The Amazing Wildlife of
Everglades City, Florida
Wildlife Thrives Around Everglades City - Even After Hurricane Irma!
Get ready to meet Florida's WILD BIG FIVE, and that's not all! The mosaic of wetland ecosystems that form the western Everglades hosts a myriad of fascinating walking, swimming, and flying species - a few dating back to the dinosaurs!
Who: Families, Singles, Seniors Contact us!
What: Multiple ecosystems. Tropical and migratory birds, land and sea mammals, and other wildlife.
Activities: Hiking, kayaking, camping, drive tours, boat tours. Guided and unguided.
When: Dry Season from November to April is most comfortable.
Where: Everglades City, and the southwest coast of Florida.
Why Responsible: Local economy is based on small, multigenerational family owned nature tourism businesses moving from exploitation ('gator wrestling) to environmentally sound (fun!) experiences, and (sustainable) crabbing.
How Long: Week to 10 days
Florida’s Big Five
Like an African safari is symbolized by the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino, Florida’s ‘glades sports its own iconic Big Five.
Where else can you see an alligator (a living dinosaur), a manatee (elephant's cousin!), roseate spoonbill, a black bear, and Florida’s own charasmatic Big Cat, the Florida panther, living life in the wild?
See how many you can find, but don’t forget sea turtles, dolphins, saw fish, and … well, read on.
Oh yes! Interested in being part of the conservation community? We have found plenty of Citizen Science opportunities to participate in while on vacation. Let's go!
Big Five Wild Count Down #5: American Alligator
No visit to the Everglades is complete without an alligator sighting.
The largest reptile in North America can be traced back millions of years. American alligators are ubiquitous in Florida’s wetlands, thriving in the brackish water of the marshes. These living fossils rest during the day so the waters look empty and inviting, but stay out! Alligators are highly territorial. While attacks on humans are rare, they do occur, usually due to human error.
'Gators are big. Males can reach 14 feet (4.3m), and weigh in at over 1000 pounds (453.5kg), females may grow to 9 feet (2.7m).
Did you see a strange looking ‘gator? It might be a crocodile!
Far less common than alligators, Florida lists them as Threatened, but Federally crocs are still listed as Endangered.
Crocs AND 'Gators? This MUST be southwest Florida!
Crocs and 'gators in the same area? The only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles can be found together is south Florida, where salt and fresh water mix. The area around Everglades City has great crocodile spotting potential!
Alligators verses Crocodiles, What is the Difference?
Look at their snouts for a fast ID.
The almost U-shaped snout of an alligator is more rounded than that of a crock. When its mouth is closed, the alligator’s teeth are almost hidden by its wider upper jaw.
A crocodile’s snout is more pointed, V-shaped and its teeth are more pronounced as they stick up over the upper “lip.” And, unlike alligators, crocodiles like to sun with their mouths open. Their coloring is different too, crocodiles are a more gray-green compared to the darker, blackish alligator.
Best Place to Look for Alligators
Any place there is water - and that is every place near and around Everglades City. Crocodilians (both 'gators and crocks) are top predators and not shy. Big Cypress National Preserve is an almost guaranteed alligator sighting area. Driving? Look along the side the road for sunning alligators. For a close encounter, take a kayak tour! Read this
For crocodiles you need to be where salt meets fresh water - the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge is perfect.
In the water look for eyes and the tip of snout just skimming the surface. Watch for babies and very young crocodilians in shallow grassy pools.
Big Five Wild Count Down # 4: Florida Manatee
“Sea-cows” are Florida’s state marine mammal.
A distant cousin of the elephant, Florida’s manatee is an Indian manatee sub-species. They are huge, weighing up to 1500 pounds (680k), slow moving, gentle, playful, and seem to enjoy a kind of relaxed body surfing and rolling in their warm water habitat.
Manatees constantly graze on under water sea grass but must come up to breathe.
Listed as Endangered in 1975, Florida manatees have recovered to approximately 6,000 individuals and were federally down listed to Threatened in 2017 due to conservation successes.
They prefer water temperatures above 68-degrees F (20C). Fluctuating temperatures caused by climate change or other circumstances threaten their survival, (830 deaths caused by cold in 2013), as does the continued habitat loss, and threats from chemical and other pollutants.
Your Boat Can Kill a Manatee
Water craft collisions are also responsible for Florida manatee deaths every year with 104 killed in boating accidents in 2016. Look at any individual's back and flippers and you will see scars from propeller accidents.
Watch the water for loose sea grass fronds floating to the surface.
Manatees are sloppy eaters. Broken fronds surfacing means there are manatees below feasting. Stop your boat and wait quietly, when a manatee comes up for air it will probably take the opportunity to check you out as well.
Want to help a manatee?
Slow your boat and secure your trash. Every year manatees are killed by boat collisions, ingesting plastic garbage and other trash in the water, and by becoming entangled by loose fishing line.
Citizen Science opportunity:
Be a manatee field work intern with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and help identify manatees.
Big Five Wild Count Down # 3: Roseate Spoonbill
Slightly bizarre behavior and beautiful coloring of the Roseate Spoonbill make these tall, pink and rose birds with their odd flat, spatula-shaped yellow beak, worth seeking out even if you are not particularly an avian enthusiast.
Best Place to See a Roseate Spoonbill
Along the mangrove swamps of the 10,000 Islands. They walk on long legs through shallow waters, their super sensitive bills submerged, making dizzy, sweeping motions with their heads, "feeling" for shrimp, crabs and other delicacies.
Look up too. The Roseate spoonbill roosts in trees. These are fairly skittish birds, give them space. Go by boat or kayak, move slowly and be prepared to stop a fair distance away to watch the action.
Big Five Wild Count Down # 2: Black Bear
Black bear are the only wild bear species in Florida.
They are fairly common the national parks and preserves in and around Everglades City.
Want to see a Florida black bear?
Take a driving safari in the early morning or late afternoon. We did one early evening and were able to watch a young bear from the car just lumbering down the road completely unconcerned about us. Finally, after about twenty minutes, something in the forest caught his eye (or his nose!) and he rambled into the trees and disappeared.
Black bear range in color from black to cinnamon and in size from just 130 pounds (60kg) up to 700 pounds (318kg.) Females are smaller than males.
Florida black bears are 80% vegetarians, feasting on fruit, berries, and nuts. The rest of their diet is insects (15%) plus small mammals, fish, and carrion; however, bears are opportunists. If they can steal your food or garbage they will.
Be aware of black bears, they have no sense of humor when disturbed, and especially around the breeding time or with cubs they can be dangerous.
Best Place to Look for Black Bear:
Big Cypress National Preserve including the Fakahatchee Stand and the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge
Spotting Hint # 2: We saw bear scat on the road in the early morning and came back to the same place at dusk. Bears are creatures of habit, sure enough, there he was less a half mile up the road and headed straight for us, which brings us to
Spotting Hint # 1: See something walking in the distance? Does it look like a large, perhaps slightly inebriated, human? Grab your binoculars, it might just be a bear!
Florida's Wild Big Five Big Cat Exclusive # 1: Florida Panther
This is the last place on Earth where Florida’s own charismatic Big Five Big Cat can be found.
The Florida panther is one of the world's most endangered species. There are only 120-230 reproducing adult Florida panther left in the wild.
This amber-eyed, tawny-colored feline once ranged throughout the southeastern United States. Today, most Florida panthers are found right here in Collier County in the western most area of Florida’s Everglades.
Peek-A-Boo! He Sees You!
This cat is elusive, but many folks taking guided walking tours see fresh tracks suggesting it is probably a better “spotter” than we humans. Try your luck. Florida panthers can and have been seen right here in Collier County.
Careless Drivers Kill Panthers
Unfortunately for the Florida panther, many encounters with humans result in the cat not living past the occasion. There were a record 32 vehicle-related panther deaths in 2015, and no matter how protected they are, without help from the driving public, residents, tourists, and those just passing through, the Florida panther may soon be gone forever.
Staying vigilant and respecting 45MPH night time speed limits posted in panther areas are important ways you can really make a difference when driving through the western Everglades.
“These (road kill) figures sound the death knell for a sustainable Florida panther population in the wild,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) “Without sufficient protected habitat, there is no viable recovery for this alpha predator.”
Florida panthers purr - but make no mistake, this mountain lion subspecies is no lap kitty!
They can reach 7 feet (2.1m) long and weigh in at up to 150 pounds (68k). Males are significantly larger than females. Look for the distinctive black markings on its long tail and ears. These are the only tawny brown cats with a tail 2/3 the length of such a large body that you will spot in the area. They prefer a diet of white tailed deer and wild pigs, and, if they are not poached, hit by moving vehicles, or succumb to feline disease, Florida panthers can survive up to 12 years in the wild.
Best Place to Look for Florida Panthers:
Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve
More Spectacular Wildlife in the Western Everglades
The Everglades offers great wildlife spotting opportunities on land, in the sea, and in the air.
The Best Place to Look for Land Mammals
Take a car safari or a hike with a naturalist through Big Cypress National Preserve or Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, or Fakahatchee Strand, better yet - all three!
Along with Florida panther and black bear, look for bobcat, white tailed deer, river otter, gray fox, endangered Everglades mink, and marsh rabbit, raccoon, opossum, nine-banded armadillo, as well as squirrels, and various small mice, voles, and others.
Best Place to Look for Bottlenose Dolphins:
The 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Take a motor boat out, when they are out there, they will find you - and they will use the wake of your boat as their own playground.
Best Place to Look for Sea Turtles:
Florida hosts the nests of five of the world's seven remaining sea turtle species, three nest here in western Everglades.
The 10,000 Islands mangrove forest is an important nursery for many species of bird, mammal, fish, and the sea turtles that lay their eggs on the island beaches. The most endangered and the smallest sea turtle species in the world, the Kemps Ridley’s sea turtles, as well as green and loggerhead sea turtles nest in the Rookery Bay.
When you are island hopping, look for turtle tracks coming from the water’s edge up the sand. Step carefully! Sea turtles and their nests are protected. Do not disturb or block turtle movements.
Citizen Science Opportunity: There are numerous opportunities to help protect and monitor nesting sea turtles, The Conservancy of Southwest Florida https://www.conservancy.org/ is a good place to begin.
Best Place to Look for Sharks, Rays, Sawfish & the Amazing Horseshoe Crab.
Note: Bull sharks are the only true shark species known to be able to acclimate from marine to fresh water. Baby bull sharks like the shallows around the 10,000 Islands but give the babies space. Even young bull sharks are notoriously bad tempered.
You may also see rays or sawfish, a very unusual type of ray.
The horseshoe crab is another ancient throw-back, find them in the shallows too. They look like little submerged tanks.
The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Sharks use these estuaries around the 10,000 Islands as a nursery. Visit the Environmental Learning Center where young children are very welcome, too.
For Frogs & Snakes & Turtles, Just Keep Your Eyes Open.
These include true and tree frogs and toads. Look for pig frog, Southern leopard frog, oak toad, Florida cricket frog, barking frog, and many others. The mangrove forests and grassland marshes are great frog habitats.
Over 26 species including the Everglades racer, Eastern indigo, Florida and Eastern kingsnakes, and cottonmouth (water moccasin), Eastern diamondback, and Eastern coral snake. Burmese pythons are a problematic, invasive species.
Turtle (non-sea) species: include Florida snapping, striped mud, Florida red-bellied, chicken, and box turtles, and the gopher and Florida softshell turtle.
Bird Watching Around Everglades City: 350 species
The Everglades hosts a never-ending parade of brilliant feathers. Even non-birdwatchers enjoy the flying rainbow. There are waders, warblers, raptors, scavengers, colorful birds of the land and sea and forest. Get a book or App and start a check list!
Look in the marshes for great egret standing like gentle question marks emerging from the wetland grass.
Great blue herons, a meter tall, search the marsh edge for fish and baby alligators, while mid-sized snowy egret, green heron and night heron, rounder and with shorter legs compete for minnows and lizards with lanky tri-colored heron, and limpkin.
Flocks of white Ibis wade the shallows, lifting off en-masse, easily identifiable by their curved beaks and black tips on their pure white wings. Wood stork, North America's only breeding stork, also has black details on a white body.
You may see sandhill crane, little blue heron, glossy ibis, and yellow crowned and black crowned night heron, too.
Colorful geese and ducks such as snow geese and wood ducks and red heads float along teasing the alligators. And don’t forget the magnificent frigate bird. That is really their name and they live up to their publicity.
Raptors including great horned owls, barred owls, and red shouldered hawks show themselves against tall pine trees and on power lines watching for rodents.
There is a huge osprey nest right in a parking lot as you enter Everglades City. The chicks were fledged by the time we arrived but one kept coming back, sitting next to the now-empty nest, hoping we thought, for one last gift from his parents. It is difficult not to be captivated by the birds. Look for shrikes and falcons and both turkey and black vultures, and many others who ride the thermals high above.
And then there are smaller flying jewels. Over 35 different warblers make their way through this area, at least four staying to breed: prothonotary, yellow throat, prairie, and pine warblers. Bright red tanagers and Eastern blue birds flit through the scrub forest and look for woodpeckers and others too numerous to list.
Best place to see the birds:
Everywhere. Each park or sanctuary has their own “flocks” but we saw myriads of different herons, ibis, shore birds, song birds, and raptors right in the yards and trees of Everglades City. Water birds (as well as alligators) take on a new perspective from the water.
Responsible Wildlife Viewing Practices:
Responsible wildlife viewing is about keeping both you and the wildlife safe. Never Harass Wildlife. Wild animals including bear, wild cats, alligators, and others are well equipped to deal with threats. When you come too close (yes, even just for a selfie), you become the threat.And never, never feed wildlife.
Putting yourself in danger you also endangers the animal. Wild animals that attack a human will likely be killed for human safety, even if the fault was yours. Sometimes just disturbing them can hurt their chance of survival, sea turtles and many nesting birds are good examples of this.
Take a guided walking tour with a trained naturalist for the best wildlife viewing experience. Or enjoy a driving safari, dawn and dusk are the best times. Kayaking is another way to experience the wildlife, especially with a guide that can show you their secret places – and also find the way out again. Just remember – NO swimming in alligator country. Keep quiet and still and be amazed at how many species come to view you.
For more responsible best practices from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission read : Bear FAQS, Living with Panthers , Living with Alligators & Crocodiles, Learn About Sea Turtle, Practice Turtle Safety 101
Have you been to Everglades City?
We want to hear your comments and stories here!
Special Thanks To
Big Cypress National Preserve & Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
The Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex and the
National Park Service for their help, information, images and guidance.