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7 Surprising Spots for Incredible Bird Watching

Seasoned birders say these are the best places to see wonder on the wing


spinner image Blue Grosbeak
Grosbeak
GREGORY HARBER

From urban parks and lakeside boardwalks, to the gardens and grounds of a city cemetery, these are ideal spots to see a range of species on their spring and fall migrations.

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spinner image western tanager
Western tanager
Marcos Trinidad

1. Audubon Center at Debs Park, Los Angeles, California

This surprising birding mecca just five miles from downtown Los Angeles has 280 beautiful acres to explore, mountain and city views, and, come spring and fall, migratory birds galore.

"You can expect to see a ton of migrants here,” says Marcos Trinidad, director of the Audubon Center at Debs Park. While hiking the park's main trail through landscapes of primarily native plants you might spot migratory species such as black-headed grosbeaks, hooded orioles and lazuli buntings (known for their piercingly blue-hued heads). A good spot for sightings: the pine and silk oak trees around the park's Peanut Lake. “You can see them with your [naked] eyes, but to really appreciate the beauty and colors, it's best to use binoculars,” says Trinidad.

Throughout the year, keep an eye out for California birds along the trails, including California thrashers, California scrub jays and California towhees. In winter, western tanagers can often be seen in the park's flowering eucalyptus trees.

spinner image male ruby-crowned kinglet
Ruby-crowned kinglet
mirceax/Getty Images

2. Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

It may surprise some to learn that this cemetery is “the number one hot spot for spring migrants in the Greater Boston area,” according to Ray Brown, host of the popular birding podcast Talkin’ Birds.

In spring, when the foliage is just starting to fill in, birders come from near and far to Mount Auburn's paved pathways to view the “many species of warblers and other neotropical migrants that either stop there on their way farther north or stay there for nesting,” says Brown. You might spot blue-headed vireos, ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers, for instance. There's an information area at the cemetery's entrance where you can check the chalkboard for recent sightings and add your own, too.

Among the many species you can see year-round here (and often more easily during the winter months, after the leaves have fallen) are red-tailed hawks, American goldfinches and the tufted titmouse.

spinner image Red Knot
Red knot
Arthur Morris/Getty Images

3. Cape May, New Jersey

With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Delaware Bay to the west, the Cape May peninsula is a natural resting spot for birds in need of a break during their long spring migrations. These include the red knot, a shorebird with a terracotta-colored belly that winters as far south as Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America.

But what really creates the shorebird spectacle at this epic New Jersey birding locale each May is the annual horseshoe crab spawning event, when these ancient arthropods carpet the beaches with their protein-rich eggs. Red knots, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, sandpipers and other shorebirds gorge on the eggs to fuel their continued migration to their northern breeding grounds.

Explore on your own — Cape May Point State Park has dunes, beach, ponds and forest habitat that offers great birding — or take a naturalist-led field trip to local beaches like Reeds Beach and Kimbles Beach from Audubon New Jersey's Cape May Bird Observatory. It has an informative visitor center and a short trail that offers the chance to spy warblers, tanagers, thrushes, gnatcatchers and more in springtime.

The autumn migration along the peninsula is just as legendary, with southbound shorebirds passing through in September. Huge flocks of brant (a small type of goose) arrive in November.

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spinner image Canada Warbler
Canada warbler
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4. Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville, Alabama

Alabama's beautiful Gulf Coast, especially around Dauphin Island and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, is world-renowned for the arrival of neotropical migrants in early spring, when colorful tanagers and vireos land along the coast to rest after flying across the Gulf of Mexico on what birders refer to as the “Yucatan Express.”

For late-spring birding in Alabama, Greg Harber of Alabama Audubon suggests heading farther north, to Monte Sano State Park's wooded slopes, to spot species like mourning warblers, cerulean warblers, Canada warblers and wood thrushes, with their lovely flutelike song.

"Migratory birds are following the Appalachian mountain chain north here, along the ridges,” he says. “It's a good launching point for them — and a good place to spot migratory birds later in the spring.

Raptors, owls and many other species live in the park's hardwood forests year round.

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Chestnut-sided warbler
Nancie Waterman/Birdseedandbinoculars.com

5. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, Ohio

Along the Mississippi Flyway, Ohio has many spots that beckon with great birding in spring and fall. But nowhere in the state tops the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, for seeing northbound migrants in spring.

The birds gather here before continuing north to their breeding grounds, and during a mid- to late-May visit to Magee Marsh, it's normal to spot more than 30 warbler species, including such favorites as Nashville warblers and chestnut-sided warblers, in addition to vireos and many other migrants.

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Varied thrush
Gwen Baluss

6. Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, Juneau, Alaska

"In spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to feed in the southeast [of Alaska] on their way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic,” says Gwen Baluss, president of the Juneau Audubon Society.

The area's ancient forests and wetlands are habitat for more than 350 bird species, including the Queen Charlotte goshawk and the Prince of Wales spruce grouse, both of which are endemic subspecies found only here.

In spring, one of many easily accessible birding spots near Juneau for seeing Arctic terns, which have the longest migration of all birds, is Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, a 4,000-acre wildlife refuge where rivers gush forth from melting ice. Baluss says the birds — built for extreme flight and round-trip annual migrations of more than 18,000 miles — are particularly beautiful in flight.

"It's also fun to see them gracefully plunge-diving for fish, courting, even fighting,” she says.

In summer, you might spot songbirds, including the bright-yellow Wilson's warbler and the cute little hermit thrush, which has speckled markings on its chest and throat. Summer brings a chorus of songbirds to the forested areas, too, including the Townsend's warbler and the varied thrush (both beautiful and easy to spot).

spinner image Robin at Central Park Conservancy
Robin
Central Park Conservancy

7. Central Park, New York City

"Central Park has a great reputation for spring birding,” says Harber. “It has all the things going for it: It's on the flyway, right on the coast, and it's an oasis of green in an otherwise densely populated area.”

Consider the easy accessibility, too. You can get to the park by subway, of course, and there are miles of paved trails and countless benches for taking in the avian views.

From May into early June, the meadows, waterways, forests and gardens in Manhattan's green lung attract migrating warblers stopping off to feed on their way north, and it's not uncommon to spot 10 warbler species, including tiny wood warblers, on a single day's birding adventure.

Come autumn, city birders delight at the sight of cedar waxwings and northern flickers in the park's wooded areas.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 10, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information. 

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