Bird Watching on Marco Island

Bird Watching Roseate Spoonbill

Bird Watching on Marco Island

Marco Island’s beautiful birds are one of the island’s greatest assets.  Bird watching on Marco Island is especially rewarding.  There are many species native to the island.

Marco Island Ospry

I photographed this osprey posing on Tigertail Beach.    Although these majestic birds are not normally people friendly, this one seems to enjoy the attention!!  If you are like me, it is special to capture a beautiful photo to use in your home.  What a precious vacation memory!  This osprey’s picture is now in Sea Mar Condo for our guests to enjoy!

There are many birds which are native to Marco Island and the southern Florida area. Some birds that are more common on Marco Island include the white egret, osprey, pelican, bald eagle and burrowing owl.

The Great Florida Birding Trail

Tigertail Beach Park is located on the Great Florida Birding Trail. It is a nice place to see and photograph many species of birds. There are also other bird watching sites around Marco Island. They include Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Briggs Nature Center,  Frank E. Mackle Jr. Community Park, Eagle Lakes Community Park and Sugden Regional Park.  A  short 40 minute drive to Big Cypress Welcome Center and Turner Loop Road near Everglades City are also great birding sites.

Burrowing Owls on Marco Island

Burrowing Owls at Resident's Beach

Marco Island has been recognized by the Audubon Society for their efforts to increase the numbers of burrowing owls. The small owls are protected by both the state of Florida and the city of Marco Island.  Many island residents have volunteered to adopt and offer protective housing (borrows) for these beautiful birds.  For the last three years, a family of burrowing owls have made their nest on Resident’s Beach, a private beach for residents on the island.  The owls are given a wide roped off space, but are yet visible to beachgoers.  Hint: They tend to pose for pics in the morning and late afternoon hours.

Osprey on the Island

Anytime you are on the water around Marco Island, you will likely see large osprey nests built of sticks on channel markers.  Ospreys have a large brown back and a white underside.  Visitors to Marco Island see these birds soaring around condo buildings and over the Gulf waters.  They are very large with wingspans of between 4-5 feet.  Ospreys soar above the shallow water along the beach, then hover briefly before diving feet first to grab a fish.  The bird then takes off with its fish to carry it back to its nest or perch.  It is not uncommon to see ospreys perched on a building or along the beach on driftwood in the Tigertail area.

Lots of Pelicans on Marco Island

Brown Pelicans

Marco Island Brown Pelican

This is my favorite bird to watch on Marco Island!  What fun it is to see these impressive divers circling high above the Gulf waters before diving headfirst in search of the perfect feast.  Often you will see the brown pelicans fly in group formation in a V-shape along the water.  Pelicans are plentiful on Marco.  It is common to be in the water and see one swoop within a few feet.  Watch the pelican as it expands its throat pouch (gullet) to trap fish, filling it with over 2 gallons of water, then enjoying a tasty meal!  A friend of mine took the picture to the left as we left on a Marco Island Princess dinner cruise.  This picture is also in Sea Mar Condo for our guests to enjoy!  See our full article on The Brown Pelican at

White Pelicans

More rare to spot on Marco Island are white pelicans. They arrive in the area in late fall and stay until the early spring.  The white pelican has white feathers and a pink-tangerine colored bill.  Isolated areas like mangrove islands are preferred habitats since these birds are shy and less social.  Your chances of seeing a white pelican are better during a boat tour of the 10,000 islands with binoculars.  White pelicans work as a team to herd their food prey,  fluffing their wings to assemble and gather the fish.

Bald Eagles on Marco Island

Marco Island Bald Eagle

Marco Island Nature Preserve is home to the island’s nesting American Bald Eagles during nesting season.  The preserve is located at 665 Tigertail Court, Marco Island, FL.  This organization works alongside volunteers of Marco Island to guarantee the safety of active Bald Eagle nests.  Visitors may visit during nesting season between November and May.

The Marco Island Nature Preserve & Bird Sanctuary also has a Facebook page  The page has lots of great information on these majestic birds and their activity.

Roseate Spoonbill

Pink Spoonbills in Flight

Birdwatching on Marco Island is more exciting with color!  Another of my favorite birds around Marco and the 10,000 island area is the roseate spoonbill.  The spoonbill is a beautiful pink wading bird. Although rare to see on Marco, they are sometimes spotted near Tigertail Lagoon.  Visitors taking eco tours of the 10,000 islands commonly get to see the roseate spoonbill.  Besides Tigertail Lagoon, my sightings include one on a boat tour a few years ago and again on a drive along Turner Loop Road in the Everglades.

The roseate spoonbill has bright pink feathers and red eyes with a giant spoon-shaped bill.  These birds are especially beautiful in flight flying with their outstretched necks.  A couple of neat facts about the spoonbill:  They bald as they mature by losing feathers from the top of their head.  And, their pink color comes from the crustaceans they eat, which contain pigments called carotenoids that turn their feathers pink.

Least Terns Nesting on Marco Island

Least Terns on Tigertail

The least tern is the smallest of the American terns.  They grow to a length of 8 1/2 to 9 inches with a wingspan of 21-23 inches.  Tigertail Beach on Marco Island is one of the largest nesting areas in Southwest Florida for the least tern.  This bird has a gray back, black wings, a yellow beak and a white belly.  It also has pointed wings and a forked tail.  Least terns nest in colonies and stay on sandy beaches with a path to the water.  They are also a threatened species.  Visitors to the island can walk along the north tip of Tigertail Beach during nesting season (April-August) and see large colonies of 200 or more least terns nesting. Roped areas protect the nests.  Signs give warnings to keep a distance from nesting birds.

Black Skimmers on Marco 

Black Skimmers

Black skimmers are on Marco Island year round.  The island has the largest black skimmer colony in the state of Florida.  Many black skimmers on Marco are banded to track movements, lifespans, and survival rate.  Black skimmers nest in large colonies around April-August on Tigertail Beach.  Visitors to Big Marco Pass during nesting season can see colonies of 400 or more black skimmers.  Roped areas keep visitors a safe distance from nesting birds.  Although normally a calm bird, the black skimmer will dive bomb anything getting close to a nest of newly hatched chicks.  During the winter months, visitors to the island will see black skimmers resting on the beach in front of the Marriott.

The black skimmer has a wingspan of around 45 inches.  They have a black back, white belly, orange-red legs, and a black-and-red bill.  Orange color on their bill and legs make them easy to spot.  Black skimmers fly very low above the water.

Snowy Egrets Along the Beach

Snowy Egret

It’s not often you walk along Marco Island’s beautiful beaches without one of these guys joining you!  Known for their “strut” and “ruffled feathers” the snowy egret can become quite comical in their appearance.  (Makes for a great photo!)  The snowy egret is a water bird that is around 26″ tall with white feathers and a black bill.  It has black legs and bright yellow feet.  In spring, the egret has “fancy” lace-like feathers on its head and along its back for its showy displays of courtship.  Marco’s snowy egrets are very used to people and will virtually “walk the beach” with you!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron is the tallest of the wading birds.  It is slate blue in color with a white head, a black stripe above the eye, and a yellow bill.  This bird has a wing span of 65-79 inches.   Blue herons are solitary birds that are normally seen standing motionless in shallow water.  Tigertail Lagoon is a good place to look for this bird. Taking an eco tour or a drive to the Everglades along Turner Road is also a great way to see a great blue heron.

Anhinga (Piano Bird)


The Anhinga is a most unusual bird.  It swims with its webbed feet.  They also dive under water, and spear food by rapidly stretching out the neck.  Anhinga’s feathers are not waterproof as other types of water birds.  Their feathers get soaked when they are submerged in water, thus they cannot stay in the water for long periods of time.

Anhinga diving

The bird stands with it’s feathers fanned out to dry.  Anhingas also pridefully sit in trees with outstretched wings once they are dry enough to fly.  The male anhinga is glossy black with white tail feathers.  When outstretched, the bottom of the male’s wings have white strips that resemble piano keys and they are sometimes called “piano birds”.  The female is pale gray in color or light brown.  I took the picture of this bird at the Big Cypress Welcome Center along the boardwalk.

Sea Mar Condo is the Perfect Place to Stay for Bird Watching on Marco Island

Sea Mar Condo Logo

Sea Mar Condo is located on the south end of Tigertail Beach and the north end of Marco Island’s South (Crescent Beach).  Our 19th floor penthouse condo overlooks South Beach with beautiful views of the beach and Gulf waters.  We are a short 40 minute drive to Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades City.  There are many guided eco tours of the 10,000 islands from a short 5 minute drive to Caxambus Park or Rose Marina.  All of these areas are perfect for bird watching on Marco Island (and surrounding areas).  Visit our website for more information on Marco Island and Sea Mar Condo.  We would love to have you as our guests!

Burrowing Owls on Marco Island

Burrowing Owl

Marco Island is known for its beautiful beaches. However, one thing that makes the island really special is its wildlife.  One little creature is especially cute if you get the chance to spot it. The burrowing owls on Marco Island can normally be spotted on the corner of Bald Eagle and Elkcam Street – south side.

As the island grows (more houses being built) the burrowing owls are becoming harder to see. They are protected when the owls are actively nesting.  When the babies have left and the adults stop using the nest, it is then possible to build on a lot. The Burrowing Owl Society provides starter packs for home owners who want to encourage owls to nest on their property.  The number of vacant lots on the island is diminishing fast. (The Marco Review)

Owls are unmistakable birds, and that goes double for a long-legged owl that hunts on the ground during the day. Burrowing Owls are small, sandy colored owls with bright-yellow eyes. They live underground in burrows they’ve dug themselves or taken over from a ground squirrel, or tortoise. The owls live in grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats. They hunt mainly insects and rodents. Their numbers have declined sharply with human alteration of their habitat and the decline of ground squirrels.

Cool Facts About Burrowing Owls

Burrowing OwlsUnlike most owls in which the female is larger than the male, the sexes of the Burrowing Owl are the same size.

Burrowing Owls often stow extra food to ensure an adequate supply during incubation and brooding. When food is plentiful, the birds’ underground larders can reach enormous sizes.

In the absence of suitable homes created by ground squirrels or other burrowing animals, Burrowing Owls have been known to nest in piles of PVC pipe unintentionally provided by humans. Conservationists make use of the owls’ adaptability by supplying artificial burrows made of buckets, pipes, tubing, and other human-made materials.

Burrowing Owls have a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than other birds.  They spend long periods underground, where the gas can accumulate to higher levels than found above ground.

Nests of Burrowing Owls

Before laying eggs, Burrowing Owls carpet the entrances to their homes with animal dung, which attracts dung beetles and other insects that the owls then catch and eat. They may also collect bottle caps, metal foil, cigarette butts, paper scraps, and other bits of trash at the entrance, This can signify that the burrow is occupied.

The nest burrow can be several yards long and is usually less than 3 feet deep.  Size depends on the mammal that originally excavated it. Burrows tend to make numerous twists and turns, with a mound of dirt at the entrance and an opening at least 4–6 inches wide. The owls often line their burrow with livestock manure, sometimes with feathers, grass, or other materials. When owls dig their own burrows, the process may take several days.  It takes them less time to prepare the burrow for nesting when they use an existing burrow.

Lifestyle of a Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl NestBurrowing Owls hunt at all hours of the day and night. Usually staying close to the ground, they fly, hover, walk, or run, seizing prey in their talons. Between forays for food, they sleep on dirt mounds at their burrow entrances or on depressions in the ground. Disturbed owls bob jerkily up and down, as do hunting owls pinpointing prey. They are mostly monogamous and breed close together in loose colonies. Females stay in or near the nest burrow until chicks fledge.  Males tend to stand guard at a nearby burrow or perch. Males defend their territories against other males by vocalizing, displaying in a weaving crouch with feathers fluffed, or chasing and attacking with outstretched talons. Courting adults—mainly males—display by circling overhead or flying dozens of feet into the air, hovering for a few seconds and then rapidly descending. Pairs vocalize, rub bills, and preen, the male calling and presenting food to the female. Young owls play-hunt by jumping on each other, on prey brought by their parents, and on dung around the burrow.
Credit: The Cornell Lab of Omithology – All About Birds

Visit our website for more information on Sea Mar Condo, Marco Island, FL. We want to make your vacation on Marco Island a trip of a lifetime!

Marco Island Wildlife: The Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbills

When I am in the Marco Island, 10,000 Islands/Everglades area, I am always on the lookout for the roseate spoonbill. It is such an intriguing, beautiful bird.  It is definite among my favorite as is the pelican and the eagle.  Seeing the beautiful birds around Marco Island is just a bonus to my beach trip!

Roseate spoonbills nest in mixed colonies in mangroves or trees on the coast. The female builds the nest while the male retrieves the nesting materials. The female lays up to three whitish-colored eggs. Both adults incubate the eggs for up to 24 days. The young remain in the nest for approximately 35-42 days. They are fed by both adults. Critical Wildlife Areas protect some of Florida’s most vulnerable wildlife, including the state-threatened roseate spoonbill, from human disturbance during important life stages such as breeding and nesting.

Bizarre But Beautiful

Gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close is the Roseate Spoonbill. Locally common in coastal Florida, Texas, and southwest Louisiana, they are usually in small flocks, often associating with other waders. Spoonbills feed in shallow waters, walking forward slowly while they swing their heads from side to side, sifting the muck with their wide flat bills.

The roseate spoonbill is a large wading bird known for its pink plumage and distinctive spoon-shaped bill. Its upper neck and back are colored white, while the wings and feathers underneath display the more recognizable light shade of pink. The wings and tail coverts are deep red, along with the legs and the iris of the eyes. Part of the spoonbill’s head is a distinct yellow-green. When they are young, the birds are duller in appearance, brightening as they mature.

Reaching a height of up to 2.5 feet, the roseate spoonbill’s wingspan can stretch 1.5 times as wide, reaching up to 4 feet.

Roseate Spoonbill; Photo Credit: Gary Roach

Yes, Spoonbills are on Marco Island

In the United States, the roseate spoonbill can be found in southern Florida (yes, in Marco Island), coastal Texas and southwestern Louisiana. Their breeding range extends south from Florida through the Greater Antilles to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Roseate spoonbills usually live in marsh-like areas and mangroves.

While feeding, spoonbills utter a low, guttural sound. They are also known to call during breeding displays and when flying.

Using its spoon-like bill to scoop prey up from shallow water, the roseate spoonbill’s diet typically includes minnows, small crustaceans, insects and bits of plants. They feed in the early morning and evening hours in both fresh and saltwater wetlands. It is believed the roseate spoonbill receives its bright coloring from the pigments of the crustaceans that it eats.

A social bird, the roseate spoonbill often feeds, roosts and flies in formation with its species. They nest singly or in pairs, usually in trees over water and sometimes on small islands.

Roseate Spoonbills in Mangrove Area

Nesting Habits

Typically roseate spoonbills do not breed until their third year. To attract one another, courtship displays include ritualized exchanges of nest material, dancing and clapping. Female spoonbills create deep, well-constructed nests out of sticks using materials brought to them by males. The Florida population usually nests in red and black mangroves sometimes with wood storks, while the Texas and Louisiana populations often nest on the ground in offshore island mixed colonies with gulls, terns and herons.

A female lays a clutch of one to five eggs. Both parents share incubation duties, which last about 22 to 24 days. A newly hatched chick has mostly pink skin with a sparse covering of white down. The parents feed the chick by dribbling regurgitated material into the baby’s upturned bill. After one month, the chick will begin to exercise by clambering through the branches or foliage surrounding the nest, and by six weeks, it will have developed wing feathers large enough for flight.

The roseate spoonbill sleeps standing, usually on one leg, with its head tucked beneath its back and shoulder feathers.

They can live up to 15 years in human care and an estimated 10 years in the wild.

Visit our website for more information on Sea Mar Condo, Marco Island, FL. We want to make your vacation on Marco Island a trip of a lifetime!