The expansive prairie combined with the diversity of other natural communities supply ample opportunities for wildlife viewing. You are likely to see bald eagles at any time of day year-round. Crested caracaras, sandhill cranes, red-shouldered hawks, northern bobwhites, and eastern meadowlarks are often heard or spotted. The federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker is most likely seen at dawn and dusk when it is most active and the federally endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow can be heard on spring mornings in the dry prairie. White-tailed deer, gray squirrels, Sherman's fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, wild turkey, armadillos, raccoons, and feral hogs are common.
Wildlife Viewing Blind at Sunset Ranch
Prairie Lakes Unit
Three Lakes is an excellent site for birders with many common species as well as many rare species. In mid-August birders are drawn to the area as the fall migration of warblers begins.
Three Lakes is part of the highest concentration of bald eagle nests in the contiguous United States. More than 150 active nesting territories are found around the inland lakes of Osceola and Polk counties. On the Prairie Lakes Unit of Three Lakes is a portion of the Great Florida Birding Trail. A driving loop takes you 10 miles through flatwoods, hammocks, and prairie. Songbirds are abundant in the oaks and pine, and red-cockaded woodpecker cavities are found in trees near the Canoe Creek Road exit. These trees are marked with white paint.
Wildlife Spotlight: Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
The Florida grasshopper sparrow is not a flashy bird. It is small (about 5"), its plumage is drab, and it is shy and elusive. But if you get a look at one, consider yourself very fortunate. For it means that you have seen an endangered bird whose population numbers fewer than 1000 individuals and that you are in some of the finest prairie grasslands in the state.
Florida grasshopper sparrow
The Florida grasshopper sparrow is found in an area north and west of Lake Okeechobee, in Osceola, Polk, Okeechobee and Highlands counties, where most of the state's remaining grassland prairie habitat is concentrated. The best time to see grasshopper sparrows is early morning during the March to July breeding season. The males are singing their insect-like, buzzing song on their territories during this period and are easier to locate. Adult males and females have a buff-colored face with a white eye ring and a yellow-orange patch between the beak and eye. Two dark stripes border a light central stripe at the top of the head. The underside plumage of adults is buff-colored and unmarked, and the back is streaked with black and brown. If you see the bird in profile, note the short tail and thick bill. Females lay three to five eggs in nests which are located on the ground and which are well hidden by vegetation.
The Florida grasshopper sparrow is a subspecies of the grasshopper sparrow, which breeds throughout the continental United States and overwinters in Florida. When spring rolls around, the northern visitors depart, leaving the sedentary Florida population more than 300 miles from its closest relatives.
Because grasshopper sparrows nest on the ground, predation exacts a heavy toll on the population. Periodic flooding also affects both nest sites and food sources. But the greatest threat facing this small bird is habitat loss due to conversion of native prairie to improved pasture for cattle production and other agricultural use. Conservation efforts are concentrating on habitat restoration and cooperative land management with private landowners. The Florida grasshopper sparrow is listed as Endangered by both Federal and State wildlife agencies. Currently, the most stable population of the species on public land is found on the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.