florida Cormorant Frigate Pelican Man of War Bird

Brown Pelican

Photo: Key West Aquarium

Booby Gannet

Tropic Bird

White-tailed Tropicbird Cayenne Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sooty Tern

Noddy Tern

Beyond this list, herons, egrets, cormorants, osprey, frigate birds, vultures, bald eagles, kites, owls, hawks, stilts, brown pelicans, and white ibis are all commonly spotted in the Keys with hawks, songbirds, and shorebirds all having migratory patterns that bring them through the area annually. 

Photo: KeyZ Charters

The next time you’re in the Keys, you may consider looking to the sky as well as the sea in order to take in all of the wondrous wildlife that call the Florida Keys their home.

Some photos provided by KeyZ Charters