You don’t have to travel thousands of miles for the perfect bird watching adventure. In fact, the United States is home to hundreds of bird species, including neotropical birds that migrate here during the colder months of the year.
If you time your trip right you’ll be able to catch more species than you’ve ever imagined. And the best part? You won’t have to pay thousands of dollars to travel abroad. Instead, with the right planning, you can put together your dream vacation and enjoy yourself out in the wetlands, in the mountains, or on the beaches, sighting dozens of new species.
Did you know that there are over ten thousand species of birds found all over the world? Bird watching is now a very popular hobby and one that’s fun and affordable. Birds can be found in pretty much every country and city but some travel to far-off destinations and are harder to sight than others. The best birding destinations in the USA will allow you to catch sight of these elusive species for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the avid birder looking for a new challenge and more species to check off their list.
Below, you’ll find the top birdwatching hot spots found all over America. Each state offers an exciting and unique birding experience. Remember, with the right planning and preparation, your next vacation will allow you to check off those rare species of birds you’ve been dying to sight, and for a fraction of the price it would cost to fly abroad.
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Illinois is home to hundreds of different species of birds and your checklist definitely won’t be complete without checking off a few grassland species. The best place in Illinois is approximately 60 miles southwest of Chicago at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. You can track through this tall grass prairie ecosystem and spot some very elusive species such as Upland sandpipers.
Wisconsin is home to a very diversified variety of birdlife and the Great Lakes region. This destination will allow you to check off a wide variety of waterfowl, however, don’t forget to keep an eye out for migrating and nesting birds in the area. Birds to look for include gadwalls, egrets, and the Northern waterthrush.
Many people refer to Minnesota as the birder’s paradise since the Detroit Lakes are actually a combination of three different types of ecosystems including conifer forests, deciduous woods, and tall grass prairies. This means you can easily find over 250 different species of birds in one region alone. The best time to go birding in this area is during the spring migration since it’s a great way to catch a wide variety of birds and make the most of the season. Birds to look for include the rock wren, the chestnut collared longspur, rough-legged hawk, and the blue-gray gnatcatcher.
Just a few minutes north of Salt Lake City, is a place called Farmington and it’s a city that’s widely known for its diverse species of birds. Farmington is definitely a must-visit location for the avid birder. This marshland area spans two counties and it includes several species of dikes and freshwater ponds in addition to patches of common reeds and cottonwoods, all of which attract a variety of birds.
During the fall and winter migration months, you’re bound to see a variety of waterfowl, including thousands of ducks. However, you can also catch a glimpse of songbirds and shorebirds. Birds to sight include snow bunting, tundra swan, ruddy duck, and the common yellowthroat.
This state is a bird-watching hotspot that’s often frequented by migratory birds that are headed south for the winter or those that are returning home for the spring. Birds located in the north often flock to coastal regions during the migratory season. Many birds won’t travel over open water unless they have to. New Jersey’s Cape May is a hotspot for over twenty species of warblers which is a very common songbird that breeds all over the United States in the summer. In Cape May you can also catch sight of black scoters and surfs scoters, both are variations of sea ducks that travel to South and Central America.
Louisiana is a state that’s a Haven to any bird that is crossing the Gulf of Mexico. It’s often used as a sanctuary for exhausted birds that are Northbound and those who have braved the open sea. You’ll find that over 2 million birds rest here during the early spring with peak levels occurring in April as they taper off slowly in May. Due to strong headwinds, you can find birds such as orchid orioles and cerulean warblers who seek refuge here in the spring.
Grand Isle is a barrier island found in Louisiana. It’s also a magnet for birds that migrate in the spring since the distinct habitat offers a safe haven for these tired and hungry birds.
Sandhill cranes are known to migrate to New Mexico, however, this refuge is also home to over 377 species. Water birds such as geese and ducks, and terrestrial birds such as pheasants, roadrunners, and quail, are commonly seen here. You can also see raptors that are hunting for prey. The species include Northern harriers, golden eagles, and bald eagles. Galls are also abundant as are songbirds.
A sandhill crane is a majestic bird that migrates north in large flocks during the spring. During March they land in South Central Nebraska, which is part of their journey back to Texas and Florida beaches. Thousands of these birds will spend all of their time resting up and feeding in adjacent fields. The birdwatcher will be able to view them in droves at dusk and dawn. Unfortunately, you can only catch a glimpse of this very rare mass migration in the early weeks of March.
To learn more about these birds and others, click here to read my guide on birds that fly at dusk.
Every year more than 50% of all species of birds found in the United States will seek refuge in San Francisco California. You can find several different species ranging from chickadees, Wells, and several species of woodpeckers.
In California, you can also find the National Wildlife Refuges in Tule Lake, Clear Lake, and Lower Klamath. The east area supports important breeding populations of cormorants, terns, gulls, ducks, and grebes. you can also sight the elusive sage-grouse which lives in the dry upland areas. During the fall months, you’ll find thousands of ducks, geese, and swans that will stop here before they move on to the south. If you want to see birds of prey, winter will be the best time. During this time you’ll see prairie falcons, bald eagles, and rough-legged hawks.
Yosemite National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife. In these settings, you’ll find many types of common northern birds such as the pine grosbeak and the great gray owl.
The Monterey Peninsula in California is home to saltwater gulls and ducks. The flat sand beaches are also home to clovers and sandpipers. Native birds such as the chestnut-backed chickadee are found in the hills.
Tule lake in California is considered one of the best areas to spot the largest number of bird species in one setting. This is primarily due to its key stopover located on the Pacific Flyway. Tule lake is part of four different Wildlife refuges, which I mentioned earlier, and it consists of thousands of acres of farmland. You’ll be able to spot everything from songbirds and shorebirds to raptors and waterfowl. In total there are over 500 species that will find refuge here at some point during the year. Diving ducks, terns, skulls, and pelicans make use of the area’s wetlands, while herons and egrets make use of the shallows. Smaller species such as the northern oriole, yellow-headed blackbird, and marsh wren, in addition to the yellow-rumped warbler, also call this place home.
Arizona is home to a few bird species that live in and around Mexico. This includes the Salt River Valley. In Arizona, you’ll find the whiskered screech owl, and the elegant trogon. The mountain ranges in Arizona make the perfect place for many of these species to breed thanks to the particularly arid climate. Many birds will migrate here for the summer months and then return to Central America at the first sign of fall.
San Antonio is home to the colima warbler, which is hard to sight, which is what makes Texas a birdwatching hotspot. Visitors can also spot painted American redstart birds, Mexican Jays, and woodpeckers. Big Bend in Texas is made up of spectacular floral blooms, rivers, and woodlands but birds that migrate will be found in this region during the late spring months before the temperatures become too hot.
Many species of warblers are often found on the southern shores of Lake Erie and they’re considered some of the most alluring songbirds found in North America. Birds will stop here to rest before they continue their Journey on to Canada. In the fall and summer months, you can find waterfowl such as swans in the lush wetland environment. Some birders may even be lucky enough to sight the yellow-headed blackbird.
To learn more, click here to read my article on the different types of black birds.
Cheyenne Bottom is considered the largest marsh located in the US. It’s also a major hub for migrating birds and the last stop. Over 90% of the entire population of shorebird species will come here to rest. Additionally, there are over 135 species that will nest and breed in this area alone. If you want to see the widest variety of species then head over during the peak season starting in early May and lasting until late September
Most bird watchers already know that the coastlines in Maine are a haven for very rare birds, such as the Atlantic puffin. A place called Eastern Egg Rock is home to some of these rate puffin colonies. During mating season which lasts from April to August, the Atlantic puffin will fly from the open ocean and nest in Eastern egg.
However Maine is also home to many permanent residents including gray jays, northern ravens, bald eagles, black guillemots, and common eiders.
Mount desert island in Maine is part of Acadia National Park. This area offers a very vast range of bird species thanks to its mixture of habitats that include bare mountain peaks, forests, bogs, and coastlines. It’s just an excellent place to bird-watch any time of the year, however, nesting season and seasonal migrations will offer extra special sightings. A visitor can spot local birds including black guillemots, gray jays, and bald eagles. Seasonal visitors include a variety of bobolinks, warblers, and Atlantic puffins.
Beginning in May bird watchers flock to Nome Alaska, to this remote stretch of tundra in order to catch sight of some beautiful breeding plumage from Pacific golden plovers and mergansers. There are hundreds of different species of birds found here ranging from red-necked grebes and arctic terns, to bristle-thighed curlews.
In Nome, There are only a few roads that lead out from the city, each of which offers a different variety of birding opportunities. As an example, plovers are viewed easily along Keller Road while another road leads to a location where birders can sight blue throats. Whichever road you choose for the day you won’t be sorry. This is a remote location that has a very long travel time so you’ll need to plan on staying for at least a few days in order to be able to take in all the sights and check out all the birds and other wildlife this city has to offer
Denali is considered another bird watching hotspot and includes a variety of rare birds, with a total of our over 167 species of birds that have been spotted in the park alone. If you’re able to make time your visit, you’ll be able to catch sight of dozens of different birds. During the spring, you’ll be able to sight unique nesting behaviors for black-capped chickadees and golden eagles. Northern hawk owls also find refuge here.
This is actually a very elusive bird and it can be incredibly difficult to spot. This park is also home to many different types of raptors including Northern goshawks, gyrfalcons, and peregrine falcons. Waterfowl can also be found here in abundance. This can include scoters, mergansers, loons, and long-tailed ducks.
Central Park in New York works as an oasis of sorts especially to migratory birds during the spring and fall months. In late April and May, you’ll find 70 or more different species of birds including tanagers, orioles, warblers, vireos, and thrushes. During the fall months, short distance travelers can also be found. This includes eagles, hawks, and sparrows.
Pennsylvania is just another main stop for migrating birds of prey. During the fall months, it’s home to falcons, eagles, and hawks that are in need of shelter. To learn more about birds of prey, read my extensive guide on owls.
Florida is home to over 2,000 miles of wetlands that encompass most of the state’s underdeveloped areas. You’ll find systems of boardwalks, trails, and roads that will give you access to woods, and marshes. You’ll find many species of egrets and herons and other types of wading birds such as ospreys, and brown pelicans. The state is also home to the pileated woodpecker, barred owl, and bald eagle.
On Dauphin island, You’ll find a large number of northbound migrants in the springtime. These are birds who are in desperate need of food and rest after their flight across the Gulf of Mexico. During the months of April and May lawns and trees are often swarmed with tanagers and warblers, in addition to other types of brightly colored birds from the tropics. The Audubon bird sanctuary is 164 Acres of the birdwatcher’s idea of heaven. Here, you’ll find marsh birds and shorebirds year-round in the wetland areas.
In Wyoming, you’ll find a unique combination of habitats that are typical of the Rockies from lush meadows and sagebrush to bare peaks and forested slopes. This is one of the only states where you’ll catch a glimpse of the endangered trumpeter swan, which breeds here. You’ll also be able to sight sparrows, thrushes, chickadees, nuthatches, and jays.
It’s All About Planning
With so many destination options to choose from it can be exciting and overwhelming to plan out a trip in order to catch a glimpse of some of the rarest birds in the country. Of course, every birdwatcher dreams of heading to those hot spots where legendary birders have spotted some of the most elusive birds in the world. With the best bird-watching binoculars, such as the Bushnell Falcon 133410 Binoculars, important gear, and the right planning, there’s no reason why you can’t hit at least most of your dream destinations.
- First, decide whether you’re going to visit a lot of sights in the same state or if you want to visit several states. This decision alone will help you determine what to pack, what birdwatching equipment to bring along, and what your budget looks like. Most times, the avid birder will prefer to spend more time in one location. But if you’re not sure where you want to go exactly then I recommend spending some time studying regional field guides. If there are particular species that you’ve desperately been wanting to sight, then this will help you to pinpoint where you want to go.
- Compile a list of all the birds you’ve been dying to spot. This list of birds can also help you to determine your destination. Make sure you carefully plan in terms of reserving a room and find accommodations that are close to the target location. There’s no reason why you should have to drive several hours from your hotel room to reach the bird watching site.
- You can also check out a wide variety of online resources. There are several online databases that will give you some great tips and pointers on where to go to find birding hotspots.
- Create a schedule and a route. It’s very important that you know exactly where you’re going and how to get there so you’re able to make the most of your time. Keep in mind, regardless of where you are in the world a bird will often be the most active late in the day and early in the morning. This will allow you to create a schedule so you can reach all the birding hotspots at certain times. Use midday as the perfect time to travel from one destination to the next.
- Bring the right gear. Check out the state’s local weather and climate so you can pack accordingly. Remember birdwatching clothing often involves layering using lightweight fabrics and muted colors.
Now that you know more about the best birdwatching destinations in the United States, you can put together a vacation that will allow you to check off many rare species on your list. You may not be able to check off all the birds you want and you may not have time to reach every bird watching destination on your list, but you’ll find this trip challenging and exciting, especially if you don’t travel often, or you’ve grown tired of sighting local birds in your own backyard. With this list of the top birding destinations, you can enjoy a whole new type of birding adventure that you just can’t get it home.