Florida Birds Identification Guide

Florida Birds Identification Guide
Florida is a great state for birders and anyone who appreciates wildlife: Set at the far southeastern toe of the continental United States, its habitats range from pinewoods to prairie to mangrove forest. Especially to the south, Florida features truly tropical vegetation encountered nowhere else in the country, and its proximity to the Caribbean and Central America help set the stage for exotic avifauna (bird life).


Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Binoculars Birding field guide
  • Binoculars
  • Birding field guide
Step 1
Try to gauge the size of an unfamiliar bird you spot. In a publication for the Great Florida Birding Trail--a collection of prime birdwatching sites in the state--Jim Cox recommends familiarizing yourself with common birds of a benchmark size to hone your eyeballing skills. He uses the house sparrow, northern mockingbird and American crow as representative of small, medium and large birds. You can then roughly classify a species based on its size relative to these benchmarks.
Step 2
Look at the bird's body shape, and the shape of its constituent parts: beak, neck, legs, wings. Even basic descriptions of these features, taken with body dimensions, can often point you to the right genus or family. A tiny, compact body, stiff, upturned tail, and sharp, medium-size bill could indicate a member of the wren family (Florida has several species, especially in the winter). Even from a distance, the remarkable swallow-tailed kite (one of the most beautiful of the world's birds) can be distinguished from other raptors by its namesake forked tail.
Step 3
Focus on plumage color and pattern. There is great diversity in this arena, and males and females of the same species may be radically different in hue. With experience, and aided by binoculars, you'll eventually be able to pick out minute distinctions. The killdeer and semipalmated plover, for example, look alike, but the killdeer has two black bands on its throat where the semipalmated has but one.
Step 4
Think about the habitat and geographic zone. You're more likely to see a red-shouldered hawk in a hardwood hammock or cypress swamp than in open prairie. And you'd be unlikely to encounter the Bahama mockingbird, a rare Caribbean visitor, anywhere outside the southeastern part of the state.

Tips & Warnings

Unless a bird is unusually tame and tolerant, binoculars are essential for birding. If you don't own a pair, you can often find outlets that rent them, including some state and national park offices.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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