That’s the question I wanted to answer during our recent vacation to the self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth.”
And no, Donald and Daisy Duck don’t count. 🙂
We (wife, daughter and me) spent a week at the Disney Beach Club Resort and Coronado Springs Resort. From a princess’s breakfast at Magic Kingdom to an animal safari at Animal Kingdom, my wife made sure that we experienced many of the Disney highlights. We certainly did as many activities and experiences that a 2.5-year-old and 6-month pregnant wife could handle. 🙂
But as an avid birder from Ohio, going to Disney World does not just mean pictures with Mickey or rides on Pirates of the Caribbean. It means we are heading to tropical Florida with lots of new birds to see and observe!!
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Are there bird watching opportunities at Disney World? How many species could be observed over a week vacation with your family? Is it possible to have a fantastic family vacation at Disney while having plenty of time for birding around the parks and property?
After a surviving a week at Disney World, the verdict is in:
Yes! I believe it is possible and I think there are more birds around than most people would expect.
I was able to see a total of 27 species while bird watching during my week trip to Disney World.
- Click to scroll to the bottom and see the 27 birds I saw AND the entire “Disney 50” list. It may help save you some time preparing for your birding trip to Disney.
I missed a lot more! Before the trip, I analyzed eBird and compiled a list of 50 birds that I thought were possible and relatively common to see around the parks. I called this list “The Disney 50”.
5 Tips for Birding in Walt Disney World:
After spending more than a week on Disney World property in Orlando, I have a few suggestions if you plan on trying to do some bird watching during your stay.
1. Temper Your Birding Expectations and Remember Why You Are Here.
Nobody comes to Disney World to see birds. (Sorry Donald Duck)
The reason I took a Disney World vacation was to spend time with my wife and 2-year-old daughter. We made some incredible memories, and I will never forget the look on her face the first time she saw the fireworks exploding around the castle at Magic Kingdom. I can’t wait to head back again someday.
I did not come to Disney expecting to have an amazing week of birding. It’s unfair to have the same expectations as other great birding locations in Florida, such as the Everglades or the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Let’s Face It:
Disney does many wonderful things designed to please their guests, but these same things keep many bird species away.
- There are beautiful gardens and manicured landscapes, but I’m sure most of the plants are non-native. This means that native insects aren’t hanging around for birds to eat.
- Speaking of bugs, being in Florida in June we did not see a single mosquito and hardly any bugs. I’m not sure of their exact protocol, but I’m pretty confident that Disney continually sprays for mosquitoes and other insects. Once again, this is great for everyone in the parks but bad for birds. This limits their food source once again unless they can adapt to eating salty popcorn or cotton candy. (Cue the House Sparrow and Common Grackle)
- Most birds don’t typically enjoy people and try to stay away from this environmental pressure. This is in direct opposition to Disney’s business model of trying to pack their parks, restaurants, and resorts throughout the year with screaming kids and families. The sheer number of people (over 20 million just at Magic Kingdom every year) keeps many birds out of the public eye.
Instead of complaining about the lack of birds, take it as a challenge to see as many different birds as possible while enjoying the precious time with your family! Temper your expectations!!!
2. Leave the Binoculars at Home; It’s Much Less Creepy to Use Your Camera Zoom Lens!
The first morning in Disney, I woke up at 6:00 am and took a walk around the lake outside our resort to try to spot some birds. A Cooper’s Hawk flew out in front of me and landed on a balcony of the hotel. Many of the grackles that were around were making a lot of commotion, and it was interesting to watch the scene through my binoculars.
Then I realized that I was staring at someone’s hotel room with my binoculars!!
I never felt so creepy and awkward. Would anyone believe I was just watching the birds and not trying to get a peek into their room? Who was around that had seen what was happening?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many other bird watchers walking around Disney World and having binoculars strung my neck looking at the trees and around the resort just felt uncomfortable. I don’t mind standing out, but not in the “that guy might be a pedophile” type of way.
For the rest of the week, I brought my camera with a zoom lens to get a closer view of birds. It went much smoother.
3. Utilize the Water and Paths.
Birding and bird watching in Disney World is for the forever optimist. It’s easy to complain that the only birds around are House Sparrows, Mallards, and grackles! It’s not easy to figure out where the rest are hiding!
So let’s talk about some Disney features that I enjoyed as a birder:
There is lots of water habitat and great walking paths!
At almost every park or resort, there are bodies of water and channels that connect some of the various lakes. Luckily, Disney has also constructed paths next to all the water that makes it easy to walk along. With the proximity to water, I was able to spot many wading birds.
Map of Disney World:
4. Get Up Early
I had my best luck finding birds early in the morning.
I guess this is not a surprise. The weather was much cooler, and almost everyone else was still sleeping, exhausted from Mickey Mouse the day before (including my wife and daughter!). I had some very peaceful and relaxing walks before the craziness of a day in Disney began. I could get my birding fix in early and then enjoy the day.
5. Make it a game AND involve your family and kids.
I knew it would be tough to see a lot of species of birds and I took that on as a challenge.
I saw 27 species during our week stay. I think it’s possible to see at least 50 species. This is pretty amazing if you think about it, that’s a lot of different types of birds flying around Disney. Before you ask, the White Storks or Great Flamingos from Animal Kingdom do not count!
Since your Disney trip will probably include your family that doesn’t quite enjoy bird watching as much as yourself, I think it’s fun to include them in on your goal. I told my wife about my 50 species goal and every time she saw a bird she was shouting and pointing it out to me (Even though most times it was just a House Sparrow or Boat-tailed Grackle that was trying to steal our food). Either way, I could bring other people in on my birding goals, and it proved to be fun.
I thought this could be a fun game for birders that spend a vacation at Disney World:
How many species did you see? Can you beat my 27 species? Please share! Use the comments at the bottom of the page!
Bird Watching Hotspots Outside of Disney World:
Are you tired of the crowds at Disney by day #3? Did you spend too much money on souvenirs and food already? Does the Mouse have you down?
I have GREAT news. You CAN get away.
There are some excellent parks and refuges in the surrounding Orlando area! The map below shows ten different birding hotspots that are just a short drive from Disney along with the links to their respective sites. They are in order from closest to farthest from Disney World.
Tibet-Butler Reserve (only 10- 15 minutes away!)
Lake Apopka North Shore: The Florida Birding Trail recommends two different areas for birds:
- Recreation Guide to the Lake Apopka North Shore (with maps for trails!)
**Bonus Link** – Orange Audubon Society
When traveling, I find it can be helpful to check out the local Audubon chapter for information about the area. This chapter seems to be very active and looks to be a useful resource. If you have time, it may be worth joining one of their field trips while in town!
“The Disney 50”
During my week stay at Disney World in Orlando, I was able to see 27 different bird species. I was relatively happy and proud to have observed this much variety, especially when most people only see the House Sparrows and Mallards that are trying to steal your popcorn.
Can you beat 27? Let’s start a fun game. If you are going to be at Disney World, we might as well see who can have the best birding week while visiting. Use the comments below to share your number and experience!!
Before I left for the trip, I spent some time making a list of all the birds that I expected to see and potentially where to find them. Analyzing eBird and consulting some field guides, I was able to make a list of 50 birds that were possible and nick named them “The Disney 50”.
Below is a list of “The Disney 50”. Hopefully, this list can help prepare for your Disney vacation.
*The first 27 birds are the species I saw, then I included the species that I was hoping to see and where they have been observed recently.*
These first five birds EVERYONE is guaranteed to see. Even my 2-year-old daughter saw them. There are probably no surprises to these five birds, they adapt very well to humans and can be seen EVERYWHERE around the parks and resorts.
- House Sparrow:
- As you can imagine, they are everywhere scooping up all the leftover popcorn that gets tossed from strollers. Even as I type this in the lobby of the Beach Club hotel in Disney, I can see two House Sparrows on the lawn.
- Common Grackle:
- Just like the House Sparrow, they are everywhere and very brave. They were all around the pool and even on top of parked strollers looking for food.
- Boat-Tailed Grackle:
- I got very good through the week at identifying the differences between a Common Grackle and Boat-Tailed Grackle. The most significant giveaway was the larger size of the Boat-Tailed Grackle and how different the females look from the male.
- Fish Crow:
- They were all over the hotel and parks, scavenging every stray funnel cake and pretzel.
- Smaller than the American Crow, but the primary identifier was their nasally calls and sounds, which were different from the American Crow’s I am used to in Ohio.
- Every lake or body of water seems to have multiple Mallards swimming around. We even found them in our pool at the hotel. Most of them are very brave around people and will even sit under your table as you eat.
These next group of birds is relatively easy to spot with minimum effort. Looking up into an occasional tree or in a waterway should give you these birds.
- Highly entertaining, especially as they would “run” across the land to get to the water.
- They were very common around the lake at the Beach and Yacht Club and Boardwalk Area.
- Mourning Dove:
- Able to see them at a few different parks and our hotel, but had to look on roofs or hear them singing in the early evening.
- Great Egret:
- Beautiful white birds that are common in the many waterways that flow through Disney. I saw a lot of them flying overhead too.
- Turkey Vulture:
- Every time we went to Magic Kingdom there seemed to be some Turkey Vultures in the sky. At one point there were 8 circling the castle at Magic Kingdom. I was a little worried about Cinderella!
- White Ibis:
- A “Goofy” looking bird but entertaining to watch. I saw them at a few different parks and our resort and even a small roost of them at Magic Kingdom in the evening.
- Northern Cardinal:
- Saw many flying from shrub to shrub in the mornings around our hotel.
This next group of birds I did not see casually walking around the parks or resorts but were observed during my early morning walks looking for birds. I don’t think they are hard to find, especially in the mornings before everyone wakes up.
- Northern Mockingbird:
- Such a fun bird to watch and listen too. There were many in the early mornings around the resort.
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker:
- Easily spotted in the mornings around some of the bigger trees and wooded areas.
- All around the lake by our resort. Very active in the early mornings.
- Blue Jay:
- Observed almost every morning in the slightly wooded areas around the Beach Club resort and Coronado Springs.
- Double Crested Cormorant:
- Spotted a few times drying out its wings on the lake shore.
- Brown Thrasher:
- Seen multiple times, but always in the mornings underneath brush, scratching the ground.
- Great Blue Heron:
- Easy to see since there is so much water around Disney, just keep your eyes open to see a Great Blue Heron.
- Red-shouldered Hawk:
- It’s probably the most visible raptor around the park, along with the Osprey.
These birds are a bit harder to spot on a regular basis without some effort and luck.
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Observed in the trees by our resorts. Heard both times before being seen.
- Snowy Egret:
- These are not uncommon in Florida, but I had a hard time finding them around Disney.
- The first one I saw was actually in the hippo enclosure at Animal Kingdom.
- Tricolored Heron:
- With all the water that surrounds Disney, I only saw one of these, and it was with the Snowy Egret at Animal Kingdom, hanging out in the hippo enclosure.
- Black Vulture:
- Maybe Disney needs more road kill to attract Black Vultures? The only one I saw was on the safari at Animal Kingdom and was by the African Wild Dogs.
- Swallow-tailed Kite:
- I saw this at the back of Magic Kingdom, once he flew off it was hard to deny the species with the forked tail. I felt this was pretty rare to see in Disney!
- I only saw one as it was sunning itself. The “snake bird” is characterized by its long neck and beak that is not hooked like the Double Crested Cormorant.
- Cooper’s Hawk:
- Walking in the early morning, it was sitting on a hotel room balcony before it flew into a nearby tree. The grackles were cawing at it and making a lot of noise, giving away its location initially.
- Green Heron:
- They are more secretive than some of the other wading birds, but with so much water around they can be spotted along the shores.
The rest of the list is birds that I did NOT see or observe, but were on my list of potentials. I thought it would be helpful to share!! I also included recent areas that each bird has been found around Disney World. Obviously, this list is not all-inclusive, but having 50 birds included seemed like a nice round number.
- Cattle Egret*
- Wood Stork:*
- During our week visit, I did not see a Wood Stork or Cattle Egret on Disney property, but I did at Sea World. This is probably cheating, but these birds along with Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets were all over the Sea Lion exhibit and were trying to steal fish as people threw them to the seals. They were very aggressive and took one that I threw out of mid-air!
- Ring-billed Gull*
- American Crow:*
- To be honest, I probably saw an American Crow, but after the first 30 crows that I saw were all Fish Crow’s, I stopped paying attention.
- Downy Woodpecker:*
- I heard the Downy twice, but couldn’t get my eyes on it.
- Pileated Woodpecker*: Wilderness Lodge area.
- Common Nighthawk:*
- Almost every evening at our resort I could hear the Common Nighthawk flying over and around the lake, but I never saw it either.
- Gray Catbird*: Magic Kingdom
- Carolina Wren*: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom
- European Starling*: Animal Kingdom, Epcot
- Wild Turkey*: Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom
- Purple Martin*: Epcot, Magic Kingdom
- Eurasian Collard Dove*: Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios
- Barn Swallow*: Epcot
- Little Blue Heron*: Animal Kingdom
- Mottled Duck*: Animal Kingdom, Epcot
- Cedar Waxwing*: Animal Kingdom
- Northern Parula*: Magic Kingdom
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird*: Epcot, Animal Kingdom
- Tufted Titmouse*: Animal Kingdom
- Pied-billed Grebe*: Magic Kingdom
- American Coot*: Epcot
- Brown Pelican*: Epcot, Animal Kingdom
* I did not see these birds, but they are common.*
Now it’s your turn. Please share your Disney bird watching experiences below in the comments. Specifically, I want to hear how many species you were able to see and where you had the most luck.
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