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See and learn about native and migratory birds and animals in Manatee County.

By Kendra Gemma

Have you ever wondered what type of bird is nesting in your tree? Or have you ever wanted to view animals in their natural habitat? If your answer is yes to either – or both – keep reading to discover how and where you can learn more about Manatee County’s wildlife.


Do you want to soak up an expert’s knowledge of local animals and birds? Sign up for an educational experience with Manatee County Audubon Society or the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources.

To fully immerse yourself in birding, secure a spot in Manatee County Audubon Society’s bird identification class. It consists of four classes taught by master birders on Thursday evenings from January 11 to 25 and two Saturday field trips. The entire program is only $40 for members, and a household membership costs $25 annually. You’ll learn how to recognize birds by their appearance and their song, as well as
which birds live where and why they selected those habitats.

If you’re not ready to make the commitment of a multiweek course, the Audubon Society also offers field trips, open houses on the first Saturday of each month, and it’s developing a speaker series that will feature experts on topics such as owls, seabirds, and bird-watching apps. Bonus: The expert will usually be accompanied by birds. Contact [email protected] or visit
for more information.

The county’s parks and natural resources department has a monthly calendar of Eco-Events for all ages. While some activities are tai chi and trail cleanups, you’ll find plenty of wildlife education workshops on the list.

Young families can participate in regular programming like TreeTots for babies and kids under 2, and Green Explorers for ages 6 to 12. Recent presentations have included TreeTots: Night Nature, about nocturnal animals and their sounds, and Green Explorers: Creepy Senses, about animals’ survivalist quirks.

Adults have opportunities to learn, too. Lectures inform attendees about local wildlife and how to protect them, and monthly series
like Wildlife Spotlight cover a particular species, such as bats. Reservations are required for all county programs, but they are
free to the public. Visit departments/natural_resources/ecoevents to access the current month’s calendar and
to sign up for programs.

Florida Scrub Jay | Photo by Tony Ford


If you’re more of a solo explorer, take a trip to a local preserve, a state park, or the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.

Twelve Manatee County preserves cover more than 30,000 acres of land. A few to put on your mustvisit list:

Nestled in Lakewood Ranch, the Floyd C. Johnson & Flo Singer Johnson Preserve at Braden
River protects 43.82 acres of mature live oaks, tall longleaf pines, and wetlands. That means
you may see imperiled birds and animals, including swallowtail kites and gopher tortoises.
Two pedestrian-only trailheads can be accessed at 6820 93rd St. East and 6804 99th St. East.

  • Robinson Preserve sits on 682 acres of marsh, mangrove habitat, saltern, and coastal grass-lands. Bring your binoculars to get a good look at a variety of birds, from the colorful roseate spoonbill to the majestic bald eagle. For a close-up view, take a kayak out on the blueways.
    Want a bird’s-eye perspective? Climb the 53-foot-tall observation tower!
  • The large, inland Duette Preserve, with its sand pine scrub, oak hammock, and river ecosys-tems, is home to several threatened and endangered species, along with others of special concern. Among these are the Florida panther, the snowy egret, and the Eastern indigo snake. Bike, hike, and ride horseback through the preserve. If you’re truly adventurous, primitive camping is available.
  • Rye Preserve, in Parrish, sits on the Manatee River and contains a historic post-Civil War settlement, along with several ecosystems. As you make your way through the 145-acre preserve, keep your eyes peeled for turkeys, Florida scrub-jays, herons, and other birdlife. Come at sunrise or stay until sunset for your best chance to spot bobcats, gray foxes, and white-tailed deer.

Besides preserves, the county also has a state park. Drive out 15 miles east of Bradenton to Lake Manatee State Park, where you can indulge in an escape from the daily bustle. Six-and-a-half miles of multiuse trails weave through the pine flatwoods. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the rare gopher frog, which only appears at night. Ospreys and bald eagles sometimes visit the lake to grab a
fish or two. More commonly sighted animals include gopher tortoises, marsh and cottontail rabbits, deer, and cotton rats.

Prefer to stay indoors? Pay a visit to the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s Environmental Hall. The permanent exhibit depicts four local ecosystems – pine uplands, estuary, gulf waters, and riverine – and some of their inhabitants, such as alligators, bobcats, and cormorants. The second-floor exhibit also provides a top-level view of the resident manatees in the Parker Rehabilitation Habitat.

This winter, take advantage of the cooler temperatures and the migratory birds to discover the dynamic and diverse wildlife in our backyard.

Roseate Spoonbill | Photo by Tony Ford

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