Bird Watching on Sanibel Island & Captiva Island

Visitors and birders come to Sanibel Island and Captiva Island from around the world to enjoy the subtropical climate, to sit on the beaches, to collect shells and check out the many species of birds. Many also look forward to experiencing some of the birdlife for which the islands are famous. Sanibel & Captiva Islands are for the birds and bird watchers.

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Wildlife Drive in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is the most popular place on the islands for watching tall wading birds. The drive is a paved, four-mile, one-way road on a dike built in the 1960s as a mosquito-control structure. The dike forms two tidal impoundments, east and west, and these are the areas where wading birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl come to feed.

Those of you who visit in winter should plan your bird watching drive on days when low tide is fairly early in the morning. When the tide is low, fish concentrate in shallow pools, making it easy for wading birds to capture prey and create perfect conditions for bird watching.

Egrets, Herons, Ibis

Snowy egrets and great egrets are among the more active feeders, flying over the pools to snatch fish while in flight. Tri-colored herons and reddish egrets also hunt busily, running in shallow areas in pursuit of food. White ibis walk along the edge of the water, their long, decurved bills probing for small crustaceans, a bird watchers dream come true.

And Other Wading Birds

Roseate spoonbills are waders that most bird watchers want to see. With their bright pink feathers, they are hard to miss, even when many other birds are present. Tactile feeders, they swing their grey-green, spatulate bills back and forth through shallow water, hoping to make contact with prey. Wood storks, also tactile feeders, hold their massive bills open in the water and shuffle their pink feet in the mud to scare fish toward the bill.

Sanibel’s Best Places for Bird Watching

On Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, there are a number of other places for bird watching. The interior wetlands are lovely places to walk, either early in the day or toward sunset. Center Tract at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Bailey Tract, and Sanibel Gardens Preserve all have good walking trails for bird watchers. Here, red-shouldered hawks call noisily from overhead. Woodpeckers, most frequently red-bellied or pileated, drum on decaying tree trunks.

CLICK HERE for a map and description of our walking trails on Sanibel Island.

And when you go to the beach to sunbathe and shell, remember that birdlife on the beaches is exciting, too.

Wherever you encounter birds on the islands, please remember that these islands are their home. Give them some space and disturb them as little as possible. Remember that Sanibel prohibits hand-feeding of any wild birds, including gulls.