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Our Wildlife

Manatee Activity

Manatees are abundant throughout coastal and inland waters of Florida. During times of cold weather, manatees will concentrate in warm natural springs or in warm water discharges from power plants, both essential for their survival. Crystal River is special because it supports the largest concentration of manatees in a natural spring area. Concentrations of manatees in Crystal River are one of the highest in the State. Certain times of the year are better than others for viewing manatees in Kings Bay.

Boaters will find different speed zone signs posted in our rivers. Idle Speed means no wake and Slow Speed means a minimum wake. Manatee sanctuaries are closed to all public use from November 15 through March 31 to protect the manatees.

January - March

This is the best time to see manatees. The weather is at its coolest and manatees are the most concentrated. Sanctuary restrictions are monitored until the 31st of March, speed zones are in effect through April

April - August

As the weather begins to warm, and Gulf and river water temperatures rise above 72 degrees Fahrenheit, manatees move out into the Bay. Manatees then begin staging in the Homosassa, Crystal and Salt Rivers in preparation for their migration to summer habitats.

September - December

In October, as temperatures drop, manatees start to congregate in the headwaters of the Crystal and Homosassa River. Speed zones and sanctuary restrictions go into effect during this time. Late in December, manatees concentrate around the springs in Kings Bay.


Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Florida is winter home of the next migratory flock of whooping cranes

The whooping crane is North America's tallest bird, up to five feet tall and has a seven-foot wing span. Whooping cranes are an endangered species and are protected by federal law.

There are three wild flocks of whooping cranes in North America, all managed by International Treaty. The international partnerships between Canada and the United States form a partnership of governmental and private groups working together to save the species from extinction.
The three flocks of whooping cranes include:

  • Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas / Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territory Canada. Aransas NWR/ Wood Buffalo had the last group of wild whooping cranes existing in the world in 1937 with 15 birds. Today the population is up to 184 cranes and increasing every year. This is the only self–sustaining wild population and represents half the total wild population.
  • Florida non–migratory flock. Introduced in 1993 in Kissimmee lake region to establish a non-migratory flock. This group successfully had a breeding pair raise the first crane born in eastern US in over 100 years in 2002. There are 94 cranes (spring 2003) in this group.
  • Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Florida/ Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin. Twenty-one whooping cranes comprise the current (2003) Wisconsin – Florida migratory population. Eighteen additional whooping cranes are being raised at Necedah NWR this summer and trained to follow the ultra-light aircraft this fall to Crystal River NWR.

With the 300 wild whooping cranes listed above, there is, by law, a requirement to maintain a captive flock of 100 birds. At present 199 cranes in captivity, making the total population 419 birds. Captive cranes are at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Maryland, International Crane Foundation, Wisconsin, Calgary Zoo, San Antonio Zoo and our own Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.


In the early 1990’s, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was formed with US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration and other public and private organizations to establish a second experimental migratory flock of whooping cranes in eastern United States. Necedah NWR, Wisconsin was selected to raise the chicks that were supplied from the captive breeding stock from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Maryland.

During the summer, the chicks are trained to follow the ultra-light aircraft by costumed biologists. The cranes never come in contact with human faces nor hear human voices. In the fall when the cranes are ready to migrate Operation Migration leads the cranes on their first migratory journey to Florida, 1250 miles over seven states to Crystal River NWR.

The trip takes 37 to 50 days. For details on the flight from Wisconsin and other related links log on to www.bringbackthecranes.org

Great Florida Birding Trail
By Julie Brashears, FWC birding trail coordinator

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is a largely aquatic preserve, so it comes as no surprise that one of the best ways to bird it is by canoe.

Thick hydric hammock surrounds the boat ramp, so bird the periphery for songbird migrants like hooded warblers before you launch your boat. A large vulture roost populates the boat basin, and as you follow the river towards the Gulf, don't overlook the occasional bald eagle swirling on thermals with them. Along the river run, watch for skulking green herons and shy little blues at the water's edge. From treetops, wood storks spy on anhingas that ply the main channel for fish. Calling prothonotary warblers and protective osprey on nests announce your progress down the river.

The freshwater river gives way to black needlerush saltmarsh, and the main channel is criss-crossed with tidal creeks leading back into the marsh. These are great fun to explore for clapper rails and sora, as well as shorebirds loafing on isolated mudflats.

Cautiously coax your canoe around corners to reduce the chance of flushing birds and to improve your viewing opportunities (good for both you and the birds).

Wintering ducks like bufflehead and hooded mergansers dive in the open water nearest the Gulf. Dog Island lies three miles west of the launch along the main channel. Restroom and picnic facilities are available here, so you can stop and relax before making the return trip upriver.

Airboats occasion this area, so be alert. The river is frequently shallow, sometimes nearly impassable when low tide conspires with easterly winds.

Directions: From the town of Homosassa Springs, drive south on U.S. 19 approximately six miles to the flashing light at U.S. 98. Turn right (away from U.S. 98) onto Miss Maggie Drive. Follow the road to the boat ramp/campground at the end, where you can launch your canoe.

The boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, (352) 563-2088. Birding is best in the mornings, October to April.
For more information,visit www.citrusbirdingtrail.com