We’re fortunate here in Okaloosa County when it comes to flora and fauna, as this beautiful part of the world is just teeming with wildlife all year round. Looking out for nature in the region is one of our favorite things to do. We’ve covered wildlife on the Emerald Coast(opens in a new tab) before and also looked at the native plants in the region(opens in a new tab), and now we’ve decided to take a deeper dive into birding in the area.
Below we’ve picked out some of the most fruitful places to go birdwatching in the county and also chosen some of the favorite birds to spot in each park with a link to eBird to help identify the birds.
Some are easier to spot than others – how many will you be able to see?
Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island
Located next to the Emerald Coast Convention Center, Veterans Park is considered by many as Okaloosa County’s premier birdwatching spot. This 14-acre park features ponds and marshes that combined with the park’s unique coastal location create an ideal habitat for attracting birdlife. Herons and Ospreys nest here and it also attracts other flying creatures too as the wildflowers attract colorful and beautiful butterflies.
Among birders, this park is well known for its reputation of always being able to see something unique on each visit. The severe weather we occasionally see around here contributes to this as it interrupts the usual schedule of migrating birds and often leads them to look extra weary and hungry.
Over 250 birds have been spotted in the park over the years, here are some that may catch your eye:
- Green Heron(opens in a new tab)
- Eastern Bluebird(opens in a new tab)
- Black Vulture
- Purple Martin(opens in a new tab)
- Surf Scoter(opens in a new tab)
Although this isn’t the most glamorous of settings, according to eBird you can find over 200 species of bird here making it one of the most worthwhile spots for birding in the whole region. Also known as Wright Landfill, it is open weekdays from 7 am to 3:30 pm, and Saturdays 7 am to noon. We advise that when driving into the facility, you stop in front of the weigh station and tell them that you are there to do some birding and they will be able to guide you to the right place. A pond with varying levels of water throughout the year is here, sometimes it can be full of shore birds and ducks. You’re almost certain to see a few Sparrows foraging about in the dry vegetation pondside, but the best spot is Vagrant Road which, as the name suggests, is a good place for spotting vagrant birds. The compost heap on site is another part of the landfill site worth focusing your attention on as fresh compost is especially popular with the birds here.
- Ash-throated Flycatchers(opens in a new tab)
- Eastern Meadowlark
- Bobolink(opens in a new tab)
- Sharp-shinned Hawk(opens in a new tab)
- Long-billed Dowitcher(opens in a new tab)
We’ve covered the jetties before in a blog about fishing, and many experts believe that Destin is a real bird watching hotspot too, and arguably the home of birding in Okaloosa County with both jetties offering an abundance of birding options. You are certain to find common coastal birds here, especially the cheerfully named Laughing Gull and the Sandwich Tern, but many others frequent this man-made wonderland.
You can see both East and West Jetties from the nearby harbor, Harborwalk Village, and the Destin Bridge. You can take a boat out there or for the more popular East Jetty, head to O’Steen Public Beach Access, and for the West Jetty, park near the Destin Bridge’s west side and then take a walk along the trail.
- Cedar Waxwing(opens in a new tab)
- Tree Swallow(opens in a new tab)
- Great Blue Heron(opens in a new tab)
- Killdeer(opens in a new tab)
- Osprey(opens in a new tab)
Henderson Beach State Park
Over 150 species of birds have been observed at Henderson Beach State Park in recent times and this is a birding-friendly environment with binoculars and field guilds available on request. It is suggested that you start off by taking the nature trail that snakes its way down the coastline. The state park’s stunning beachfront is an ideal spot for birds to nest. Birds that can be found include Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and American Oystercatchers while Piping Plovers are regularly seen here in winter. Spring and Fall bring migratory shorebirds such as the Semipalmated Sandpiper and Whimbrel. It is encouraged that you’re very careful around these beach-nesting birds, their nests easily blend in with the sand they nest upon so please watch where you are stepping.
The park is also home to a campground that has some nice trees and makes for a great spot for some birding, but you will need to ask for permission at the entrance gate and be considerate of campers. Aside from the ones mentioned above, here are some of our other favorites that have been spotted in the park:
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird(opens in a new tab)
- Great Egret(opens in a new tab)
- Forster’s Tern(opens in a new tab)
- Red-tailed Hawk(opens in a new tab)
- Red-billed Woodpecker
Glenwood Park in Cinco Bayou is a nice location for spotting resident migratory and resident songbirds. This park has a boardwalk aligned with a stream through beautiful forested wetlands. Glenwood Park is situated just south of Laguna Park and its nature trail is open from 8 am to 8 pm on any day of the week. Head to the only entrance along Opp Boulevard NE for access to the park.
When you’re there, can you spot any in this collection of our feathered friends?
- American White Pelican
- American Robin(opens in a new tab)
- Yellow-billed Cuckoo(opens in a new tab)
- Northern Cardinal(opens in a new tab)
- Cattle Egret(opens in a new tab)
Birding in Okaloosa County – Complete List
As you can see, birding opportunities in Okaloosa County are plentiful and this is a worthwhile activity all year round. We’d like to finish by mentioning one more site worth checking out. The Okaloosa Holding Ponds which we haven’t featured in our list above, as it is a restricted access area, is a real hotspot. This site belongs to Eglin Air Force Base but is home to many beautiful birds to tick off your birding list (if you can get access). You may find it is worth visiting anyway as Birders can at least walk around the two basins, but they don’t allow visitors to walk down into the basins.
Click on this link to find the full list of birds(opens in a new tab) that can be spotted in Okaloosa County, which has been provided by the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of bird and wildlife habitat, environmental education, and a greater appreciation of the beauty of Northwest Florida – support them if you can.