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15 Bird Species You May Encounter on a Marco Island Fishing Charter

Fishing charters in Marco Island and surrounding areas do their best to ensure you bring in a fair amount of Trout, Redfish or Tarpon, but sometimes the fish are just not biting. Experienced guides will read the day’s weather conditions, know where to go and which bait to use. The Ten Thousands Islands are unique due to the fact you can move between inshore mangrove islands and deeper offshore fishing areas so easily.

While bad fishing days are rare around Marco Island, what isn’t rare is all of the bird life around Florida Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Everglades region in general.

Birds are in fact one of the main reasons why the Everglades National Park was established in the first place. This diverse ecosystem is home to nearly 200 known bird species, and is well-known for its tremendous birding opportunities.

Continue reading for some brief facts about each of these bird species. Not all of these will be in the area at all times of the year, but regardless, they are ones you will want to tell family and friends about upon your return.

1. American (Pink) Flamingo – This signature bird is known for its pinkish color, and is featured on many a Florida postcard. While comparable in height to the Great Blue Heron, the Flamingo is much skinnier and has a bill that bends sharply. If you spot one feeding, his head will be submerged in the water. In flight, you will notice the black coloring under its wings, along with its droopy neck.

Image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

2.  Anhinga – These birds will be found more toward the north in freshwater areas of the Ten Thousand Islands. They are often found perched in trees and snags, and are one of a few birds who can swim almost completely submerged. You can easily spot an Anhinga because of how it spreads its wings to dry its feathers. They mainly feed on small fish by “spearing” them with its long, sharp bill and then flipping their catch into the air and swallowing it whole.

Image courtesy of the National Park Service

3.  Bald Eagle – Even if you’ve never been in the outdoors, you should know about the Bald Eagle since it’s been the U.S. national emblem since our country’s founding. Bald eagles are generally found in the high areas of mangrove islands and the shoreline if they’re not soaring at 10,000 feet. Bald eagles will also migrate north during the summer months. Their wingspan averages an impressive 70 to 92 inches.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

4.  Brown Pelican – This signature bird of Florida generally resides on mangrove islands in large groups. They will fly over an area and dive for their food, but sometimes you will see a Brown Pelican before you even leave the dock in Marco Island or Goodland. Brown pelicans are quite large and have a long bill that can actually hold three times the amount their stomachs can. When catching a fish, the Brown pelican will release the water out of the side of its bill and swallow the fish whole.

Image courtesy of National Park Service

5.  Clapper Rails – Found in coastal marshes and mangrove swamps throughout the state, the Clapper Rail or Marsh Hen is generally not seen, but heard. During low tide, the Clappers will go out into the mudflats in search of their prey, which generally consists of insects, small crabs and mollusks. In order to stay dry during high tides, the Clapper Rail will build its nest in higher portions of the tidal salt marsh or in tall cordgrass.

Image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

6.  Herons – The Great White and Great Blue Herons are a mainstay bird for Florida, with the Great Blue being the largest heron in North America. They will live in either salt- or freshwater around Marco Island and Ten Thousand Island region. Both types of herons roost in tall trees. They also forage along the edge of the mangroves or in mud flats and stab their prey with their long, sharp beaks. The Little Green Heron is probably the most common, but the most elusive since it spends most of the day underneath low-hanging mangrove branches.

Image courtesy of the National Park Service

7.  Egrets – Often confused with Great White Herons, the Great Egret has black legs while the White Herons’ are yellow or green. However, both are quite similar in that they feed in shallow areas along the shore near mangroves on small fish, crustaceans, frogs and other amphibians. They will often times spread their wings to create shade in the water and attract fish during the warmer months. Both the Great and Snowy Egret were once highly coveted for their plumage and teetered on the brink of extinction.

Image courtesy of University of South Florida

8.  White and Glossy Ibis – Although young Ibis need freshwater, the White Ibis inhabits swamps and coastal areas in the Ten Thousand Island/Everglades region. The Glossy Ibis will generally stay more inland around marshes and prairies a little to the north. Although their numbers have dwindled slightly, the White Ibis is in fact one of the more common birds you may encounter on a Marco Island fishing charter. Both look for food in shallow water and muddy bottoms and roost in flocks along with Egrets and Herons.

Image courtesy of the University of Florida

9.  Osprey – While most ospreys are found along rivers and lakes farther north, they do sometimes migrate south to the Marco Island/Ten Thousand Island region in the winter months. They will build their nests in tall trees close to the water, or in mangroves if they are in the Everglades region. Ospreys are often confused with Bald Eagles because they will stay high up in the air and dive quickly with their talons extended if they spot a fish.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

10.  Peregrine Falcon – Another bird of prey like the Osprey and Bald Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon is one of the fastest birds in the world and dives toward its prey at over 200 miles per hour! It has blue-gray wings with a dark back, a white face and a black stripe on its cheek. Its talons are noticeably yellow. The Peregrine is often found sitting atop tall trees along the coastal areas in the Everglades and Ten Thousand Island region.

Image courtesy of National Park Service

11.  Roseate Spoonbill – These fascinating birds have a unique flat bill they move side to side in the water to look for small fish, shrimp, insects and shellfish. They are also known to move between fresh- and saltwater for feeding. The Roseate Spoonbill will nest in dense mangrove forests. They are like the Flamingo in that they have a slightly pink color and their heads and necks stretch profoundly during flight. In the past, the Roseate Spoonbill was heavily hunted since its wings were used for high-end fans.

Image courtesy of the National Park Service

12.  Royal Tern – This particular tern species lives almost exclusively in saltwater marshes, estuaries, beaches and waters close to shore. The Royal Tern’s habitat runs as far north as Maryland and all the way to South America. They will fly with their bills pointed down and will plunge suddenly if they spot a fish or shrimp.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

13.  Whooping Cranes – A real jewel of the Everglades and Florida, but highly endangered – the Whooping Crane population once got as low as 22 birds in the wild. Whooping Cranes generally stay on the freshwater side in marshes and prairies, but they are highly migratory so you may see one flying near the coast. Some Whooping Cranes though stay in Florida throughout the year. The Whooping Cranes build their nests over water or on floating vegetation.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

14.  Wood Storks – This bird common to wetland areas of central and south Florida are unique in that, like the buzzard, their heads do not have any feathers, which is why many older residents around Marco Island still refer to them as “Ironheads.”  Their beak is quite long while their tail and feathers are black. Wood storks will hunt for food in flocks and catch crab and bait fish by sweeping their beaks through the water. Wood storks are in fact the only bird of its kind that isn’t native.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

15.   Common Moorhen – Also known as the “Purple Gallinule,” the Moorhen is commonly found in large groups in freshwater lakes. Their long toes allow them to walk on rough terrain and even on the top of lily pads. Moorhens will eat plants and animals, including frogs, tadpoles, minnows and mollusks and their nests are typically made from floating plant material.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Even if you’re having a bad day fishing, you will no doubt catch a glimpse of a wide variety of bird species in their native habitat. To document all of these species would be difficult, but these 15 are some of the more common ones you’re likely to encounter on your day fishing in Marco Island.

Besides his decades of experience fishing the waters around Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands, Capt. Paul Nocifora of Glades Fly Fishing also has extensive experience spotting and identifying birds he encounters. To schedule a trip or to learn more about our Marco Island fishing charters, please visit or contact Capt. Paul by calling (239) 206-0177 or email today!


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