The Emerald Coast is home to a variety of animals. From birds in the sky to mammals and reptiles on land as well as the thousands of critters in the sea, this part of Florida is a goldmine of fauna activity. Getting out on a pontoon boat or a jet ski to learn more about the wildlife is one of the top Fort Walton Beach activities.
All Creatures Great and Small
One of the most striking features of the wildlife in the Emerald Coast is how you can find a wide variety of animals, both great and small. Many different species of hermit crabs can be found in the area, but few are any bigger than just 6cm in size so they can be tough to spot individually. We suggest looking for migrating groups instead.
On the flip side, the Emerald Coast is home to some much larger species of the animal kingdom and not just in zoos or aquariums either. In the sea, there are dolphins, sharks, and even whales have been spotted from time to time. Meanwhile, in the marshes, you should be wary of alligators that can grow up to 4.6 m in length and weigh as much as 230 kg.
Manatees are often referred to as “sea-cows” due to their demeanor and the fact they feast on seagrass for much of the day. Be aware that manatees are a threatened species, they are omnivores and present no threat to humans but it is best to keep your distance out of respect to them as they are easily scared.
On land, black bears have been spotted around the Emerald Coast. With human populations moving ever closer to their natural habitat, black bears are occasionally seen working their way through garbage cans in the area. But as long as obvious precautions are taken, they should not pose an immediate threat.
Known the world over for their friendly nature, dolphins are a real highlight of any trip to the Emerald Coast. These marine creatures appeal to all ages due to their happy demeanor and ability to perform crowd-pleasing tricks making them stars of your social media. Many of our jet ski rental(opens in a new tab) guests are often accompanied by a friendly dolphin as they cruise through Choctawhatchee Bay.
Sea turtles are another animal that will likely appear in your photos from your boat trips out on the Emerald Coast. Elegant swimmers, these ancient marine creatures are plentiful in this part of the world. A variety of types of sea turtles can be found in these waters – green, leatherback, and loggerhead proving to be the most common. Although this animal is friendly, it is best to leave sea turtles be. This is especially true if you see them on the beach as it is most likely a female laying eggs which is a very delicate process.
Born To Be Wild
Not every animal on the Emerald Coast can be as friendly as a dolphin or a sea turtle, but don’t fear as it is unlikely you will be in any danger as long as you remain respectful.
Reptiles such as snakes and alligators are pretty common throughout Florida, and the Emerald Coast is no different. There are up to 50 different species of snakes in the state, so keep an eye out for them and a safe distance if you are not sure of the type. Snakes help control rodent populations so the local plea is – please don’t kill them.
The safest place to enjoy these wild animals is at Emerald Coast Zoo, which houses all of these native animals mentioned as well as creatures from much further afield.
Birdwatching on the Emerald Coast
The Emerald Coast is a great spot for bird spotting. From seabirds to songbirds, this part of Florida is home to over 300 species of birds. Below we have listed some to be on the lookout for, both easy and difficult to spot:
If you’ve ever seen how a pelican eats then you’ll know it is quite an enjoyable sight. Pelicans are expert fishermen and a dive into the water followed by them arching their long necks to gobble down fish whole is a crowd-pleasing act. Expect to find them all over the Emerald Coast, especially near fishermen boats with the Brown Pelican being the most common.
As one of the most common seabirds in these parts, you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the laughing gull. Their distinctive joyful call, for which they are named after, means you may hear them before you see them. As with any type of gull, take care with your food around them, these birds are not shy and won’t hesitate to steal a french fry or two from your plate or even your hand!
Great Blue Herons
An elegant wading bird, great blue herons easily stand out from the crowd near water throughout the beaches of the Emerald Coast as they hunt for fish. They have long necks and legs, their bill and eyes are both yellow while their bodies are a blue-gray color.
As their name suggests, these birds are sharp-looking and sharp moving. Their distinctive scissor-tails mean they are easily identifiable to even amateur bird spotters, but you need to be lucky to see them given they are rarely spotted around these parts outside of summer months.
Great Horned Owls
Nicknamed “tiger owl” due to their stripey feathered appearance, Great Horned Owls are not difficult to identify, but they are very hard to find due to their camouflage nature. To find these owls you’ll need to venture into woodlands and keep on looking upwards as they usually perch themselves as high up as possible to keep an eye out for prey.
With their strikingly beautiful golden orange bill combined with an epically cool jet black crown, royal terns can be easily identified and are fairly abundant throughout Florida’s coast. You will probably spot them on the beautiful white sands of the Emerald Coast, but they can be spotted in other landscapes too. Other terns such as sandwich terns and least terns should also be on your bird spotting list.
An undeniable cute and plump little shorebird, snowy plovers were once plentiful but are currently on the decline due to nesting troubles on beach areas also inhabited by humans. Expect to find them running about sandy beaches occasionally stopping for food.
Despite their name, these diving ducks aren’t really identified by the color of their breasts. Males have a more cinnamon colour breast while females have a more grayish appearance. The shaggy crest and reddish bill are the main identifiers with this sawbill. One interesting fact about this bird is that they have been recorded to reach speeds up to 100 mph in the air which is the fastest ever recorded for a duck.
With its snowy white body, black legs, and bright yellow feet this egret is fairly easy to distinguish from other birds you can find on the Emerald Coast. They will gather near water anywhere along the Emerald Coast so you shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting these elegant birds.
Pontoon boats are relatively quiet and disturb the surrounding wildlife less than conventional speed boats. This makes them an ideal choice of transport for your wildlife spotting excursion! Check out our range and book your boat.
If you’d like to support Emerald Coast Wildlife then please remain respectful towards all the animals and also consider supporting the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge. (opens in a new tab)