Tigertail Beach

Collier County

semipalmated plover
480 Hernando Drive
Marco Island


Tigertail Beach Park by all appearances looks like a typical county/municipal beach park. People come here for fun in the sun, sand and surf. But Tigertail has something that sets it apart: the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area designated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to protect endangered and threatened bird that nest, forage or seek refuge within its bounds. At 456 acres, the CWA covers most of the park.

Tigertail sits on the Gulf Coast in the northwestern corner of Big Marco Island, tucked between a condo canyon to the south, a residential neighborhood to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. Until 2005, what is now the park's beach area was known as Sand Dollar Island, essentially a long, narrow strip of land separated from Big Marco by a shallow channel. In 2005, the winds and water of Hurricane Wilma pushed enough sand into the southern end of the channel to connect Sand Dollar with Big Marco; the channel between the two islands became a tidal lagoon. A strip of sand at its northern end separates the lagoon from the Gulf, but this bit of land disappears at high tide, reappearing as the water recedes. The beach itself is remarkably secluded — the far end is a very long walk from the parking lot. However, beach-goers can cut across the lagoon — it's shallow enough to walk across.

All of this combines to make Tigertail Beach Park one of, if not the best birding sites in Southwestern Florida. According to the Great Florida Birding Trail, more than 200 bird species have been recorded here. Between March and August, black skimmers, least terns and Wilson's plovers use the beach area as nesting grounds. All three are state-listed as threatened or endangered. A variety of wading birds use the lagoon to forage. The importance of these grounds to the survival of these species caused the state to designate most of the park as a Critical Wildlife Area. Portions of the beach may closed off to visitors between March 1 and August 31 to protect nesting birds; portions of the lagoon may be restricted at any time of the year.

But there is still more to this park. Dolphins may be spotted off the beach; armies of sand fiddler crabs patrol the mudflats along the lagoon. Song birds take to the trees in wooded areas areas east and upland from the lagoon. Foraging ospreys take to the skies. There is a birding tower along the lagoon.

Tigertail Beach Park offers plenty of parking, drinking water and restrooms and a snackbar. There is a parking fee, and hours are 8 a.m. until sunset. Some services may be closed depending on the day of the week. Click the link above for more details about fees and services.

Virtual Tour

Cover Photo: Nothing more appropriate to represent Tigertail Beach Park than a bird. And the most appropriate bird among the many we saw during our visit was this guy, the semipalmated plover. We visited Tigertail in mid-February; had we come a month or so later, when nesting season would have been underway, it might have been a Wilson's plover instead, or perhaps a black skimmer or a least tern. Tigertail Beach is not only a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail, it has within its bounds the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area created to protect birds like the plovers and the skimmers who use the beach area for nesting, and wading birds who rest in the park's wooded places and forage in the lagoon.

Click on the photos below for full-sized images and detailed descriptions.

  • Wilma's Lagoon
    Tigertail Beach Lagoon
  • Lagoon, Beach and Gulf
    beach and gulf
  • The Pass
    tigertail lagoon north
  • Critical Habitat

Getting There ...
Take either I75 or U.S. 41 to Collier Boulevard (exit 101 on I75). Follow Collier into Marco Island, and find Tigertail Court on the right. Hernando Drive is on the left about a half-mile down the road. Hernando leads directly to the park. Note: It's about a 30-minute drive from I75 to the park, about 20 from U.S. 41.

Photo Gallery for Tigertail Beach Park

Click on the photograph to see an enlarged image. Click on the name to read more about the species.

Note: All photographs above were taken within the confines of Tigertail Beach Park.

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.
Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.