Birds of the Estuaries

Birds of the Estuaries

There’s nothing quite like bird watching when there are so many species gathered all in one place!

Many Florida coastal birds use these estuarine habitats as rookeries. Since mangroves do not always surround estuarine habitats, they also consist of salt marshes, seagrass beds, coastal shorelines, mudflats, and other habitats, which gives bird watchers the best field day to observe quite a few varieties of avian species.

Here’s a small showcase of what birds you may see in an estuarine habitat. These birds are a series of coastal, shoreline, and wading birds.

Killdeer | Photo by Alice Mary Herden

I haven’t met a Killdeer that I couldn’t just fall in love with. Those overlarge eyes will melt the coldest of hearts.
Killdeers are considered shorebirds and often seen in roaming golf courses and well-maintained landscapes like this one I photographed on the North Beach parking lot at Honeymoon Island.

Brown Pelican  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Brown Pelican

Pelicans are such a fantastic bird but unfortunately tends to get into trouble with fishermen, especially when people are fishing from a pier.
As with all birds foraging from above the water for their next meal, it amazes me how they can see a fish from so high above the water and time a dive so perfectly.

White Ibis  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
White Ibis

These birds are seen in all types of habits, mainly because their diet consists of, well, a lot of everything they can dig out of any moist or saturated soils. They are pretty easy to identify with their orange long curved beak and legs and their beautiful bright blue eyes.

Double-crested Cormorant  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Double-crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant, I have to admit that it took a while to tell the difference between a Cormorant and an Anhinga.
Tip: It’s the beak. Anhingas are straight, and Cormorants have a curved tip.
Like the Anhinga, these birds are incredible underwater swimmers.

Full Video

Osprey  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Ospreys are with the family of raptors as the tip of their beak is curved under and formed a sharp point, enabling them to tear the flesh of its fresh prey.
Since their diet consists mostly of fish, you can be sure there are Ospreys near any coastal water body.
Lucky for us, the Osprey are year-long residents.

Full Video

Royal Tern  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Royal Tern

Talk about some demanding kids! This Royal Tern juvenile is making it very clear it wants their parent’s attention.
These birds can be confused with a couple of terns: Sandwich Tern, Least Tern, and Forster’s Tern as wells Gulls.
Check the Links to Explore at the end of the page for a useful resource file to help identify Gulls and Terns.

Full Video


Willet’s are such a gentle and gracious bird. They just like hanging out, not causing too much attention.

Full Video
Ruddy Turnstone  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Ruddy Turnstone

Another adorable little shorebird is the Ruddy Turnstone. Their short legs help them scurry fast to catch insects and other crustaceans.

Full Video

Reddish Egret  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Reddish Egret

The Reddish Egret and the Tri-colored Heron both are Florida’s all-year residents and have similar foraging techniques.
If you have even seen these birds in the shallow waters, keep watching. They have an amazing foraging display. While attempting to track their target, they will spread their wings to maintain balance while maneuvering those quick turns.

Full Video

Great Blue Heron  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron has to be the most patient of all coastal birds. I have watched one heron for 15 minutes with little to no movement as it was attempting to catch a fish. Meanwhile, a little blue heron just a few feet away caught three minnows. Granted, Great Blue herons are eyeing up larger prey, but still, to stand motionless for even over three minutes is incredible.

Great Egret | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Great Egret

The Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron have to be the most patient of all coastal birds. However, there is something very unique about the Great Egret.
The largest of the egret species, this Great Egret, has a very cool foraging behavior, and for those nature/bird photographers, this can help you capture some incredible photos.

Sandwich Tern  | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Sandwich Tern

The Sandwich Tern reminds me a lot of the Belted Kingfisher. These birds have a tan tip at the end of their beak.
Like the Belted Kingfisher, their incredible wing and flight adversity enable them to stabilize above the water like a helicopter. They are so neat to watch as they spear dive into the water.

Tips on Photographing Shorebirds

First thing first- RESPECT EVERY BIRDS SPACE! I really don’t think there is more to add than that.

The Gear.

It doesn’t matter what brand of camera you use as long as there is zoom capability or ability to change lenses to either a telephoto or zoom lens. This way, you are keeping your distance away from the birds, especially during nesting seasons.

If you plan on staying for a while, a good sturdy tripod can be extremely beneficial.

Another tip is to learn some of your favorite birds’ behaviors, and the best way to do this is to take time out from photographing and watch them but, most importantly, to be amble. You will be amazed at how much you can learn, just taking a few minutes to observe. Observing will increase your photography skills as well. You will learn when to press your shutter release button and why.

When I mentioned the Great Egret having a very cool foraging behavior and for those nature/bird photographers, knowing this can help you capture some awesome photos, well that is the Great Egret tends to move it’s entire neck to either the left or right when it has its prey in sight.

Great Egret | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Great Egret

When you know more about birds’ behaviors, especially when you see it with your own eyes, you know when to prepare to press that shutter release button!

Great Egret | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Great Egret… tilts its head either to the left or right while tracking its prey
Great Egret | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Great Egret purges its head quickly into the water
Great Egret | Photo by Alice Mary Herden
Great Egret completely submerges its head into the water to nab its prey

There is no straight camera setting to use because the settings will change when you move to a different location if you are not photographing in auto mode. Beginners, I suggest staying in auto mode until you know a little more about the birds you enjoy photographing and other photography aspects, like composition, tracking and focusing.

My base camera settings tips:
-Aperture Priority
-Drive Mode: Multi
-Lowest F-stop
-ISO 400-800
-Adjust the Exposure Compensation as per sun/shade environments

Don’t try to turn bird photography a tedious and unpleasant adventure. If you put too much pressure or expect too much from yourself, your experience photographing birds will become frustrating. So be patient and observe. Challenge yourself, give yourself a to-do list, and focus on accomplishing the simplest of shots. For example- focus only on one or two different birds preening. Take a gazillion photos-there is no rule on how many photos you should take of the same bird! That is how you learn!

And don’t worry about what everyone else is doing either. Focus on your photography. Spend as much time as you want to photograph. The point is to spending more time looking through the lens and not looking at your computer screen, trying to ‘fix’ a couple of photos.
It will take time, practice, and more practice, but it will come as you learn how to photograph birds your way.

I also want to add there is no ‘you should only photograph birds at this time of day.’ I hear that a lot, and it really upsets me to put a ‘time preference’ for bird photography. Birds will be hanging out somewhere at someplace at any time of the day.
Be safe, and enjoy your birding adventures!

Links to explore

Florida’s Shorebirds and Seabirds- Species List

Audubon Florida: Beach Bird Identification – Shorebirds


Audubon Florida: Get Involved

Folding Guides

Bird Calls: Ornithology Collection Florida Museum

Audubon Florida: Beach Birds Identification – Terns and Gulls

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s