We affectionately call them snowbirds...those visitors who come down to our sunny shores to escape the cold winters in the north. And while most of the time we are referring to our human visitors; there are literally dozens of true feathered friend snowbirds basking in the warmth.
Perhaps the most stunning is the white pelican who travels from north central USA and Canada to winter in the Indian River Lagoon. Pelican Island and the spoil islands off Sebastian are great places to view these large birds as they glide, soar and cooperatively herd fish into concentrated places to be skimmed. The white pelican does not dive like their brown feathered kin.
The Piping Plover is strictly a winter visitor coming from the New England area at the first sign of frost. Watch for the animated bird searching the beach in a stop and go feeding motion near flotsam.
The tufted Red-Breasted Merganser arrives in late October and can be seen in pairs in the Indian River Lagoon waters near Round Island and Pelican Island. They are fish eating birds and often nicknamed Fish Ducks.
If you venture out west into the marshes you likely to encounter the American Coot, Florida's most abundant wetland bird in the winter months. Look for the white bill as no other Florida bird has one. Coots graze like cattle on water hyacinths and algae and they're easy to track as they sound like a truck backing up - beep, beep, beep, beep.
Of course no other species epitomizes the good life in Florida during the winter months than the West Indian Manatee. These gentle giants migrate to inland waterways and congregate in mass to avoid the cold open water.
If they stay in waters less that 68 degrees they can get sick and die. You'll often find them rolling or floating on the surface while they soak up the life-sustaining warmth of the sun.
Manatees feed on seagrass beds and vegetation and often approach a dock or boat for a hand out. Please don't feed the manatees as that only encourages them to be dependent on humans and to approach boats where they get injured or killed by propellers. Enjoy them close up at places like the Manatee Center in Ft. Pierce, Vero Beach Power Plant and Turkey Creek Sanctuary in Palm Bay; but please don't feed or touch.
Winter even attracts visitors from the depths of the sea who come closer to our shores to escape the cold deep water. The beautiful, playful sailfish winters in our warm Gulfstream waters and provides for great sport fishing during a rare Florida cold front. The sailfish performs aerial antics great for entertainment and avail themselves for an exhilarating thrill of the catch; but are rarely killed because they are simply not edible. Board a deep sea fishing charter and enjoy the catch and release of one our most colorful seasonal visitors! Be kind to all our welcomed visitors be they wild or tamed, for they are here to enjoy the enviable climate that we bask in all year long. Aren't we the lucky ones?