6 Species of Florida Wildlife and Where to Find Them in Gainesville

By Amelia Bowles
Close up of wild bison

Gainesville is often recognized for the Gators, as it is the mascot of the University of Florida. It is home to many alligators who roam the wetlands, lakes, ponds and parks of Gainesville’s expansive ecosystem. Yet there are far more species of wildlife to discover than just the gators. You may find bats, wild horses and bison and many birds, as the Alachua Audubon Society currently reports over 300 different species of birds to reside in the county. If you have a little more time, travel a couple of hours outside of Gainesville to see manatees, stopping to admire our Floridian natural wonders along the way. Here is your guide to 6 species of Florida wildlife and where to find them!


Alligator on a rock

When to see them:

According to the FWC, the best time to see alligators is in warmer months, when temperatures are between 82 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit, although they can be found year-round. Alligators are most active early in the morning and around sunset, when they are sunning themselves out of the water.

Where to find them:

La Chua Trail has a boardwalk that allows visitors to walk across Paynes Prairie, right over the alligators’ natural habitat. It offers incredible sunset views, just when the gators are getting their last sunning session before bedtime.

With over 125 acres of wetlands, Sweetwater Wetlands Park boasts trails, boardwalks and a large variety of wildlife, as well as stunning sunsets and plenty of educational opportunities.

Lake Alice, a University of Florida gem, has picnic tables, a small bridge and is home to the Baughman Center, a beautiful contemplation space with views of the lake, which is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Smaller gators reside in the pond at Depot Park, which is home to a walking path, playground, large lawn and pavilions. Depot Park is open to pets and is a great place to work out, relax and participate in community events, all while reconnecting with nature.

Bison & wild horses

Wild horse eating grass
Wild bison eating grass

When to see them:

Bison and wild horses will be found mostly in the rainy summer months, which is their mating season. They are most active in early morning or late afternoon, when they can be found grazing throughout the wetlands.

Where to find them:

The Observation Tower at Paynes Prairie State Park Visitor Center gives visitors a good chance of spotting bison and horses from further distances and allows an interesting change in perspective when viewing the Prairie. If you are planning to visit the park, you can call the ranger station at (352) 466-3397 to ask about the latest sightings.

Paynes Prairie trails

Wading birds, land birds, raptors and owls

Sandhill cranes standing in field

When to see them:

Different species of birds can be found in Florida all year, but most species will likely be found in the drier winter and spring months, especially birds that migrate south for the winter.

Where to find them:

According to the Audubon Society, the best places for birdwatching in Gainesville are:


Bat hanging upside down

When to see them:

Bats can be seen all year in Florida, and are active beginning around dusk and into the night.

Where to find them:

Bats can be seen flocking out of their houses at the UF Bat Houses near Lake Alice on Campus every night just after sunset. There are estimated to be around half a million bats that live in the house and barn, making this experience a must-do when visiting Gainesville.

If you want a more interactive and educational experience, head to Lubee Bat Conservatory, which hosts 16 different species of bats, offers tours of the center, and has a pavilion with educational materials.


Manatee surfacing in water

When to see them:

The best time to see manatees is from November through April, which is prime viewing season for these incredible creatures. Baby manatees are commonly born slightly later in the spring and into early summer. Peak months to see manatees are December through February.  

Where to find them:

If you are willing to make a short drive outside of Gainesville, several of Florida’s natural springs have opportunities to see our state’s gentle giants.

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