Best Birding Spots in the U.S.
If there was ever a time to spend time in the Great Outdoors, quietly and away from crowds, it is now. One of the most popular pastimes in America, birdwatching is enjoyed at least once a year by more than 70 million people!
Whether you are part of the 33 percent of people who take pleasure in seeking rarely seen birds and spotting hints of color hiding in marshes or are someone looking for a way to get out of the house, the Audubon Society keeps track of the best places for birding based on the number of species and presence of winged creatures every year. They'll even help you get started by providing a free guide to the more than 800 species of birds found in North America alone on its website.
So, bring the binoculars and a camera, and hit the road to one of the best birding spots in the U.S.
Everglades National Park, Florida
The unique landscape of the Florida Everglades makes it not only one of the best national parks in the country but also one of the best places to spot birds.
You can follow a 38-mile road with ample spots for stopping and entryways into numerous trails, including the Anhinga Trail, Snake Bight Trail and a 15-mile road through Shark Valley.
Known as a "River of Grass," expect to see wading and woodland birds, including Wood Stork, Black-whiskered Vireo, Snail Kite and Short-tailed Hawk.
Monhegan Island, Maine
The Audubon Society calls Monhegan Island a "bucket-list experience" for birders. Just 11 miles off the coast, the island welcomes migrating birds May through September for "a true birding spectacle."
Practically any migrating bird in the U.S. makes a stop here, but you may spot Red-throated Loons, Atlantic Puffin and Iceland Gulls as well as year-round residents like Black Guillemot.
Hawk Ridge, Minnesota
Migrating birds can also be spotted at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory overlooking Lake Superior. Counters at the sanctuary say the peak migration along East Skyline Parkway occurs from mid- to late-September, when Broad-winged Hawks are spotted by the thousands. (Now you can see why the ridge got its name!)
Other birds you'll find here include Bald Eagles, Merlin and Peregrine Falcons. If you get really lucky, you'll spot Mississippi Kite.
Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Mississippi
In Mississippi, visit the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve that borders Alabama. Here, you will find the Oak Grove Birding Trail that makes its way near a baoyou through hardwoods and a pine forest.
Expect to spot Black-necked Stilt, Red-headed Woodpeckers and Reddish Egrets among the mix of shore and woodland birds.
Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex, California
In Northern California, near the Oregon border, the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex is home to two different bird refugees where more than 200 species have been recorded.
Follow the 12-mile Tule Lake or 10-mile Lower Klamath roads for walking trails that will reveal residents like White-faced Ibis, California Towhee and Tricolored Blackbird.
Montrose Point, Illinois
This Chicago bird sanctuary on Lake Michigan has seen more than 300 different species of birds, making it the best place for birders in the entire state of Illinois.
The "Magic Hedge," so named for attracting a surprising number of birds, may give you a glimpse of Painted Bunting, Magnificant Frigatebird, Purple Gallinule or Townsend's Solitaire.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (and Beyond)
The beauty of Colorado's national park is enhanced by the number of species of birds found at the various elevations of the mountains. The higher you climb, the more likely you will spot Red Crossbill, Hammond's Flycatcher or Dusky Grouse near Bear Lake and Wild Basin.
Stay low to see Green-tailed Towhee, Steller's Jay and Pygmy Nuthatch.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Another "must-visit" by the Audubon Society is Texas' 34,000-acre refuge made up of woods, marsh and prairie for a variety of species that live here mainly between fall and spring.
Located near Galveston Bay, birds who breed in this refuge include Roseate Spoonbill, Neotropic Cormorant and Dickcissel.
Skagit Wildlife Area, Washington
The variety of landscape in Washington bodes well for a great variety of birds. Skagit alone offers shoreline, tidal mudflats, marshes, forest and open water.
The Audobon Society reports Gyrfalcon are regular features, though hard to find. More often seen in the area are Short-eared Owl, Trumpeter Swan and Northern Harrier.
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, Rhode Island
Rhode Island may be a small state, but it is teeming with birds at this former airfield. Now a mix of fields and woodlands surrounding the saltwater Ninigret Pond, these wetlands are home to shorebirds in the warmer months and waterfowl during the winter.
Expect to see Blue-winged Warbler, Green Heron and Willet.
Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina
The saltwater is also where it's at for the birds of South Carolina. Over 300 species nest and migrate to this Atlantic Ocean state park. Since the beach brings people, the best time to find the birds are when the beachgoers are gone: September through May.
Take a stroll along the beach and you may find Wilson's Plover, Swallow-tailed Kite, Razorbill and Harlequin Duck.
Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Montana
There may not be salt marshes in Montana, but there are still wetlands mixed into the mountain setting in this northern state.
This refuge is one of the nation's best for the number of bird species — more than 240 — and visitors can capture on camera Sora, Pied-billed Grebe and American Bittern in the wetlands or Bobolink, Vaux's Swift and Wild Turkey while on the nature trail.
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Kansas
Between the mountains and the wetlands, the birds that migrate need a stopping ground. One resting place can be found on the 22,000-plus acres, where birds between Canada and Texas make their pitstops.
From April through October, see flocks of Sandhill Crane, American White Pelican and ducks. Nesting in the refuge's marshes and ponds are Wilson's Phalarope, Least Tern, Grasshopper Sparrow and many, many more that are perfect for birdwatching.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague, Virginia
Chincoteague/Assateague may be more renowned for its wild horses, but it's no secret to birders that this Atlantic Coast refuge straddling Virginia and Maryland offers a plethora of species of the winged variety.
From fall through spring, find Tundra Swan and Snow Geese. Then, return for late summer and early fall shorebirds, including the endangered Piping Plover.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York
Mere miles from John F. Kennedy International Airport is one of the Audobon Society's "premier birding locations in the Northeast." This wildlife refuge welcomes more than 330 species of birds that enjoy the marsh and shoreline.
Enjoy the rarely seen Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting that arrive in the winter, as well as year-round Peregrine Falcon. On the shoreline, there will be plentiful sightings of American Oystercatcher, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Gadwall.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
While travelers make their way to America's only national park with an active volcano to witness lava spilling into the ocean, birders will find that the changing altitudes of the park lend to a variety of bird species.
In the 500-square-mile park, drive along Chain of Carters Road, and see White-tailed Tropicbird, Black Noddy and Hawaiian Geese. Even as you travel along the park's roads, you can spot Omao, Apapane, Amakihi and Iiwi.
Juneau Mendenhall Wetlands, Alaska
You'll find other unique varieties when you head north to Alaska. In the wetlands near Juneau's airport, follow a 1-mile trail to the birds that call the northernmost state home during the spring through summer.
Here, be quick to spot the Rufous Hummingbird, and keep your eyes peeled for Pine Siskin, Alder Flycatcher, Arctic Tern and Glaucous-winged Gull.
Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona
Back in the continental U.S., the mountains of the Sonoran Desert may be isolated, but that is just the way the birds that live here like it.
Near the New Mexico border, the Chiricahua Mountains' scrub may hide Bridled Titmouse, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lesser Nighthawk and Bell's Vireo.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
In neighboring New Mexico, the Rio Grande flows through the state and creates a haven for snowbirds that fly south for the winter. Sandhill Cranes are so abundant that one local town hosts a November festival dedicate to the bird.
Other birds you can expect to find include Snow Geese, Mountain Bluebird, American Pipit and Bald Eagle.
Grand Isle, Louisiana
Back on the coast, the barrier islands of Louisiana are hot spring migration sites for birds that wintered south of the border heading back north — more than 300 species!
During the migration, you'll see Scarlet Tanagers, Gray Catbirds, Black-whiskered Vireo and Fork-tailed Flycatcher.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina are also primo spots for birders. Visit the Outer Banks, but move away from the crowds and visit the refuge that spreads across Hatteras Island.
More than 350 species of birds are found in this refuge, from migrants to nesters. Come across Peregrine Falcons and American Avocet making their way by the beaches as well as year-round residents like the Brown Pelican.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Of course, the Great Smoky Mountains' vast forested terrain is the perfect hiding place for birds that want to stay away from people, despite the fact the national park is the most-visited in the country.
Climb to the top of Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap and be greeted by a Black-throated Blue Warbler. In the lower elevations, the songs of Ovenbird is common in the spring, with Ruffed Grouse and Blue-headed Vireo in the neighborhood.
Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, Vermont
Fall in Vermont is about more than leaf-peeping. Birders head to Dead Creek in the fall to witness the migration of Snow Geese by the thousands.
In the dead of winter, when Vermont is covered in snow, the area is also home to the Snowy Owl, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur and the Northern Shrike.
But if you go in the summer, don't worry! There are plenty of Osprey, Wood Duck, Caspian Tern and Bald Eagles fluttering about.
John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge, Pennsylvania
The marshland surrounding Philadelphia's international airport happens to be 145 acres of freshwater tidal marsh and is the largest in the northeast.
You don't have to go far before encountering Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, American Redstart and Swamp Sparrow. You'll even catch a Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey in these parts.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
Across the continent is one of the Northwest's most popular birding destinations, according to the Audobon Society. This refuge is so large you can drive a 42-mile trek in search of the wetlands' birds that migrate here in what is called a "migrant trap" for its popularity.
Besides witnessing thousands of American White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes, see Greater Sage-Grouse, Long-billed Curlew, Bobolink and White-faced Ibis.
Saylorville Reservoir, Iowa
The prairie land of Iowa gets its fair share of bird species, too. The reservoir north of Des Moines and nearby lakes is so in-demand that there are more than 300 species found enjoying the water and nearby parks.
Spot Bonaparte's Gulls, Franklins and Bald Eagles mixing it up with the loons and pelicans of the area.
Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri
South of Des Moines, Missouri's Squaw Creek has been called "a sea of white" when the thousands of Snow Geese migrate through this refuge in the fall and spring.
Impressive? How about the 476 Bald Eagles once recorded one winter? You'll also witness Golden Eagles — rare but regular, says the Audobon Society.
Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, Utah
You'll have to work to get to this birding refuge in remote Utah. Found 100 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, the desert road finds an oasis at the natural springs that make up 10,000 acres of these wetlands (which had another 8,000 acres).
Its size and unique ecosystem create a respite for various species from fall through spring, including Williamson's Sapsucker, Jaegers, Prairie Falcon, Trumpeter Swan and Double-crested Cormorant.
Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area, West Virginia
What can you find deep in the wilderness along the Ohio River of West Virginia? How about marshland that is managed throughout the year to keep water levels active for the birds that migrate and reside in the area.
It will be tough to find the Blue Grosbeak that have been spotted, but Tree Swallow, American Kestrel, Belted Kingfisher, Orchard Oriole and various warblers are in abundance.
Red River Gorge Geological Area, Kentucky
In neighboring Kentucky, the Red River Gorge and Daniel Boone National Forest are filled with birds in flight. Besides being a beautiful drive for the setting alone, this is a huge birding area for the state.
These woods unveil the Worm-eating Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, Hooded Warbler and even the rare Cerulean Warbler, if you are lucky.