How to Identify Florida Water Birds


Due to it's warm tropical climate, Florida is home to a wide variety of water birds. Birdwatching in Florida can provide an American bird enthusiasts with an opportunity to see birds that are found in few other places in the country. For lovers of birds and wildlife in general, spotting and identifying an unknown water bird can be very exciting and fascinating. Some of the water birds you will find in Florida are egrets, herons, pelicans, cormorants, anhingas and storks.

Things You'll Need

  • Binoculars
  • Birding Field Guide
  • Observe the size of your bird using your binoculars to get a close look without disturbing or startling the water bird. Your birding field guide will give you a size comparison to use as a point of reference, such as sparrow-sized or crow-sized. The great egret and the snowy egret are both white birds, but the snowy egret is much smaller.

  • Look at the bird's plumage for colors and patterns. Take note of all colors as they often indicate age, gender and even differentiate very similar looking species. Patterns may include stripes, spots, eye rings and wing bars. For example the Louisiana (tricolor) heron is larger than the little blue heron, and smaller than the great blue heron but all look similar. The Lousiana heron, however, has a white belly.

  • Note the shape of each part of the bird. The wings may be long or short. The beak may be curved, billed, or pointed. The neck may be long or short. Slight differences can differentiate one species from another. While the cormorant and the anhinga look very similar and have similar behaviors, the cormorant does not have the long slender snaky neck like the anhinga, and the cormorant has a thicker, curved beak.

  • Notice the habitat in which the bird lives (marsh or beach). Note where the bird is and what season it is when you see the bird. This may help you eliminate some species from the possibilities.

  • Pay attention to the bird's behavior such as movement or song. Notice if the bird walks or hops, flaps or glides. Many birds have distinctive songs. Cormorants and anhingas can both be found gliding along the top of the water.

Tips & Warnings

  • While looking up bird identification in your birding field guide can be extremely helpful, you may benefit from doing so before you begin birdwatching. Even if you just look up seasons and habits beforehand, it will save you time for looking birds that wouldn't be found during certain times of year.
  • Binoculars are an essential part of birdwatching. Getting a close up on a bird without binoculars can compromise both your safety and the safety of the bird.


  • Florida's Birds: A Field Guide and Reference by David S Maehr, Herbert W Kale
  • Photo Credit water bird image by Diane Stamatelatos from Bird on hand image by SirChopin from
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