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The Top Ten Bird Watching Locations in the USA

birdwatching usa

J Ding Darling Reserve, Florida (USA)

Every birder has his or her favorite spot for bird watching. It might be a local reserve, familiar woodlot, nearby national park, or simply in the backyard. Preferences aside, every birder will admit that some places are better for seeing birds than others. This could be related to a greater deal and variety of habitats, the fact that the site is located square in the middle of an important migration flyway, or simply because it’s easy to see a lot of birds up close.

There are so many excellent areas to watch birds in the USA that it’s tough to list the top ten birding locations. With that in mind, the following list is admittedly subjective but I think that most birders will agree that they can’t go wrong in visiting the locations found below. From east to west, they are:

1.  Cape May, New Jersey

Non-birders and newcomers to the birding lifestyle are typically surprised to learn that one of the best sites for birding in the USA is found in a state better known for urbanization and bad drivers. However, due to Cape May being a peninsula situated on the Atlantic flyway, hundreds of thousands of birds migrate through the area and become concentrated in the woodlots and marshes of Cape May Island. On good migration days, the birding can be nothing short of incredible with hundreds of raptors flying overhead, thousands of small birds feeding in the fields, trees, and bushes, dozens of waterbirds in the marshes, and impressive flocks of seabirds flying just offshore.

2. Crane Creek and Magee Marsh, Ohio

Another migrant hotspot, this birding site on the southern shore of Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio is excellent for seeing large numbers and species of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, cuckoos, and just about everything else headed north during the Spring and flying south in Autumn.

3. J.N. Ding-Darling Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, Florida

Such a large number of wading birds are so easily viewed and photographed in the mangroves and wetlands on the famous wildlife drive in this refuge that visiting birders might wonder if the place is an outdoor zoo. Despite their tame appearance, the elegant egrets, herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, and other photogenic bird species are as wild as the alligators that are also frequently seen at this location.

4. Aransas Wildlife Refuge, Texas

The salt marshes of this wildlife refuge make it onto the top ten list of places for birding in the USA because they act as wintering grounds for the last wild flock of one of North America’s most endangered bird species, the Whooping Crane. Birders who take boat tours to view these regal birds also see rails, egrets, and other aquatic species.

5. The Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Well over 300 species of birds have occurred in the subtropical scrub, palm groves, wetlands, and riparian woodlands of this birding hotspot. Birding the reserves, state parks and other protected areas are always exciting because of interesting residents such as Great Kiskadee, and the chance of finding rare vagrants from Mexico like Blue Mockingbirds or Clay-colored Thrushes.

6. Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas

Thousands of shorebirds migrate through the Great Plains on their way between breeding grounds in the Arctic and wintering grounds in Central and South America. One of their most important staging grounds is in central Kansas at the wetlands of the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. Immense flocks of shorebirds can be seen at this location along with a variety of ducks and other aquatic species.

7. Pawnee National Grasslands, Colorado

These short-grass prairies in northeastern Colorado are an excellent place to watch raptors such as Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Ferruginous Hawk, and Swainson’s Hawk and provide important habitat for uncommon grassland birds such as Mountain Plover, Chestnut-crowned and McCown’s Longspurs, and Lark Bunting.

8. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

This large, scenic park is a fantastic location for seeing a wide variety of montane bird species such as White-tailed Ptarmigan, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Clark’s Nutcracker, and many other specialties of the western North American mountains.

9. Southeastern Arizona 

Various nature preserves such as Ramsey and Madera Canyons, the Huachuca Mountains, the San Pedro River Valley, and other sites in southeastern Arizona host several bird species that primarily occur in Mexico, including a number of hummingbirds that can be easily seen at feeders in the area. The deserts, grasslands, and pine forests are also good for several owl species including Elf, Spotted, Whiskered-Screech, and Flammulated Owls.

10. Point Reyes, California

The peninsula north of the San Francisco Bay known as Point Reyes is always excellent for birding because of its wide variety of habitats and propensity for attracting rare vagrants. The grasslands and scrub habitats on Point Reyes host Wrentits, Allen’s Hummingbirds, California Quail, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and other Golden State specialties. Near the coast, wetlands provide habitat for Tricolored Blackbirds, Black Rails, Marbled Godwits and a number of other shorebird species. If birders tire of these open habitats, they can check out the Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, and Pileated Woodpeckers in the Redwoods and other conifers that grow on the point.

So do you agree with our observations or do you have other USA bird watching locations that you would like to throw into the pot, we would like to hear your comments and observations?

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2 comments

  1. Nate

    You can’t go wrong with any of these places, but you have to include the Florida Keys!

    Cheyenne Bottoms is a great addition. Very underrated!

  2. Louise Burky

    Be SURE to include Bosque del Alpache in New Mexico around Thanksgiving and the Sandhill Crane Festival.
    There are 25 to 30 THOUSAND Snow Geese and many hundreds of Sandhill Cranes. The ‘seed’ the fields with corn and barley to keep them coming. It is a photographers dream, especially when they blast off around 6 a.m.

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