Feeding time at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (Kristi Dosh)
When I first heard of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm a few years ago, it brought to mind a hokey old roadside alligator exhibit where tourists flock to ooh and ahh. And while it does draw its fair share of tourists, there’s nothing hokey about it.
Part zoo, part conservation center, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm is a must-visit when you’re in the area. Every species of alligator and crocodile is represented here, and while most tourists come to see the huge reptiles, there’s plenty else to see. From turtles and tortoises to African birds, snakes and even Komodo dragons, there’s a little something for everyone.
My personal favorite are the white alligators, and this year I was surprised to find a group of younger white alligators on exhibit.
Juvenile white alligators (Kristi Dosh)
And if you happen to be in town in the spring and have any interest in birds or photography, you’ll want to bring your camera. In fact, that is what initially drew me to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
This year marks the third spring I’ve made the 90-minute trek from my house to go photograph the wading bird rookery at St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Wood storks, roseate spoonbills, great egrets, snowy egrets, tricolored herons, great blue herons and more flock to this location every year to nest. They’re not held in captivity – they merely return here every year to reproduce.
And my is it a sight to see. The trees around the alligator swamp are full of birds. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe.
The one of the many trees full of nesting birds in the Wading Bird Rookery (Kristi Dosh)
And before you see them, you hear them. As you round the corner onto the boardwalk that goes through the alligator swamp, the air is filled with the sound of hundreds of baby hatchlings calling out for food.
Great egret chicks (Kristi Dosh)
I’ve stood there for hours on end, baking in the Florida spring sun, waiting to get just the right photo. And so do hundreds of others, many paying for a photo pass that allows them to get into the park before anyone else. There’s even an annual photo competition.
Even if you’re not into birding or photography, it’s unlikely you’ve ever been so close to this many birds, especially when they’re nesting. Many of the nests are close enough to reach out and touch – although, of course, you shouldn’t. And children always seem enthralled by the “pink birds” (roseate spoonbills), the hatchlings with their unruly sprouts of hair and the precarious positioning of some of the nests above the alligators in the swamp below.
A hatchling snuggles up to his sibling who hasn’t hatched out yet (Kristi Dosh)
Alligators and crocodiles, endangered species, and the wading bird rookery ensure anyone can enjoy a day at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. We’ve always visited in April or May, usually on a Saturday morning, and the crowds are never bad. This year I went on a Monday during spring break, and it was still easy to get around and see what you wanted. It requires some walking, but it’s smaller than your typical zoo and easy to navigate, even with children.
There’s so much to see and do in St. Augustine, it can be tough to decide. But I highly recommend a half day at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.