Every year some of Earth’s most incredible animals undertake an annual migration. Often traveling thousands of miles, the species will trek to a summer home to feed and breed.
“Watching nature go through its paces, we realize that Earth is a vast, interconnected system. Animal migrations make me want to, well – pack a suitcase and follow along,” says Walt Thomson, the Conservancy’s Director of Terrestrial Conservation in Florida.
“We learn a lot by observing animals all along their migration routes, such as the swallow-tailed kite at its seasonal home in Brazil,” Thomson continues. “It’s clear we must protect habitat for these fantastic birds – both here in Florida and throughout their journeys – if they are to survive.”
When winter weather turns cold, these gentle giants leave their saltwater habitats in search of warmer water. If water temperatures drop below 68 degrees for long, the manatee risks death. With a constant temperature of around 72 degrees year-round, Florida’s many freshwater springs offer the endangered manatee a safe haven. In early March, the manatee returns to its summer home.
Averaging 10 feet long and more than 1,000 pounds, these gentle vegetarians are easy to spot as they gracefully glide, often with their young, within the shallow, clear runs that connect a bubbling spring to its river. Boats kill or injure many manatees each year as they travel among rivers, estuaries and marinas; please alert others to the importance of safeguarding these highly vulnerable mammals.
Learn more about what the Conservancy is doing to protect the Florida manatee.
The Dry Tortugas National Park, 75 miles west of Key West by boat, is one of the most spectacular places on the planet to observe migrating birds. Each spring, birds coming across the Gulf of Mexico might make first landfall in the Dry Tortugas. In April and early May, weather fronts can cause “fallouts” where literally thousands of birds land on the small, open-terrain island and cover the ground.
Visitors will see warblers – up to 25 species in one day – plus vireos, thrushes, tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings, orioles and raptors. The Dry Tortugas is also a great place to spot a pelagic tern, booby or the occasional tropicbird.
Visit the Dry Tortugas online.
In spring and summer, adult sea turtles migrate hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to Florida to mate and nest. They are often seen offshore along the Atlantic coast. Although humans have disturbed their habitat, nesting females are known to nest at the very same beach where they were hatched, coming ashore at night to lay up to 100 eggs. Anyone lucky enough to view this – or the hatchlings that emerge about two months later – must remain well back and not disturb the process.
Sea turtles are often spotted offshore at the Conservancy’s Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island. Endangered leatherback turtles arrive as early as March. Threatened loggerhead turtles are most common in June and July. Green sea turtles, also endangered, arrive later and nest through late summer. With 20 miles of coastline, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard and Indian River counties is the most significant area for loggerhead and green sea turtle nesting in North America.
To view a nesting sea turtle, sign up for a Public Sea Turtle Watch.
With perhaps only 300 of its kind left, the northern right whale is considered one of the most endangered large mammals in the world. So named because it was once considered the “right” whale to hunt, it can sometimes be spotted during winter and until late March from beaches between St. Augustine Inlet and Ponce Inlet. Your best chance might be from St. Augustine Fishing Pier, the south end of Flagler Beach, Flagler Beach Municipal Pier or Butler Beach.
Look for a triangular tail, short flippers, a v-shaped spout, no dorsal fin and “callosities” or horny white bumps around the head. This species gives birth almost exclusively in Florida’s nearshore area to the north of Cape Canaveral, so you just might see a mother and calf – bring your binoculars!
Check current right whale sightings off Florida's Atlantic Coast.
Snowbirds (an affectionate name for a subspecies of Homo sapiens) flock to Florida each winter from all around the world; many can be spotted enjoying Florida’s great outdoors. The subspecies is known for its outstanding generosity.
In spring snowbirds return to their native homelands, taking along memories of Florida’s sights and sounds. Much as the indigo snake relies on a gopher tortoise burrow during extreme temperature or fire, many native Florida species rely on the snowbird for protection all year-round.