World Wildlife Day is the perfect time to take a closer look at the residents who make their home in Hillsborough County’s protected parks, nature reserves, and even your backyard. Here are 10 of the mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish you might encounter in the county’s untamed areas:
These large reptiles are found throughout Florida in fresh and brackish water. Adult alligators can run up to 35 miles per hour and have 80 teeth. Females rarely grow taller than 10 feet, but males can grow much taller. Their diet consists of fish, amphibians, mammals and birds. Both admired and feared, alligators are a symbol of the state and the mascot of University of Florida athletic teams.
Barred Tawny Owl
Barred owls are known for their distinctive playful hooting. Paired partners engage in conversation by yelling back and forth. They prefer to live in swamps, but can also be found in forests. These owls usually hunt at dawn or dusk and prefer a diet of small mammals. Set your sights on a Barred Owl during the next Avian Adventure at
Save Lake Conservation Park†
Although bobcats are common inhabitants of forests, hammocks and swamps, they are rarely seen. Bobcats are twice the size of domestic cats. Their territory in the wild ranges to about 6 miles but is minimized in urban and suburban areas. Their diet includes ground-dwelling birds and small mammals such as rodents. Catching a glimpse of these finicky felines is a rare thrill.
Fortunately, few venomous snakes call Florida home. One that does is the coral snake, which has the same black, red, and yellow stripes as the non-venomous king snake. The important distinction is that the red and yellow bands are touching on a coral snake and the red and black bands are touching on the kingsnake. They are docile creatures and probably afraid of humans.
These gentle reptiles live in high-altitude habitats throughout Florida. Their deep burrows are home to over 350 other species. They are often found on or near roads, where it is sunny and warm. Gopher tortoises are often seen munching on the grass Bell Creek and Camp Bayou nature reserves.
These majestic mammals typically grow 9 to 10 feet tall and weigh about half a ton. They eat aquatic plants and breathe air, surfacing every 3-5 minutes when active. In winter, watch them in the warm waters of Tampa Bay, most prominently at the Manatee Viewing Center, just north of Apollo Beach.
Florida Red-tailed Buzzard
The Florida red-tailed hawk is a sight to behold. As a non-migratory bird, they can be found locally all year round. They stay in the same 2 to 10 square mile area throughout their lives and are highly adaptive, living in a variety of environments such as grasslands, parks and forests while feeding on small mammals and reptiles. A favorite is rattlesnake. Red-tailed hawks are master thieves who get no further than stealing a snack from other birds of prey.
A large mouth with a protruding jaw that extends beyond the eye, a high dorsal fin, a sloping forehead and a black line extending from gill to tail are hallmark Snook features. The fish can grow up to 48 inches and reach 50 pounds. Their habitat is coastal waters such as beaches, mangroves and seagrass beds. Fish and large crustaceans make up their diet. They can tolerate fresh water, but will not survive temperatures below 60 degrees.
Diamondback tortoises are distinguished by the concentric ring pattern on their shell with buttons on their backs. Three of the five Florida subspecies are found in local brackish habitats, such as coastal swamps, mangroves, and tidal creeks. Diamondback terrapins enjoy mussels, crabs, fish, clams, snails, worms and plants. Read more at the Diamondback Terrapin exhibition at
Above Tampa Bay Park†
Although a common site, white-tailed deer add a bit of excitement to outdoor time. When alarmed, they wiggle their upright tails back and forth as if waving a white flag before running away. Usually seen at dusk or dawn in habitats where young, low-growing vegetation is found, it is easy to distinguish males from females. Males are often decorated with antlers. These mammals play around in many of Hillsborough County’s wildlife sanctuaries.
Enjoy remote wildlife. Take a closer look with binoculars or the zoom of a camera.
Many animals are most active at dawn or dusk, which provides the best times for wildlife viewing.
Move slowly, keep still and don’t look directly at an animal.
If an animal stops its activity or goes away, you are too close.
Always keep dogs on a lead.
To read more stories about Hillsborough County’s protected parks and reserves, subscribe to The Trailblazer