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Saint Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery - Florida

Butch Armstrong | E-Mail | Updated 06-12-09

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret, Alligator Farm
- Butch Armstrong

Introduction

The Alligator Farm is located on Anastasia Island near St. Augustine, Florida at 999 Anastasia Boulevard. The farm covers a land area of about 10 acres although all of this is not currently developed.

Originally opened as an alligator farm in 1893, the privately owned zoo has expanded over the years to include many species of reptiles, mammals and birds. The Alligator Farm boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of crocodilians in the United States.

Of special note is a natural rookery area located within the park where several species of wild birds nest freely during breeding season.

There is a gift shop, concession area, and restrooms on the premises.

Saint Augustine Alligator Farm Video


Nature Perspective

The Alligator Farm, noted by the general public for its huge assortment of reptiles, is better known to birders, naturalists, and photographers, for its rookery area.

These wild birds enjoy the protection that resident alligators give them during the nesting season from predators such as raccoons and snakes. While it is not uncommon for a chick or unwary adult to be taken for food, apparently the bird losses are far less than if predators were allowed to raid the nests.


American Alligator

Gator, Alligator Farm
- Butch Armstrong

Nesting species include Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Tricolor Heron, Little Blue Heron, and Wood Stork.

Also observed, but not seen nesting, were White Ibis, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Roseate Spoonbill. The White Ibis and the Roseate Spoonbills appear to roost in the rookery area, usually showing up in the late afternoon. From what I understand, the Black-crowned Night Heron may nest in the area but usually does so before the main rookery activity starts.

Other species that have been seen in the rookery area, though I personally did not observe, include Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Least Bittern, and Purple Gallinule.

The various long-legged waders start their nesting season at this location near the end of February and generally the nesting last through late June to mid-July.


To guarantee the best rookery experience I suggest the following times or somewhere in-between:

Great Egret with chicks

Great Egret chicks, Alligator Farm
- Butch Armstrong

  • mid-March to late-March. By this time the Wood Storks have built nests high in the trees and the Great Egrets have built nests among them though usually a little lower. Many of the Great Egrets are sitting on eggs. Both species are doing displays and mating rituals. The Great Egrets are showing their lime-green lores.

    The Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, and Tricolored Herons are just starting to arrive and are jockeying for nesting sites.

  • mid-April. Great Egret chicks can be observed from the boardwalk. Note that the Wood Stork chicks are up high and not always visible at this time. Nest sites have been reserved by the Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, and Tricolored Herons. Some are sitting on eggs. Nest sites for the Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, and Tricolored Heron are much lower than the Great Egrets and Wood Stork nest sites. A couple of these sites you may actually be looking down into from the boardwalk instead of up.

  • mid-May. Great Egret, Wood Stork, Snowy Egret, and Tricolored Heron chicks are easily observed. The Little Blue Heron nests appear to be in the palm trees and are not easily visible from the boardwalk. Some Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets are still sitting on eggs. It is possible to view some eggs in nests that are below the boardwalk railing.

    The adult birds continue to adjust the nests with new material flown in. Lot's of feeding is taking place.

  • early-June. While I have not personally visited the Alligator Farm in June, judging from May's experience, I am sure the nesting and chick rearing is still going strong at this time.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron, Alligator Farm
- Butch Armstrong

Wilderness Experience Perspective

The Alligator Farm is a popular tourist attraction in the Saint Augustine area and as such is frequently rather crowded so do not expect to be alone anywhere in the park. Don't be surprised if school buses full of kids are unloaded during normal hours on weekdays. The zoo's proximity to the highway allows traffic noises to intrude at times.

With the purchase of a 'photo pass' you will be allowed into the zoo early and allowed to stay late between late February and mid-July during the photo contest. Doing so will give you some time with fewer people around. You may leave the zoo and return as you like during their operating hours but if you wish to stay late, you must get back to the park and enter before normal closing time.

The employees are on their own time for the extended period in the evening so a tip is in order, although not required.


Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron, Alligator Farm
- Butch Armstrong

Photography Perspective

The Alligator Farm sponsors a photography contest each year during the rookery season with a mid-July deadline for submissions.

For the most part, the reptiles are confined to exhibits that do not really offer a natural setting. Though close up photographs of the reptiles are very easy to get, if you want natural looking alligator photos, the rookery is the place to be.

The rookery has a boardwalk that allows easy observation and photography of nesting birds. There are so many nests it can be overwhelming at first. There are areas on the boardwalk where you will be shooting down into the nests of some birds allowing for great photographs of eggs and hatchlings.

Vibration on the boardwalk can be a problem with the human traffic during the day but not so bad during the extended hours when there are fewer people around.

Flight shots of most of the birds are easily obtained throughout the day as the adults bring in food, water, and nesting materials.


Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Lenses - There are nesting birds at all distances from the boardwalk making great photographs possible for all skill and equipment levels. Shorter lenses will make photographing the Wood Storks a challenge as they nest mainly in the tree tops. Longer lenses can be a bit of a handicap for birds close to the boardwalk. The sun can be very bright at times so a circular polarizer is nice to have available.

  • Sunscreen would be a good idea if you plan on being there during the brighter parts of the day. Biting insects were not necessarily a problem during my visits.

  • Be prepared for heat in May and June.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret, Alligator Farm
- Butch Armstrong


Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret, Alligator Farm
- Robert Kemmerlin


Great Egret with chicks

Great Egret with chicks, Alligator Farm
- Robert Kemmerlin


Location and Points of Interest

Tricolored Heron chick

Tricolored Heron chick, Alligator Farm
- Joe Kegley


Camping is available less than a mile south of the Alligator Farm at Anastasia State Park. The park offers easy access to the beach, kayak and sailboard rentals, and a camp store.

Motel lodging is available about a mile north of the Alligator Farm on A1A (Anastasia Blvd.)

Directions:
From I-95, take S.R. 207 (Exit 311) heading east, toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Drive 3.7 miles, then turn right on to S.R. 312.

Go 3.6 miles, crossing US 1 and going over a bridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway.

Turn left (North) on to A1A/Anastasia Blvd. The park is located 1 1/2 miles North on the left on A1A.


Saint Augustine Alligator Farm Map (Google interactive map)

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Additional Information



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