The only place in Florida where birding and space technology co-exist: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Florida Vacation Guide to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, juxtaposed between nature and technology, is a unique destination in Florida. It’s 140,000 acres encompass an important birding destination and about 10,000 acres of those acres are devoted to NASA shuttle launches! Created in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, more than 1,500 plant and animal species call the refuge home, including 15 federally listed threatened or endangered species. From coastal dunes and saltwater estuaries to pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks, there are hiking trails, wildlife observation decks (one specifically for manatees), fishing, boating and paddling activities available.
Best Spot for Wildlife
There are more than 500 species of wildlife in the refuge and during winter months, the 7-mile scenic auto tour along Black Point Wildlife Drive is the best place to see more than 50 waterfowl, shorebird, songbird and raptor species. Along this drive, the Cruickshank and Wild Birds hiking trails have viewing platforms and blinds to give you a better chance with your binoculars or photography.
If you want to see an alligator, you don’t have to look far beyond the Visitor Center. You’ll see them basking on sunny days in freshwater ponds located behind the building. In addition, Black Point Wildlife Drive or Peacocks Pocket Road are also areas where your chances are good.
Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a major birding destination. If you want to see a Florida scrub jay, a bird only found in Florida, try either the Scrub Ridge or Pine Flatwoods trail. Hike the Oak and Palm trails to spot a variety of songbirds and raptors.
The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival
This is the 15th year for the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. It runs from January 25th to 30th including field trips, a birding boat trip and a screening of “The Big Year”.
The refuge is open during daylight hours other than 24 hours prior to a Shuttle Launch when it is closed (north of Haulover Canal remains open). Other than Canaveral National Seashore which opens a day after, most areas open soon after a shuttle launch. The seashore opens the day after the launch. The refuge remains open for Shuttle Landings but visitors may experience temporary road closures.
What is your favorite birding area in Florida?