There are many amazing places to spot birds across the United States, but a few stand out as particularly special. These 10 locations have a particular appeal for their sheer abundance of bird species on top of being simply gorgeous places to visit whether birding or not. Many are important stopovers for migrating birds, making them extra special during spring and winter seasons, and many are home to some species that are likely once-in-a-lifetime birds for even the most experienced birders.
A mated pair of red-necked grebes in breeding plumage in Nome, Alaska. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)
Starting in late May, birders flock to this beautiful, remote stretch of tundra to catch sight of species in spectacular breeding plumage, from mergansers to Pacific golden plovers. There are hundreds of species from bristle-thighed curlews and arctic terns, to red-necked grebes, red-necked phalaropes and red-throated loons. There are only three roads leading out from Nome, each offering a different variety of viewing opportunities — for instance, plovers are easily viewed along Teller road while Kougarok leads to a location where bluethroats may be spotted by the lucky and extra observant. Whichever road you select for the day, you will not be disappointed. It is a remote location and involves a long travel time so plan to stay for at least four or five days to be able to take in all the sights and check off as many boxes on your species list as possible.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
This dreamy location is part of Acadia National Park, and offers a broad range of species thanks to the mix of habitats including coastline, bog, forest and bare mountain peaks. It is a great place to go birding at any time of year, though seasonal migrations and nesting season offer extra special opportunities. Year-round, visitors can spot residents including bald eagles, gray jays and black guillemots. Meanwhile, seasonal inhabitants include nesting Atlantic puffins, a variety of warblers, and bobolinks. The Acadia Bird Festival is held in June of each year on Mount Desert Island, and is an ideal opportunity to get to mingle with fellow birders while exploring the area.
Grand Isle, Louisiana
Sticking with islands, we head south to Grand Isle, a barrier island in Louisiana. According to the National Wildlife Federation, "Grand Isle is a magnet for migrating birds in spring because of the distinctive habitat that surrounds it: a kind of forest called oak chenier that sprouts only on very low, sandy ridges that parallel the coastline. As long as a ridge is a foot or two above the high-tide line, that’s enough to support live oaks and low-growing trees called hackberries... So tiny warblers that have been flying through the night make it across the Gulf of Mexico and see what looks like quite an expanse of forest. It invites them to drop down and refuel." This spring time migration is honored with the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration, which works to bring awareness to conserving what little of this important habitat is left for birds. Besides warblers, visitors can spot around 100 different species of songbird as well as swallow-tailed kites, terns, skimmers, pink roseate spoonbills and many, many other species.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
This spot is best known for the enormous congregations of migrating sandhill cranes. There is even a four-day festival in November celebrating their migration. But this beautiful species certainly isn't the only reason why birders arrive in droves to the desert oasis. The refuge serves as a stopping ground for some 377 species. Waterbirds including ducks and geese, and terrestrial birds including Gambel's quail, roadrunners and pheasants are commonly spotted. Raptors can be spied hunting for prey, including bald eagles, golden eagles, northern harriers and several species of hawks and falcons. Songbirds are abundant as are gulls. And of course, the scenery is second to none.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland
Though you can spot marshbirds and bald eagles year-round, the real spectacle is the thousands of migrating ducks and geese that stop in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge every spring and fall. The refuge was created as a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl and they certainly take advantage of it. Forest, marsh and shallow water provide a variety of habitat for black ducks, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, wigeon and pintails. As for raptors, the refuge boasts the greatest density of nesting bald eagles in the eastern United States. Ospreys are also common, as are owls, woodpeckers and wild turkeys. Smaller species including warblers, vireos, orioles and flycatchers can also be sighted. It is a rich habitat sure to delight the visiting birder.
Cave Creek Canyon, Arizona
The southwest offers unique opportunities for birding, and while it isn't the light-and-feather spectacular that is Bosque del Apache, Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains offers its own wonderful delights — including incredible birding year-round. There are 375 species to check off the list in this location, including Gambel’s quail, the cactus wren, verdin and the curve-billed thrasher. Raptors range from the Western screech-owl to the zone-tailed hawk to the golden eagle. Among the more exotic is the elegant trogon, a treasure for any birder to see. Only around two dozen are spotted in the canyon each summer. And of course, the location is famous for the hummingbirds. Nearly every hummingbird species in Arizona can be viewed here in the canyon. So if you love these tiny jet-pilot jewels, you'll want to visit Cave Creek Canyon.
Monterey Bay, California
Known mostly for whale watching, sea otter spotting, and home to one of the best aquariums in the nation, Monterey Bay is also a must-visit for birders. Off the coast, one can spot black-footed albatross, tufted puffins, jaegers, shearwaters and alcid. Closer to shore, birders can check California condors, Townsend’s warblers, snowy plovers and cormorants off the list. Wintering shorebirds are found by the thousands during migration season, as well as warblers and passerines. The abundance and diversity of birds in Monterey is as rich as that of the underwater marine life for which the bay is famous. Planning your trip around the Monterey Bay Birding Festival in September is a great way to join in on events with other birders and check dozens of species off your life list.
Everglades National Park, Florida
December to March is prime birding time in the Everglades, one of the country's largest national parks. Visitors can spot as many as 300 different species of bird in this unique and gorgeous watery habitat. The anhinga, also known as the snake bird or water turkey, can be found here, as well as the roseate spoonbill, the white ibis, the purple gallinule, several heron species, and many shorebird species. There is a wide variety of duck species, as well as marsh birds. The ponds are thick with a diversity of species and birders can simply stand at the edge of a pond and start checking species off the list. Of course, don't forget to check the flowering shrubs for hummingbirds, and the trees for warblers, woodpeckers, owls and hawks.
Tule Lake, California
This is among the best area for the largest number of bird species to spy on in one location, primarily because it is a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. Tule Lake is part of and area comprised of four national wildlife refuges and thousands of acres of private farmlands. Everything from waterfowl to raptors, from shorebirds to songbirds can be found here — nearly 500 species in all. Pelicans, gulls, terns and diving ducks make use of the deeper wetlands, while rails, ibis, egrets and herons make use of the cattails in the shallows. Smaller species include the marsh wren, yellow-headed black bird, northern oriole and yellow-rumped warbler, and if you're looking for larger species, hundreds of bald eagles can be found here in winter. There are photography blinds available for reservation as well, getting you closer to the species you most care about, whether it is water birds or raptors.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali is a hotspot for amazing wildlife viewing, and that includes birds. There are about 167 species of bird that have been recorded in the park, most of them seasonal. When you time your visit right, you won't be disappointed. In spring, you can witness the nesting behavior for everything from golden eagles to black-capped chickadees. The northern hawk owl also calls the park home. It is a rare bird to spot, and one any birder will be excited to check off the life list. Many raptor species including gyrfalcons, northern goshawks, merlins and peregrine falcons can be found here. So too can water birds in abundance, including wigeons, shovelers, scaups, long-tailed ducks, loons, mergansers and scoters to name just a few. The various habitats of forests, riparian corridors, shrubland, tundra, ponds and lakes all provide a wonderful variety of species sightings, as well as simply breathtaking landscapes.
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