W160. Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

Image of W160. Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

SiteID: E160 (new)

Region: East

County: Indian River

Nearest City: Orchid

Phone Number: 772-562-3909

Website: W160. Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

Features/Amenities: Restrooms, Good for beginners, Birding by foot/hiking, Best time of day: Both morning and evening, Recommended length of visit: a few hours

Habitats: Mangrove Swamp, Lake/Pond/Impoundment, Hardwoods/Mixed Forest, Marine/Bay, Salt Marsh


Designated as a bird sanctuary by Teddy Roosevelt in March 1903, Pelican Island became the first National Wildlife Refuge in the United States. That act sparked a conservation movement, and today there are 150 million protected acres on 550 refuges and 3,000 waterfowl production areas. Pelican Island NWR is located within the Indian River Lagoon, the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. The refuge is famous for its Brown Pelican rookery, but 15 additional species also nest on the 4.2-acre Pelican Island, including Wood Stork, Anhinga, American Oystercatcher, and many herons and egrets. At least 15 other bird species use the island to feed and rest. Although the island itself is off limits to visitors, it is viewable up close from a boat (keep outside the closed area) or from a distance from land. Take the ADA-compliant, 0.75-mile Centennial Trail (which opened on the refuge’s 100th anniversary) to an elevated observation tower with two fixed viewing scopes, one of which is wheelchair-accessible. This trail also showcases the history of the National Wildlife Refuge System (great for history buffs). Two additional foot trails (2.5 miles each) around impoundments and mangroves give additional birding options, including a new observation deck over the mudflats on the Joe Michael Memorial Trail. Roseate Spoonbill and Magnificent Frigatebird are summer visitors, and ducks, shorebirds and American White Pelican overwinter here. Seasonal visitors include Black Tern, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee and West Indian Manatee. This site has a butterfly garden with two interpretive panels on the refuge’s butterflies and the Monarch life cycle. The checklist contains more than 30 butterfly species; search for Giant Swallowtail, Cassius Blue, Mangrove Buckeye, Mangrove Skipper and Painted Lady. The large and spectacular Malachite, normally found much further south, has turned up here in January. The refuge holds a wildlife festival each March.

Directions: From I-95, take exit 156 at CR 512/Fellsmere Rd. Go east 2.3 mi. to CR 510/90th Ave. and turn right (south). Drive approx. 8.5 mi. (after road bends east, name changes to 85th St./Wabasso Beach Rd.) through Wabasso and over the causeway to Wabasso Beach. Turn left (north) on SR A1A, and go 3.7 mi. The entrance is on the left (west) side at Historic Jungle Trl. (dirt road). Two separate parking areas, 0.4 mi. apart, provide access to the refuge’s three, self-guided foot trails.

Google Map

Open all year, 7:30 AM to sunset.

eBird checklist

eBird checklist - centennial trail


Location: 27.81254, -80.425131