Hillsborough County's Wonderful Wildlife

Hillsborough County’s Wonderful Wildlife

World Wildlife Day is the perfect time to take a closer look at the locals who call Hillsborough County conservation parks, nature preserves, and even your backyard home. Here are 10 of the mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish you might encounter in the county’s wilderness areas:



These large reptiles are found throughout Florida in both fresh and brackish water. Adult alligators can run up to 35 miles per hour and have 80 teeth. Females rarely exceed 10 feet in length, but males can grow much larger. Their diet consists of fish, amphibians, mammals and birds. Both admired and feared, alligators are a state symbol and the mascot of University of Florida sports teams.

barred owl


Barred owls are known for their distinctive hoots. Paired partners engage by calling out to each other. They prefer to live in a swampy habitat, but can also be found in the woods. These owls generally hunt at dawn or dusk and prefer a diet of small mammals. Set your sights on a barred owl on the next avian adventure in
Lettuce Lake Conservation Park.


bob cat

Although bobcats are common inhabitants of forests, hammocks and swamps, they are rarely seen. Bobcats are twice the size of domestic cats. Their range in the wild extends to about 6 miles but is minimized in urban and suburban areas. Their diet includes ground-dwelling birds and small mammals such as rodents. It is a rare thrill to see these capricious felines.

Coral Snake

Fortunately, few poisonous snakes inhabit Florida. One of them is the coral snake, which shares the same black, red, and yellow stripes as the non-venomous king snake. The important distinction is that the red and yellow stripes touch a coral snake, and the red and black stripes touch the king snake. They are docile creatures and likely to be afraid of humans.

Gopher Turtle

baby gopher turtle

These gentle reptiles live in the highland habitat of Florida. Their deep burrows provide refuge for more than 350 other species. They are often found on or near roads where it is warm and sunny. Gopher tortoises are frequently seen munching on grass at the Bell Creek and Camp Bayou preserved nature.


These majestic mammals typically reach 9 to 10 feet in length and weigh around half a ton. They eat aquatic plants and breathe air, surfacing every 3-5 minutes when active. See them in winter in the warm waters of Tampa Bay, especially at the Manatee Viewing Center, just north of Apollo Beach.

Florida red-tailed hawk

The Florida red-tailed hawk is a beauty to behold. As a non-migratory bird, they can be found locally all year round. They stay in the same 2-10 square mile territory throughout their lives and are highly adaptive, living in various environments such as grasslands, parks, and woodlands while feeding on small mammals and reptiles. A favorite is the rattlesnake. Red-tailed hawks are master thieves who are not beyond stealing a snack from other raptors.


A large mouth with a protruding jaw that protrudes past the eye, a high dorsal fin, a sloping forehead, and a black line extending from the gills to the tail are Snook’s signature characteristics. The fish can reach 48 inches and reach 50 pounds. Their habitat is inshore coastal waters such as beaches, mangroves, and seagrass beds. Fish and large crustaceans make up its diet. They can tolerate soft water, but will not survive temperatures below 60 degrees.


Diamond-backed terrapins are distinguished by the pattern of concentric rings on their shell with knobs lining their backs. Three of Florida’s five subspecies can be found in local brackish habitats, such as coastal marshes, mangroves, and tidal creeks. The Diamondback Tortoise loves clams, crabs, fish, mussels, snails, worms, and plants. Learn more at the Diamondback Terrapin exhibit at
Tampa Bay Upper Park.

Virginia deer

Virginia deer

Although a common site, white-tailed deer add a bit of thrill to time spent outdoors. When alarmed, they wag their erect tail back and forth as if waving a white flag before fleeing. Most often seen at dusk or dawn in habitats with young, low vegetation, it is easy to distinguish males from females. Males are often adorned with antlers. Many nature reserves in Hillsborough County are home to these mammals.

Enjoy remote wildlife viewing. Take a closer look with binoculars or the zoom of a camera.

Many animals are most active around dawn or dusk, providing the best times for wildlife viewing.

Move slowly, stay quiet, and don’t look directly at an animal.

If an animal stops its activity or moves away, you are too close.

Always keep dogs on a leash.

To read more stories about Hillsborough County Conservation Parks and Preserves, subscribe to The Trailblazer

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