Five migrating species to watch for this winter

A large group of sandhill cranes gather at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville.

As temperatures drop across the country, people flock to Florida to escape the cold and enjoy the beautiful weather.

Just like humans, many animals migrate to and within the Sunshine State to better survive the colder months of winter.

That makes January a great time to spot wildlife that would otherwise be out of state or out of sight, so here are a few animals to keep watch for while exploring our state parks!

Manatee at Wakulla Spring


Probably Florida’s most famous winter wanderer, manatees can be found in Florida year-round but are much easier to spot in the winter. That’s because as water temperatures drop, manatees seek out springs, where they can stay warm. Spring water is near 72 degrees all year, kept at a consistent temperature underground before bursting out of spring vents. Without warm spring water, many manatees would freeze, making healthy springs essential for their survival.

If you’re looking to spot one of these gentle grazers this winter, Blue Spring State Park just south of DeLand is one of the best places to go. It hosts hundreds of manatees every year.


Manatees aren’t the only ones who head to springs to stay warm. Snook, a favorite fish among anglers, migrate each winter from offshore to warmer inland waters. Like manatees, they’re sensitive to the cooler temperatures, and the colder it gets, the more snook will swim inland.

While they can be found in most inland waters this time of year, visitors at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, a little more than an hour north of Tampa, may see the snook up-close and personal thanks to the underwater observatory that allows unparalleled views of the fish in the spring.

North Atlantic Right Whale swimming in the Atlantic

North Atlantic Right Whale

When you think of wildlife in Florida, you might think of alligators, panthers or mosquitoes. Some that might not immediately come to mind are whales. But every winter, North Atlantic right whales return to the waters of eastern Florida and Georgia, which is the only known place where they give birth to their young.

One of the rarest whales in the world due to overhunting in the past, North Atlantic right whales today are threatened by boat strikes. Watch for whales if you get out on the water this winter. From the beach, you can sometimes spot them at parks along Florida’s northeastern shore, such as North Peninsula State Park in Ormond Beach.

Sandhill Cranes

Tall and loud, sandhill cranes are pleasing to see when they travel to Florida. While some remain in the state year-round, most migrate here during the winter, where they flock together in marshes and prairies. Keep an ear out for their bugling call, a distinct clue that these cranes are nearby.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville is an excellent place to go searching for these lanky birds – be sure to bring your binoculars!

Hoary and Eastern Red Bats 

Hoary and Eastern red bats from farther north will fly south for the winter, spending the colder months in Florida. Both species tend to be solitary roosters rather than flocking together like other species, and they usually rest in trees. They’re both voracious eaters, and their favorite meals are insects – including pesky mosquitoes.