By: Kyle Grammatica
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) is a 2,000-mile, self-guided trail designed to conserve Florida’s 490 native species of birds via birdwatching, education, and economic opportunities. The trail, which includes 510 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state, is supported by the Foundation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Florida Department of Transportation.
Birding in Florida
Florida is along the Atlantic Flyway, a more than 3,000 mile stretch from the arctic tundra in Greenland to the tropical areas of South America and the Caribbean. The Atlantic Flyway encompasses a variety of ecosystems that supports hundreds of bird species. Migratory birds travel along the Flyway to find food sources or reach breeding grounds. Many of these migratory species spend time in Florida, contributing to the incredible birding opportunities the state offers. The GFBWT sites are the homes of the migratory birds during their time in the state. Of course, the trail is not just a great place to see birds; a variety of other animals and insects can be seen as well! Visitors can find everything from zebra longwing butterflies to gopher tortoises!
If you’re planning on visiting one of the sites, make sure to come prepared. Here are some tips to help get you started:
- Get a pair of binoculars – Binoculars will help you spot birds and other animals from a distance, giving you a much better chance to appreciate them! There’s no need to spend lots of money on a new pair of binoculars. There are many great options for under $100.
- Become familiar with the species you’re looking for – There are several field guides and apps that can teach you more about the birds you will be searching for. Try out the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America or the Merlin app by Cornell Lab.
- Find a spot – After you’ve identified the species you’re looking for and know what habitats they live in, pick an appropriate trail site from the list here.
- Keep track of the species you find – A lot of the fun of birding is finding different species and a checklist can help you keep track of the birds you’ve found and the birds you plan on looking for. You can download and print a checklist of Florida’s birds here, or download the eBird app on a smart phone or tablet.
- Respect the wildlife – It’s important to make sure that you do not disturb the birds or damage their habitat while birding. Nesting birds are particularly vulnerable; if they are forced to leave their nests, their eggs and young can become exposed to predators and harsh conditions. Remember to “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints” when birding!