Ding Darling NWR: A Birding Hotspot

This easily-accessible birding hotspot is well-known for wading birds of all kinds, but it's home to many other bird species as well.

Earlier this week I shared photos from my time at the beach on Sanibel Island recently. Sanibel is a  haven for beach-lovers, but it’s also home to one of the best national wildlife refuges for birding, the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is wonderful for birders of all levels, since this birding hotspot includes a 4-mile long wildlife drive where dozens of species and hundreds of birds are easily visible from your car. Ding Darling (learn more about the man behind the name here) is well-known for wading birds, which gather there in large numbers during low tide. On any given day, you’ll see Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tri-Colored Herons, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and many more. Here are just a few of the wading and swimming birds we spotted.

Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake A large gathering of Great Egrets, with Great Blue Herons, Wood Storks, and more mixed in.
Ding Darling Birding Hotspot
Double-Crested Cormorants in the morning sun
Ding Darling Birding Hotspot Night Heron
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Songbirds gather here too, especially those that love insects, since the mangroves here harbor mosquitoes and no-see-ums by the millions. (If you go… definitely wear bug spray.) Raptors like ospreys and bald eagles are likely spottings too. Here are are some of the sightings we had on our recent trip.

Ding Darling Birding Hotspot CatbirdsJill Staake
Jill Staake Gray Catbird
Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake Male Northern Cardinal
Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake Palm Warbler
Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake Osprey
Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake Bald Eagle (spotted at the nearby Bailey Tract portion of the refuge)

This is a birding hotspot, but the wildflowers and butterflies deserve some attention too.

Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake Common Morning Glory
Ding Darling Birding HotspotJill Staake
Jill Staake White Peacock

Looking for more birding hotspots? Click here to learn about more locations around the country.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.