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Great Florida Birding Trail (GFBT)
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Carolina Raptor Center
Louisiana Wildlife Federation
Louisiana Wildlife Rehabbers Association


Big Cats
Oddball Animals

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Horseshoe Crab




Best Places to See Wildlife in Florida

View in Florida in a larger map




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Crystal River - FL

Because 400 manatees winter here, it's a big tourist destination. Some tour operators have been caught on film harassing manatees to please tourists. Even Save the Manatees, however, thinks the tours are worthwhile for the manatee advocates they create. The kayak tours bother them far less than the "swim with a manatee" programs. You may also try nearby King's Bay Manatee Sanctuary and Chassahowitizka River.


Nature Coast Kayak Tours Local Tracy Colson volunteers rescuing manatees and won an award from Save the Manatee for her work documenting harassement and campaigning to end it. The 3-hour tour is $40. (352) 795 - 9877

Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company (352) 795-5650
Manatees in Paradise Husband and wife, Captain Mike and Stacy Dunn, help with manatee rescue and bay clean up. Their pontoon boat only holds up to six. $25 per person, plus wet suit rental. 352-563-0865
Nature's Connection Capt. Hank rides with up to 12 on 3 1/2 hour tours. $50 including wet suit. (352)697-0220
Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company This wildlife biologist works with Save the Manatees
(352) 795-5650
Adventure Outpost Lars Andersen, who writes guides on paddling and the area, leads kayak tours of many waterways. $39 386-454-0611
Wild Florida Adventures Brack Barker used to be a parks ranger and enforcement officer. Williston, FL (352) 528-3984

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Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Area
Manatees like warm water, so they are attracted to the Tampa Electric Company plant.  The company set up a Manatee Viewing Area to accomodate animal tourists. The manatee season here is Nov. 1-April 15. Up to 300 manatees come here when the bay is cold. Here's where you make reservations.
6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, FL (813) 228-4289


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Chassahowitzka NWR
The Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge is the winter home to a flock of endangered whooping cranes and a bold experiment in wildlife re-introduction.
Started in 2000, this flock spends summers in Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.
According to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, this flock has 74 birds and four adult pairs. The goal is 25 pairs by 2020.
Only two other flocks exist in the country. A non-migratory flock in Florida near Kissimee (at an undisclosed location) and a flock that migrates between the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf coast of Texas.
Operation Migration raises the birds with crane puppets so they won't imprint on humans, then guides them on the migration route with ultra-light aircraft.
The park is also a good place to see manatees, who cluster in the warm water of spring-fed Crystal River January to March.

1502 SE Kings Bay Dr., Crystal River, FL (352) 563-2088

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Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island has a few places to see manatees. Ask a local for their favorite spot. Manatees are found on the nearby Island Bay NWR (boat only and you can't go on the islands), Pine Island NWR, and J. N. “Ding” Darling NWR and its offshoot, Matlacha Pass NWR
Island Bay, Matlacha & Ding (239) 472-1100
Bonus species: woodstork, osprey, sea turtle
Captiva Island (off Sanibel)
You can see dolphins, otters and sometimes manatees off the west coast of Florida. Captiva Cruises has $25 afternoon cruises and a 95% success rate. (239) 472-5300
Captiva Kayak Company & Wildside Adventures can rent you a kayak to go out on your own. 11401 Andy Rosse Lane at McCarthy's Marina
Captiva Island, FL (239) 395-2925
Big Cat Rescue

An accredited animal sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue takes in abused or abandoned big cats. They are the ones who clean up the growing problem of people who try to keep exotics as pets. They're very smart about tours, with many options for close encounters with animals. The regular Day Tour is $25, $50 for a Night Tour, $50 for a Feeding Tour, $100 for the Keeper Tour. Private group tours, parties and wedding available, too. Tampa, FL 813-920-4130

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Manatee Park
In the winter manatees seek out the warm water that is heated by the discharge
In the winter manatees seek out the warm water that is heated by the discharge from the nearby Florida Power and Light. You can see them at Lee County's Manatee Park, which runs along the power company's discharge canal. Manatee season is Nov.-March. The park is open 9-4.
Here's a park brochure.
10901 State Road 80 (Palm Beach Blvd.) Ft. Myers, FL (239) 690-5030
Charlotte Harbor Eagles
The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center has bald eagles in the winter from December through April in the Alligator Creek Preserve.
10941 Burnt Store Rd., Punta Gorda, FL (941) 575-5435
Cape Coral, FL Burrowing Owls
Cape Coral, FL, is the capital of burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia. The Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife even has an annual owl festival, map of nesting sites, instructions on how to set up a burrow and etiqutte rules. Stay back 10-15 feet, more in nesting season Feb-July.
Parrot or Parakeet
Hernando, Florida Budgerigar parakeets
Up to 20,000 Budgerigar parakeets, which are native to Australia, once lived in the wild in Florida, including 7,000 in one nest. Now there is only a tiny pocket left. Blogger Robert Fergus saw a few on Gulf Winds Circle, Hernando Beach.



Peace River Refuge & Ranch

Peace River Refuge & Ranch is a sanctuary for tigers, leopards, cougars and other big cats as well as bears, wolves, monkeys, bats and more. All of the animals are rescued from situations of abuse or neglect and remain at the sanctuary for life. The animals can be seen by appointment only on the two days a month they give tours. $15

2545 Stoner Ln, Zolfo Springs, FL 

Mote Marine Labratory Turtle Walks
The Mote Marine Laboratory leads guided walks along Longboat Key and Lido Key on Saturday mornings in the summer. While most turtle tours are late at night, these go early in the morning, about 7 am. They also need volunteers to walk at least 1 mile of beach 2 days a week to monitor for loggerhead and sometimes green turtle nests.
The center rehabilitates turtles that needs help.
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy., Sarasota, FL (941) 388-4441
Kindred Spirits Sanctuary
Kindred Spirits Sanctuary is home to 150-some farm animals and they all want your attention. You're even allowed to bring healthy treats (no meat, please). No tours in the summer.12600 N US Highway 27, Ocala, FL (352) 629-0009
Gasparilla Island
Sea Turtles nest along Manasota Key, Gasparilla Island, Little Gasparilla Island, Don Pedro Island and Palm Island from May to August. Volunteers from Coastal Wildlife Club walk beaches every morning to monitor nests and help any turtles in trouble. They also educate the public about the Gopher Tortoise, which is in the same area, in decline, but not a sea turtle.
lots of species

Wildlife Rehab of Hernando

Wildlife Rehab of Hernando started out with native animals like raccoons, possum, alligator and fox. But they were overwhelmed by the need for a sanctuary for failed exotic pets. So they've taken in lemurs, lions, kinkajou, coati, lynx, python and a wallaby from state officials that bust illegal pet owners and dealers. 360 Suncoast Blvd., Spring Hill, FL You get close to the animals in your personal visit. $17.50 for adults, $8.50 kids.

World's Largest Bat House
The University of Florida at Gainesville houses the world's largest bat house on Museum Road across from Lake Alice. Some 100,000 Brazilian free-tailed and Southeastern bats live  at the house which was built in 1991 to lure bats from their problematic home at the track stadium.
Lubee Bat Conservancy
Lubee Bat Conservancy is a 110-acre bat research and breeding facility. They have fruit bats, which are huge and also known as flying foxes.
It's open for tours Tuesday through Saturday from 1 - 4.
1309 Northwest 192nd Ave., Gainesville, FL (352) 485-1250
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Brunswick, GA
Brunswick, GA, has high traffic in migrating manatees in the summer, researchers found. As a result, boaters in the Golden Isles are warned to look out for them, wearing polarized sun glasses if possible.
You can also check out nearby Wolf Island NWR.
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Suwannee River
According to MYFWC, manatees sometimes visit the giant, warm swimming hole fed by a hot spring at  Fanning Springs State Park. They particularly like Big Fanning Spring (the big swimming area), MYFWC says, but you have a chance of seeing them all along the river--especially where there is naturally occurring warm water. Another good spot is the Lower Suwannee NWR--though that's more focused on hunting than wildlife watching.You can rent kayaks at the park.
18020 N.W. Highway 19, Fanning Springs, FL 352-463-3420
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Blue Springs State Park
Blue Springs State Park is a refuge for West Indian Manatees, who spend the winter in the park. They arrive in mid-November and enjoy the waters that stay at a constant 72 degrees, then take off at the end of March. Visitors have spotted 250 manatees in the park, which is where rehabilitators have released manatees. Rangers recommend visiting on cold winter mornings for the best chance to see manatees.
2100 W French Ave Orange City, FL (386) 775-3663

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St. Augustine
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins live right outside St. Augustine. Occassionaly you may see manatees, too.
ECO Tours offers kayak trips and a 90-minute $40 (2009) tour.
111 Avenida Menendez # 60, St Augustine, FL, (904) 377-7245
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Cumberland Island
Manatees only come up to Georgia in the summer. They're much harder to see then because they're more widely dispersed. But people do report seeing them off Cumberland Island especially near the Dungeness dock.
Amelia Island-FL-GA border
Amelia Island hatches thousands of loggerhead turtles a year, with 89 nest in 2009. Volunteers from Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch meticulously record the location of each nest, move the eggs if they think the location is too dangerous, and monitor the hatchlings.
Dry Tortugas National Park-Nurse Shark Mating Ground
Dry Tortugas is one of the very few breeding grounds known for nurse sharks. But, it's also one of the most remote and obscure National Parks.  Dry Tortugas is 70 miles from Key West. You need to take a charter or ferry and only approved companies can do wildlife tours.
Biologists have been studying the mating ground for 30 years. Some believe the tours interfere with the sharks' mating. The park also has endangered sea turtles.

Key Deer - Florida Keys

The white-tailed deer is all over but the Key Deer, one of many subspecies, is endangered. These deer are much smaller (2 or 3 feet tall) than regular white tails and swim among the Florida Keys. You can see them at the Sanctuary, which was started in 1957, though GORP recommends the dead end of Key Deer Blvd. The deer have been declining since the 70s because of development, car crashes and feral dogs, the NWF says.
28950 Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key, FL (305) 872-2239

Key West Dolphins
Off the keys you can visit bottlenose dolphins.
Dolphin Watch offers $85 (2009) tours on a 31 foot Gemini catamaran. They know the local pod. The late Pisces, the dolphin dog, used to ride their boat.
201 William St, Key West, FL 33040
Duck Haven
Duck Haven cares for Muscovy Ducks. They are in dire financial straights since their founder died. 2627 NW 61st Ave, Pompano Beach, FL
Parrot or Parakeet
Miami Area Parrots lists several parrot nesting colonies around Miami:

Kendall Indian Hammocks Park

Ft. Lauderdale

Miami Springs: Fair Haven Center, 201 Curtiss Parkway

Pompano Beach: black-hooded parakeet nests in pine trees near the beach off Atlantic Blvd.

Baptist Hospital: four species of parrots: Monk and Mitred Parrots and White-winged and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets

wild horse
Abaco Wild Horses
Only eight wild horses survive today on Abaco. Long mythologized and seldom seen, the herd was tested in 1998 and found to be descendants of Spanish Barbs, untouched genetically for 250 years, according to
The horses survived for centuries in the hidden pine forests, but were captured or killed when Owens-Illinois came for the lumber. Workers at the Bahamas Star Farms, however, took matters into their own hands, capturing, caring for and releasing the horses. The wild herd grew to 200. In 2005, the Bahaman government shut down the farm because of a canker. The herd was also hurt because people keep burning down their forest to make farms, Equinetourism says.
The Wild Horses of Abaco is now desperate for any donations. They even want to save sperm from dead horses. They also will be happy to take you out to see the survivors for a donation of $35 per person.
  East Coast
Whooping Cranes at Lake Kissimmee
Kissimmee Lake and the Kissimmee prairie is where 37 endangered Whooping Cranes live in a non-migratory flock.
This flock, started in 1993. By 2004 four cranes fledged in the wild from captive-bred parents.

The whooping crane population dwindled from 1,400 whooping cranes in 1860 to only 15 birds in 1941, all in one flock that migrates between the Arnasas NWR in Texas and the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Not wanting to put all their crane eggs in that one basket, conservationists tried to create two new flocks. One migrates between Wisconsin and Florida. This flock just stays put in Florida.
Until 1940, there was a non-migratory flock in Louisiana.
The birds are considered rare even in Kissimmee State Park.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is 25 miles north Okeechobee. It's 5 miles north of the western end of Okeechobee County Road 724.
The ramp on this map is where one photographer found them.
(863) 462-5360
Cocoa Beach Sea Turtles
Sea Turtles nest on Cocoa Beach from May to August. Volunteers from the Sea Turtle Preservation Society guide walks in June and July. They're also trained to help out stranded turtles.
Singer Island - Palm Beach Sea Turtles
The Sea Turtle Conservation League of Singer Island monitors sea turtle nests from March to October. They recommend these local walks:
Lake Kissimmee State Park
Lake Kissimmee State Park has a famous population of bald eagles. It's one of a dozen or so nesting sites around the state. The state had 1,100 active nests in a 2005 survey.
About 70% of the bald eagles nests in the southeast are in Florida. Here's the state nest locator.
The park also has Sandhill Cranes and if you're lucky, you may see a bobcat here.
14248 Camp Mack Rd., Lake Wales, FL (863) 696-1112
Archie Carr NWR
The Archie Carr NWR, on a barrier island off Florida's east coast, is the most important loggerhead turtle nesting site in the western hemisphere. A quarter to a third of all loggerhead and green turtles in the U.S. nest right here. The refuge only started in 1991, so there's not big park infrastructure yet. But in June and July there are turtle walks from 9 pm to midnight to see turtles laying their eggs.

Reservation required. You can start calling  (321) 723-3556 May 1.

Tours at the Barrier Island Management and Ecosystem Center: T, W and July Saturdays. $10.   Caribbean Conservation Corporation

Sebastian Inlet State Park, McClarty Treasure Museum: Start calling (321) 984-4852 May 15. Free tours Fri, Sat, & Sun. See the refuge's fact sheet.


Apalachicola National Forest

The Apalachicola National Forest is one of the best places in Florida to see the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, according to Timothy O'Keefe's Florida Wildlife Watching.
The RCW, as he's nicknamed, isn't that big--about the size of a cardinal--but he's the subject of a massive recovery plan and now lives in 11 southern states. 
Despite its name, the bird hardly has any red--only the males have a tiny stripe called a cockade on each side of its black cap.
Bonus species: Bald eagles, gopher tortoise, bears, alligators

horseshoe crab
Ft. De Soto Park
Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County gets some heavy horseshoe crab action.
This is one of the top county's in the state, according to an official tally of public-reported sightings. Over six years people reported seeing horseshoe crabs in Pinellas 404 times, including 7 times with 1,000 or more horseshoe crabs.
Seacrest Wolf Preserve
The Seacrest Wolf Preserve is home to wolves and wolf-hybrids that former owners discarded. The center offers educational tours.
3449 Bonnett Pond Rd. Chipley, FL, (850) 773-2897

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Saint Marks NWR - Florida Panhandle
St. Mark's NWR, on Florida's panhandle, gets manatees in the summer, from April to September.
Bonus Species: Woodstork, Sea Turtles (Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green)
The visitor's center is by the lighthouse. (850) 925-6121
 Saint Marks NWR Manatees
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Mobile Bay Manatees
About 20 endangered manatees spend their summers in Mobile Bay, according to Dr. Ruth Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. According to this map of sightings, the manatees seem to like this industrial shipping canal, Meaher State Park and Terry Cove near Orange Beach, but they're all around the edges of the bay and even up into the rivers.) If you see one be sure to help out report it on-line at  or call (866)493-5803 
Shy Wolf Sanctuary
The family-run Shy Wolf Sanctuary takes in wolves, wolf hybrids, coyote hybrids (coydogs) and lots of unrelated animals that need a place to stay (like prairie dogs, tortoises, sugar gliders, a leopard and more. The animals are rescues. Some were found wandering the streets. Others were taken from inappropriate homes.
The Sanctuary offers small  private tours and  school field trips. They need volunteers, too.
1161 27th St SW, Naples, FL (239) 455-1698
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Lake Woodruff NWR
Lake Woodruff is another manatee winter hideout. The wildlife refuge has 23 miles of manatee protection zone.
2045 Mud Lake Rd., DeLeon Springs, FL  (386) 985-4673

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Merritt Island NWR Haulover Canal
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has a manatee observation deck over the Old Haulover Canal, which cuts through Merritt Island. The refuge is also home to, or at least visited by, sea turtles, wood storks and alligators. According the the refuge, alligators like the freshwater ponds behind the Visitor Center. They're easier to see in cold weather because they have to bask in the sun to stay warm.
(321) 861-0668
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Pelican Island NWR
Outside Sebastian, FL, Pelican Island NWR has a place to look for wildlife on the barrier island. You can find out more through the Friends of Pelican Island or the St. John River management district.
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Fort Pierce Manatee Observation Center
The Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce lets you see wild manatees in Indian River Lagoon and Moore's Creek. You may see manatees from the first or second story decks. There's an admission, but it's only $1. The Ft. Pierce Utility Authority supports the center, which works with local schools. They offer a $19 boat tour of the river.
Bonus Species: Dolphins and Pelicans
(772) 466-1600 ext. 3333

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10,000 Island NWR
Even though part of the 10,000 Island NWR is on the mainland, you have a better chance of seeing a manatee in a small, slow boat.
(239) 353-8442
Bonus Species: Wood Stork, White Pelican, Sea Turtle (loggerhead, green, and Kemp's Ridley).
Dauphin Island, AL
Alabama is the furthest reach of the horseshoe crab population in the states, though strays sometimes show up in Texas. lists Dauphin Island at one Alabama site, noting its on the Mobile Bay side. The other barrier islands out here have them, too--especially in the spring mating. mentions Fort Morgan (west of Gulf shores).  Ask the folks at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, which also has excursions into the dunes and marsh, for Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Blvd
Dauphin Island, AL (251) 861-2141




Great Florida Birding Trail Audubon of Florida


Tropical Audubon


Americans spend far more time and money going to see wildlife than they are hunting it. These are figures about dollars spent in each state on the various animal-related outdoor pastimes. These are the latest figures fom the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which does a survey of fishing, hunting and wildlife-related activities every five years.


$ spent in state




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