It’s no secret that Florida is a magnetic draw for luxury RV owners when frost first falls on the pumpkin to the north and in the Midwest. But RV’ers aren’t the only ones seeking warmth, sunshine, and a gentle sub-tropical winter escape.
When most of us think of birds building nests and new babies being born in wild open spaces in Florida, we think of springtime. But in Florida, the fall is also a time when wildlife is extremely active. Be aware of subtle changes in the landscape and the unique habits of our extremely diverse. When you’re camping or making your way around the state, you’re likely to see a wide array of wildlife this fall.
Tiny Hummingbirds Make A Big Impression
In fall, migration is underway with birds passing through Florida on their way south and winter residents starting to show up in the state. Many tiny hummingbirds, known for their ability to fly up and down, hover, and zoom from a flower to a resting perch, will also be making long-distance migration flights.
Ruby–throated hummingbirds, Florida’s most-common hummers, spend the months from spring to fall in their breeding ranges in the north and central regions of the state. Some ruby-throats will travel to South Florida to spend the winter, but most will fly over the Gulf to winter in Mexico and Panama.
The striking black–chinned hummingbirds are occasionally seen heading south in fall. They travel through coastal states on the way to Mexico. Rufous hummingbirds migrate along the Gulf coast, sometimes stopping in Florida but usually wintering in Central America.
Welcome Other Florida “Snowbirds”
Fall is when bald eagles come to Florida to breed and raise their young. Bald eagles who don’t live here year-round typically arrive in October and leave when their chicks are ready to fledge the following spring. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida has 1,400 nesting pairs of migrating bald eagles documented—one of the densest winter populations in the U.S.
Florida is the only state with a breeding and wintering population of colorful painted buntings, according to FWC. The males are among the most colorful songbirds in North America, with purple, blue, yellow, green and red plumage. Females are much less colorful, sporting yellow to green feathers, according to FWC. The population has declined. Buntings range from Florida to North Carolina on the East Coast and from northwest Florida to Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico to the west.
Other incoming winged winter residents include cedar waxwings, sandhill cranes, kinglets, phoebes, and robins, to name a few.
Love Is In The Air
Deer are busy rutting in the fall so that new fawns will begin arriving in the spring.
While bobcats can breed year-round, their favorite breeding seasons are the fall and spring. Twice as large as domestic housecat with brown/tan and white fur, small black spots and a bobbed tail tipped with black, bobcat females carry their litters for 50 to 60 days and give birth to one to four kittens on average.
Great horned and barred owls like to breed in the fall. Great horned owls have a wide range of nesting sites and often nest in the hollows of trees. They may also nest in human-made structures, on the ground, or even in the burrows and dens of mammals. Great horned owls have an array of vocalizations, many of which sound strange and sinister. They can be described as a startling combination of hoots, screeches, growls, mews, and squawks. The song is a low-pitched repetitive series of hoots.
The barred owl is a vocal raptor with a wide repertoire of spectacular, far-reaching calls. The common call is the series of eight hoots that can be described mnemonically as hu hu hu hoo, hu hu hu huhoo. Other vocalizations include eerie cackling, grumbling, screeching, and cat-like screams. Barred owls prey on small mammals, birds, and amphibians, but they also take reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. They are opportunistic predators that hunt after sunset, typically from a perch.
Ornate chorus frogs are native to Florida generally live in pinelands or upland fields and woods and spend the hotter seasons of summer and fall burrowed under sand and vegetation. They become active as the weather cools and move toward water for their fall and winter breeding season. Their preference for being active in the winter months means their main predators—snakes—are already hibernating, and their striking markings create an additional layer of camouflage protection. You may not see them this fall, but you’ll certainly hear their chirping calls.
Monarchs find their way back.
While Florida does have a breeding population of monarchs that don’t migrate, fall and winter is when their cousins make the amazing journey from Canada and the northeast, as well as Mexico and central America.
Monarchs as pollinators play an important role in maintaining biological diversity. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many pollinators. Monarchs are in real threat of extinction.
Fall is also when some of Florida’s largest gentle giants return.
If you’re staying along the Sebastian Inlet, you might catch a glimpse of Right Whales who return to Florida’s Atlantic coast each fall and winter. Manatees are also heading back to the first-magnitude springs that dot the state, seeking the year-round 72-degree water and sea grasses they offer. Fall and winter is also a great time to go deep-sea fishing and bring home everything from black grouper to yellow-fin tuna.
Bottom line? Make your way to Florida this fall for a really wild time.
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