The Magic Kingdom’s most famous birds might live in the Enchanted Tiki Room, but Disney World’s native birds far out-number the singing and talking ones in Adventureland. All around Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll see magnificent tropical birds, native to Florida and happily adapted to life in a theme park. It’s Disney wildlife: Florida’s native animals living right there amongst the attractions. Thanks to central Florida’s waterlogged environment, many of the most distinctive species are wading birds, inhabiting the trees and rooftops around the Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, and even Frontierland‘s Rivers of America.
Most people just point and call them storks, or flamingos. But you want to look more clever than that, right? So here’s your guide to the native birds of Walt Disney World. Here are some tips: only one of these birds is a stork, and the only flamingos you’ll find are on Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Great Egret: One of the most elegant birds you’ll ever see, the great egret stands more than three feet tall. Although the egret has the long legs and neck of a wading bird, you’ll often find them perched high in trees or on the roofs of show buildings at Disney. Their diet isn’t limited to seafood either — I’ve seen egrets flying over with long wriggling snakes dangling from their beaks. And they think they ought to live on turkey legs — great egrets stalk guests near the Turkey Leg cart in Frontierland, waiting for hand-outs. While it is funny to watch an unsuspecting tourist turn around and let out a scream at the giant bird lurking behind them, turkey skin isn’t in their natural diet at all. Don’t feed them and encourage the madness.
Keep your eyes open for smaller egrets around Disney World, including the less-common Snowy Egret, which has amazing breeding plumage feathers in spring, as well as bright yellow feet, and the Cattle Egret, a small white egret often seen foraging for insects in roadside verges and grasslands.
Ibis: The most common variety of ibis at Disney is the American white ibis. With distinctive long red beaks and red legs, these little wading birds love to hang out near the Rivers of America and snap up bits of turkey leg. If tourists aren’t feeding them, though, they’re in waterways scooping up crayfish and small fish. Ibis are like pigeons–they’re everywhere, they’re not very scared of humans, and they’ll eat just about anything. Old-school Floridians called these birds Chokoloskee Chickens, but they’re protected from the stew-pot today by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Watch for ibis flying over in flocks at sunset, or perched in trees in secluded areas as you’re driving around WDW property.
Wood Stork: A massive white bird with black-tipped wings and a distinctive mottled head, the Wood Stork is the only stork with breeding grounds in the United States. Recently upgraded from “endangered” to “threatened,” on the Endangered Species List, wood storks live in colonies in wetland trees, and stalk fish in canals and waterways around Disney. One of the most-studied rookeries in North America is in the Disney Wilderness Preserve, watched over by scientists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but you’ll find a few here on property. They’re shier than many wading birds, so watch for them in more natural, quiet areas around the World.
Sandhill Crane: Four feet tall, flying in groups, and with a loud call that is half rattle, half whoop, and completely indescribable, you’ll know a Sandhill Crane when you see one. They winter in Florida, living in family groups and frequently returning to the same nesting grounds year after year. Listen for them to fly over near sunset, or watch for families picking up insects in the grasslands near the Contemporary and the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Great Blue Heron: Like the Great Egret, this is a dramatic and elegant bird. Great Blue Herons are often more than four feet tall, and most of that height is neck and leg. You’ll find them fishing in waterways and the shores of Disney’s lakes, or huddled up in trees, watching the activity below. A white face and streak down the neck, plus their massive size, will help you distinguish Great Blue Herons from the much smaller and less common Louisiana Heron. You might also spot Little Blue Herons, a considerably smaller and less flashy cousin.
Anhinga: Nicknamed the “Snakebird,” Anhingas swim and hunt underwater, but don’t have the protection of waterproof feathers. Consequently, the anhinga’s feathers grow so waterlogged on fishing expeditions that after a while, only their long neck remains above the water. The anhinga’s sinuous neck looks like alarmingly like a snake in the water, hence the common name. Once they finally clamber out of the water, they have to spread their wings to dry, sometimes flapping them gently to speed things along. Keep an eye out for their necks and heads peeking out of natural bodies of water and in the Rivers of America, and watch for perched anhingas drying their wings along Tom Sawyer Island.
The Osprey: The inspiration behind the original name of Disney’s Osprey Ridge Golf Club (now the Four Seasons Tranquilo Golf Club), ospreys are common in the more wild areas of Walt Disney World. Fish eagles, as some locals call them, love the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. Watch for these black-and-white raptors to swoop by as you’re sailing on the ferry to the Magic Kingdom. Ospreys often nest in tall cypress trees along the water, so keep an eye out for their massive, messy nests high in the trees near Ft. Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge.
These are just some of the more distinctive birds you can spot at Walt Disney World. Keep a look-out and you never know what you might spot. One day last October, a bald eagle swooped right over my head outside the Morocco pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot. Along the waterways between resorts and parks, I’ve seen red-winged blackbirds in the trees, purple gallinules paddling amongst the water lilies, and little blue herons lurking in the tall grass at water’s edge. There are smaller fishing birds like the green heron and the kingfisher, and raptors like the Red-Tailed Hawk and the frankly adorable little American Kestrel. What birds will you spot next time? Grab a checklist at the Great Florida Birding Trail and add native Floridian birds to your next Disney World vacation.