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The River

The Wakulla River flows south from the spring basin, providing habitat for a variety of Florida wildlife. Within the park boundaries, the Wakulla River is a protected wildlife sanctuary offering one of the most unique wildlife viewing experiences in Florida.


Image of Spring Wide Aerial

The Wakulla River flows southwest from Wakulla Spring's basin for nine miles before it meets the St. Marks River. The first three miles of the river are protected as a wildlife sanctuary within Wakulla Springs State Park. The Wakulla River is one of few rivers in Florida that derives almost all of its flow from springs.

 

Image of Sunrise Sypress

A bald cypress tree stands as a lone sentinel on a section of the Wakulla River as a symphony of birds greets the morning light.

 

Image of Riverboats

Wakulla's glass-bottom boats and riverboats await visitors who come 365 days a year to view the Wakulla River's wildlife or to get a glimpse of fossilized remains of mastodons in the spring basin.

 

Image of Gavin on Dock

Don Gavin, a park ranger since 1987, prepares to take visitors on a riverboat cruise. Gavin is one of eight park rangers who take visitors down river more than 4,000 times each year.

 

Image of Riverboar Tour

On a 45-minute riverboat tour, visitors are treated to a leisurely, up-close experience with Florida wildlife including a great diversity of birds and the ever-present Florida alligator.

 

Image of River Channel

Parts of the Wakulla River still look as they did hundreds of years ago. This channel of the river is one location used to stage scenes in Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon, movies that were both filmed at Wakulla Spring.

 

Image of Bald Sypress Tree

Bald cypress trees draped with Spanish moss stand in the middle of the Wakulla River. Osprey can often be seen at the top of these trees taking up residence or feeding on mullet retrieved from the river.

 

Image of Park Ranger

Park Ranger Bob Thompson takes advantage of the early morning light to photograph wildlife on the Wakulla River. Special nature photography tours give photographers easy access to abundant wildlife and classic Florida river scenes.

 

Image of Bream under Lily Pads

Bream seek shelter from predators under lily pads at the edge of the river. Wakulla's clear water enables visitors to see a variety of fish including largemouth bass, abundant mullet, the prehistoric looking gar and bowfin.

 

Image of Striped Mullet

The striped mullet can be seen breaking the calm surface on the Wakulla River with its graceful leaps out of the water. No one is certain why mullet jump. Some biologists believe the jumping is connected with oxygen content in the water, or that it helps the mullet remove parasites. Others believe they jump because it is part of schooling behavior or simply because they can. Striped mullet spawn at sea and then return to live in freshwater habitats like the Wakulla River.

 

Image of Apple Snail

An apple snail laying eggs on a bulrush reed is a welcomed sight on the Wakulla River. The presence of apple snails is an indicator of spring health. Apple snails, the primary food source of the limpkin, were once abundant on the Wakulla River. Increased nitrates in the water, flooding and the invasive weed hydrilla may have contributed to the decline in the apple snail population.

 

Image of Limpkin

Visitors to the Wakulla River may experience the piercing cry of the limpkin or a special sighting of this wading bird. Often overlooked as they stalk the shallows, limpkins were once commonly seen in spring environments. However, with the decline of the apple snail, the limpkin's primary food, this treasured bird is rarely seen or heard now.

 

Image of Purple Gallinule

Using its long toes to distribute its weight evenly, the colorful purple gallinule can be seen making its way deftly across lily pads and other plants like pickerelweed along the river's edge. About 11 inches high, the purple gallinule makes a clucking sound like a chicken. It feeds on aquatic plants and insects and is a great example of the diversity of bird species found on the Wakulla River.

 

Image of Moorhen and Chick

The common moorhen can be seen in constant motion walking on mats of river plants all along the Wakulla River. The moorhen's distinctive call can be heard echoing up and down the river. In late spring and early summer, moorhen adults are frequently seen feeding their chicks while keeping a watchful eye for alligators.

 

Image of Juvenile Green Limpkin

An apple snail laying eggs on a bulrush reed is a welcomed sight on the Wakulla River. The presence of apple snails is an indicator of spring health. Apple snails, the primary food source of the limpkin, were once abundant on the Wakulla River. Increased nitrates in the water, flooding and the invasive weed hydrilla may have contributed to the decline in the apple snail population.

 

Image of Night Heron

As other herons begin to settle down in the evening, the black-crowned night-heron begins to forage for fish and frogs on the Wakulla River. Standing very still along the edge of the spring or in the shallows, the night-heron makes a very distinctive short, squawking call.

 

Image of White Ibis

The white ibis is a common sight on the Wakulla River, as well as most waterways throughout Florida. The white ibis is highly sociable at all seasons, roosting and feeding in flocks, and nesting in large colonies. It puts its long curved bill to work probing the mud and sand in the shallows.

 

Image of Anhinga

The anhinga can be seen resting on a tree branch with wings outstretched or swimming with just its head and neck above the water. Unlike other aquatic birds, the anhinga lacks waterproofing oil glands and so it must dry its wings in the sun. Its long, dagger-shaped, serrated bill is ideally suited for catching fish, which it stabs, then flips into the air and gulps down headfirst. It also feeds on frogs, snakes and baby alligators. The anhinga is sometimes mistaken for a similar species called the double-crested cormorant.

 

Image of Osprey

Ospreys can be spotted both feeding and nesting along the Wakulla River. Their distinctive, loud chirps echo off the forests lining the riverbanks. Ospreys feed almost exclusively on live fish. They hover over the Wakulla River eyeing prey before diving into the water. Once the Osprey has seized a fish, it carries it back to its nest or a nearby tree. Ospreys are found along waterways throughout Florida, as well as much of North America.

 

Image of Suwannee Cooter

The suwannee cooter can be seen swimming below the surface of Wakulla River's clear water or basking on logs. The suwannee cooter is one of several varieties of turtles found in the Wakulla River including the snapping turtle and the small loggerhead musk turtle. Suwannee cooters can often be found sunning on logs alongside alligators.

 

Image of Alligator in Silhouette

With an abundant food source of fish, birds and the occasional white-tailed deer, alligators thrive in the Wakulla River. At the same time, herons and other birds feed on baby alligators, keeping the population in check. Visitors can spot alligators ranging in size from six inches up to 12 feet.

 

Image of Alligator Headshot

On the Wakulla River, alligators have become acclimated to the riverboat tours, so visitors frequently have up-close views of alligators in their natural environment.

 

Image of white-tailed deer at riverside

The white-tailed deer can sometimes be spotted swimming across the Wakulla River. They are frequently seen in a meadow along the river. Deer activity in and around the river almost always piques the interest of alligators who may tire of dining on the Wakulla River's fish.

 
 
 
My FloridaFlorida Department of Environmental Protection