Finding the Best Bird Watching Areas Near You

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If you’re thinking “where is the best bird watching near me?”, well, read no further. This article is for you.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Image by Minder Cheng via Flickr.

Rewind to the 1966 superman movie, and you may remember the iconic line:

“It’s a bird…It’s a plane…”

Do you remember what the people in the clip are doing? Looking up to the sky. 

Birds are associated with the sky, like peanut butter is associated with jelly. 

But, birds aren’t just found in the skies. That would be boring – and far too easy for us to spot. 

Across the globe, birds have evolved not just in the skies, but on the land and far out at sea. So, with such varied habitats, how do we know what areas are best for bird watching? 

Read on to discover the best bird watching areas near you. 

What Habitats Do Birds Like?

Birds are as adaptable as they are resilient. 

Afterall, they are descendants of the dinosaurs. 

However, like with most animals, many bird species have exploited one particular ecological niche – or, in simple terms, the role an organism plays in the community. 

Sure, many birds are found in the sky. 

However, throughout the USA, and of course all over the globe, birds have adapted to a range of environments. 

Prairie Chickens
Image by Doug Greenberg via Flickr.

Some species, such as the prairie chicken, lead a terrestrial lifestyle, adapted to life on the open plains of Midwest USA. 

Other species, such as woodpeckers, are hard to spot while in flight. Instead, you’ll be better off looking around dense forests with plenty of dead trees. Here, woodpeckers have evolved to bore into trees to make nesting cavities. 

Others, such as the Atlantic puffin, have leaned into a little bit of everything. Not only can they fly, they have also adapted to swim to catch their prey, as well as dig underground burrows to escape predators.

The Best Places to Birdwatch in the US

The USA is big. 

Like, really big. 

At almost 10 million km², there is no possible way we could tell you every single bird watching area near you. 

Instead, we can categorize regions and tell you some of the best, in our opinion, areas for birdwatching. 

Northeast

Starting with the smallest, we have the Northeast. 

This region contains states including, but not limited to, Maine, Virginia, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. 

From the dramatic sea cliffs of the Gaspe Peninsula to the limestone valleys of West Virginia, Northeast USA has a rich bird biodiversity. 

Sprawling old-growth forest, acres of wetlands, towering mountains and endless shorelines provide bountiful habitats and environments for birds to thrive. 

So, where are some of the best birdwatching areas in the Northwest? 

1. Cape May – New Jersey 

Cape May Warbler
Image by Jim Zenock via Flickr.

On the southern tip of New Jersey, the Cape May peninsula stretches across the Delaware Bay. 

Throughout spring and fall, the area sees a high influx of bird migrants passing through. 

And when I say high, I mean high. Upwards of a million migrating birds pass by, making the Cape Bay migration one of the largest assembled populations of shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere. 

To catch a glimpse of  species such as warblers, vireos, tanagers, grosbeaks, orioles, and buntings, head to the Cape May Migratory Refuge Center. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a peregrine falcon – the world’s fast animal!

2. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – Delaware 

Cross from New Jersey and into Delaware, the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides ample opportunities for avid bird watchers. 

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Image by William Culp via Flickr.

In the last 20 years, over 300 bird species have been observed in the large wetland area, including wood ducks and snow geese. 

In May, large congregations of shorebirds, such as plovers and sandpipers, can be seen in their thousands. 

Throughout this reserve, boardwalks and observation decks allow for birders to be fully immersed in the natural spectacle. 

3. Mount Desert Island – Maine 

Travel North and into the frigid waters of the Gulf of Maine, you’ll find Mount Desert Island. 

The rugged island, just a short ferry ride from the mainland, is home to the Acadia National Park

Mount Desert Island
Image by _rickard via Flickr.

With a variety of habitats – from rich coastline to pine forests – a range of species can be found here. Year-round residents include the bald eagle, gray jays and black guillemots – a type of seabird with striking black and white plumage. 

In the summer, between the of May – August, visitors may be able to spot the Atlantic puffin as they come ashore to breed. The oceanic islands off Maine, including Mount Desert Island, are the only nesting sites for this vibrant-beaked seabird in the USA.

Southwest 

The American Southwest has no shortage of birding opportunities. In fact, states such California, Arizona and Texas have some of the highest diversity of birdlife across the entire country. 

But, where to start?

4. Rio Grande Valley – Texas

Warm weather, fruit orchards and palm trees. Sounds bliss. Add nearly 400 species of birds, both common and exotic, and the Rio Grande Valley is a bird watching haven. 

Rio Grand Valley
Image by Steve Yabek via Flickr.

On the Southern tip of Texas, the town of Harlingen hosts the annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival during the November migration, when hundreds of bird species depart their summer nesting grounds to spend the winter in Latin America.

Birds include owls, parrots, kiskadees, raptors, ducks and so much more. 

To the West, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge hosts up to 97,000 acres of wetlands, tidal flats, desert & prairie habitats – the perfect environment for bird watching. Here, 10 federally endangered or threatened species, including the brown pelican, cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl and Northern aplomado falcon, can all be found here.

5. Saguaro National Park – Arizona 

The giant saguaro is, well, a giant. It is the largest cacti species found in the USA and a true Wild West icon. As such, the land where these plants are found have rightfully a federally protected status. 

Saguaro National Park
Image by Stephen Nelson via Flickr.

Within the Saguaro National Park boundary, a range of uncommon bird species can be found here, such as vermilion flycatchers and whiskered screech owls.

The surprising array of habitats – from lowland desert to pine forests – help support a large diversity of bird life. One of the most common, and easily recognizable species, is the roadrunner. 

A member of the cuckoo family, the roadrunner is predominantly a ground predator. Reaching speeds of up to 15 mph, the roadrunner can speed across the desert floor in search of prey such as snakes and lizards. 

In areas of higher elevation within the park, specialized species such as the yellow-eyed junco can be found. 

6. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – California   

Anza Borrego Desert Park
Image by Gail K E via Flickr.

Drive two hours East of San Diego’s beaches, and you’ll come across California’s largest state park – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Protecting 600,000 acres, the land encompasses a range of desert terrains, including dramatic badlands, palm oases, slot canyons, and cactus-studded slopes.

In the Spring, the once-barron dessert comes alive with the flowering of native cacti and wildflowers. Within the mass of flowering life, many bird species reside. Be on the lookout for Costa’s Hummingbird, Verdins, California Quails and black-throated Sparrows.

West 

With diverse climates and landscapes, Western USA provides ample bird watching areas. 

From coastal forests to desert scrub, there are birding hotspots throughout California, Washington and Idaho.

“But the West is VAST! I want to know about the bird watching near me!”. 

Well, here are our favorites:

7. Point Reyes National Seashore – California 

Snowy Plover Chick
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

Heading to the Central western peninsula of Point Reyes, about 30 miles North of San Francisco, a 71,000 acre protected wilderness of sandy beaches, cliff faces, rolling dues and cypress forests reveals itself. 

Year round, close to 500 species of birds have been observed in the many habitats that surround Point Reyes National Seashore.

One bird of interest is the endangered snowy plover. This small shorebird has a distinguishable white chest and dark ear patches. They nest between spring and fall, with adults laying their eggs on stretches of sandy, unvegetated beach. 

Within the park, there are many birding opportunities. Head over to Bear Valley to spot an array of land birds, such as warblers, sparrows, kinglets, thrushes, wrens, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and owls.

Bolinas Lagoon also attracts a range of aquatic species, such as cormorants, pelicans, kingfishers, and a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

8. Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge – Washington 

Located in Olympia, Washington, the Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is home to a mosaic of habitats, created from the ebb and flow of the Nisqually River. 

Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Image by USFWS via Flickr.

The fluctuating tidal behavior influences an array of bird species. As the tide retreats, greater yellowlegs are a common site. The returning tide sees an abundance of waterbirds, such as dunlin and sandpipers. The diversity of wading birds attract predatory raptors, such as bald eagles and marlin. 

The relative proximity to the city of Tacoma makes Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge a good area for semi-urban bird watching. The park is open year-round, and each season brings something slightly different. 

The mile-long Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk extends over the estuary, providing ample opportunities to watch the bustling movements of the many bird species that visit here. 

9. Heyburn State Park – Idaho

Just South of Lake Chatcolet, in Central eastern Idaho, the Heyburn State Park can be found. 

Designated a protected space in 1908, Heyburn State Park is the oldest park in Western USA and boasts near 6,000 acres of pine forests and wild flower meadows. Beyond the forests, over 2,000 acres of water provide the perfect habitat for a range of bird species. 

Throughout the park, miles of trails offer some of the best birdwatching areas. One of the biggest draws for birds is the opportunity to glimpse the great blue heron rookery, where up to 50 breeding pairs nest. 

Great Blue Heron Rookery
Image by Matthew Paulson via Flickr.

In the summer months, look out for a range of waterfowl, such as wood ducks and Canada geese, grebes and soras, as well as the osprey; a spectacular fish-eating raptor. 

As winter draws in and the lakes freeze, thousands of bird species, such as the American wigeon and mallards, use this area to rest and escape predators. 

Southeast

The Southeastern USA is a very special place for birding. 

Why?

In some regions, especially Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, bird endemism is high. That is, birds that are found nowhere else in the world. 

10. Savannas Preserve State Park – Florida

Florida supports both migratory birds that stopover within the Atlantic Flyway as well as resident birds, some of which are endemic. The most famous, perhaps, is the Florida scrub jay. 

Florida Scrub Jay
Image by JFP_Birds via Flickr.

One of the best places to spot the Florida scrub jay is in the Savannas Preserve State Park, on the Northern fringes of Miami. This region is thought to house some of the last remaining continuous coastal scrubland, land occupied in low trees and bushes, in Southeast Florida.

Listed as threatened, the Florida scrub jay has been severely affected by habitat loss. 

This species can be easily recognized by their patchy blue and gray feathers, as well as their white forehead. 

11. The Everglades – Florida

Travel into the heart of the Everglades ecosystem, approximately 30 minutes Northeast of Naples, and you’ll find Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. 

A 2 mile boardwalk meanders its way through the largest old-growth bald cypress forest in North America, offering exceptional areas for bird watching. 

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Image by Visit Florida via Flickr.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to a wide diversity of birds, from the iconic wood stork to the majestic bald eagle. Visitors are attracted to the array of wading birds, songbirds and raptors. 

However, one of the park’s highlights is the boat-tailed grackle. These iridescent songbirds are a predominantly coastal species endemic to Florida, as well as a few coastal pockets between Georgia and New England. 

Male boat-tailed grackles have long tail feathers, often making up at least half their body length. 

12. Apalachicola National Forest – Florida 

Head to the Northwest of Florida, close to the border of Alabama, and you’ll come across the Apalachicola National Forest.

Spanning over 630,000 acres, the region supports various habitat types. Perhaps the most unique of these habitats is the sandy soils, which are home to the Florida longleaf pine. 

Distinguishable from other pine trees, with their long, fountain-like needles, they serve an important purpose. The longleaf pine supports the region’s largest remaining population of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. 

Apalachicola National Forest
Image by Anttanager via Flickr.

However, don’t let the name fool you. These endemic woodpeckers have black and white barring across their backs, with a black cap and large white cheek patches. Barely visible, the species gets its name from a small red streak on the black cap. 

The region of Wilma, to the West of the Apalachicola River, supports the highest density of the red-cockaded woodpecker and offers the best bird watching opportunities.

Midwest

From the heart of the USA, to the states bordering Canada and the Great Lakes, the Midwest is full of diverse and accessible bird watching. 

Whether it’s the rolling prairies of Kansas and Nebraska, the sprawling forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin or the vast lakes of Michigan, the Midwest USA is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. 

13. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area – Ohio 

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
Image by Jerry Ting via Flickr.

Before making the arduous flight across Lake Erie and into Canada, a plethora of migrating warblers take refuge at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Toledo. 

Every spring, between the months of April and May, large concentrations pass through Magee Marsh, before heading onto their Northern summer breeding grounds. 

Commonly sighted species include gnatcatchers, palm warblers, yellow warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, vireos and more. 

However, with such fantastic bird watching opportunities, the area can easily become saturated with human visitors! 

14. Platte River Valley – Nebraska 

You’ll find no snow-capped mountains or dense forests in Nebraska. Yet, bird watching flourishes here. 

That’s due to the presence of one particular, and very complex ecosystem, the prairie. 

Prairies are often defined as large areas of flat grassland with few trees. The last place you’d think to look for birds. However, certain species of birds thrive in these grasslands.  

One particular location, the Platte River Valley, is a hotspot for bird diversity. With wet meadows, sandbards, channels and banks, this system is an oasis in the endless grassland.

As such, every spring, upwards of 600,000 sandhill cranes – almost the entirety of their global population – arrive from southern reaches of North America. They use the fertile grounds of the Platte River Valley to feed, before continuing on with their migration. 

Platte River Valley
Image by Dennis McIntire via Flickr.

This valley also provides vital migration habitat for other bird species, including whooping cranes, waterfowl and shorebirds. Interior least terns and plovers nest on sandbars within and around the river system. 

In late spring, greater prairie chickens use the open expanse of grasslands to perform their mating rituals – a frenzied display of stomping, jumping and booming vocalizations. 

15. Wisconsin Point – Wisconsin 

We’re heading to the Northwestern tip of Wisconsin, to the shores of Lake Superior, for our final bird watching area in the USA.

Just 2.5 miles, Wisconsin Point is a narrow peninsula. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in old-growth pine forests and beaches. In the spring and fall migration months of May and September, many species of bird take refuge here.

Amongst the trees and bushes, look out for an array of warbler and sparrow species. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a falcon or two!

However, look across the lake surface, and a whole new birding world reveals itself. During peak migration season, a huge diversity of seabirds can be seen floating effortlessly upon the water. 

Arctic terns, famed for having one of the longest migration routes ever recorded, can be spotted off the shores of Lake Superior. As can multiple species of gulls and jaeger. 

The parasitic jaeger, also known as the Arctic skua, is a kleptoparasite. They chase and harass other bird species, such as gulls and terns, to give up their meals. A brutal, albeit fascinating, behavior that draws in crowds from all around.  

Parasitic Jaeger Stealing a Meal
Image by Jessica Joachim via Jessica-Joachim.com.

Final Thoughts

Type in “bird watching near me” and a plethora of results show up.

Sure, we’ve mentioned a few of what we think are some of the best bird watching areas in the USA. 

However, this is merely scratching the surface. Across all states, there are thousands of places that offer great bird watching. 

The habitats in which birds occupy are near endless – offshore, cliff, desert, grasslands, mountains, forests. The list goes on. 

Just remember, be respectful if visiting any of these natural environments and, of course, don’t forget to pack your binoculars!

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