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5 Great Winter Birding Trails in the U.S.

Bring your binoculars and your big coat - migratory and rare birds flock to these destinations across the country

spinner image left a titmouse in the snow right a woman with binoculars birdwatching
Bird enthusiasts can easily spot interesting species in the snow.
Becky Kuperstein/Getty / Steve Smith/Getty

While the onset of winter means dwindling daylight and cooler temperatures, the change of seasons also brings unique birding rewards. 

​Winter offers sightings of different avian species from other seasons; it’s a particularly good time to spot waterfowl and wetland birds, for example. 

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​Many species stay put in winter while flocks of migratory birds appear along North America’s many flyways. Some species, such as ducks, are in their finest breeding plumage in winter.

Birders have another cold-weather advantage: fewer leaves to block the view. Birds can be easier to spot in a snowy destination, and birds conserve energy in the cold so they’re less likely to fly away. 

​Here are five trails — from the Pacific Northwest to the Florida swamps — to spot America’s great diversity of wintertime birds. 

spinner image a group of sandpipers standing on a beach
Sandpipers are known to hang out in the mudflats along the Oregon coast.
JeffGoulden/Getty

1. Oregon Coast Birding Trail

​The scenic seascapes of Oregon’s Pacific coast offer prime birding opportunities in 173 hotspots along the Oregon Coast Birding Trail, a driving route where more than 450 types of birds can be spotted. Even though winters in coastal Oregon can be cool and rainy, temperatures are typically mild and birds are abundant. 

​Winter migrating waterfowl and shorebirds can be found around coastal estuaries and lakes, such as Tillamook Bay. Keep an eye out for ducks, including mallards, northern pintails, American wigeons, bufflehead and the eye-catching surf scoters with their unique white, orange, yellow red and black bills.  

​Oregon’s winter raptors — osprey, bald eagles and merlin — also frequent the estuaries. Meanwhile, wintering “rockpipers,” such as black turnstones, black oystercatchers and surfbirds scatter on coastal boulders. At low tide, look to the mudflats for dunlins, dowitchers and sandpipers. 

​In the fields and meadows farther inland, expect to find red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. In leafy groves of redwoods and Douglas fir, train your spotting scopes on chestnut-backed chickadees and Steller’s jays in the treetops and varied thrushes and Pacific wrens in the underbrush. 

Don’t miss: The common murre is Oregon’s most abundant seabird, comprising about 60 percent of all seabirds that nest in the state. You can spot these black and white birds in large colonies on rocky islands and cliffs on the northern and southern coasts.

spinner image a roseate spoonbill standing in the water
Birders can spot colorful roseate spoonbills in Texas.
Jeff R Clow/Getty

​​​2. Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

South Texas is one of the best spots in the U.S. to see winter migratory birds as they travel the Gulf’s Central Flyway. And a great place to spot them is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail along the state’s Coastal Bend from Kingsville and Corpus Christi up to Bay City. America’s first birding-trail project highlights more than 300 notable sites — plenty to keep a birder engaged all winter long. Some of the sites are designated Important Bird Areas by the National Audubon Society, which monitors and protects environments for birds because they are vital to the species’ preservation.

​​​The trail attracts wintering birds of all kinds, from flocks of snow geese to the shy Le Conte’s sparrows in the Upper Coast, to roseate spoonbills and piping plovers along the Central Coast, to plain chachalacas and green jays in the loops of the Lower Coast. 

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​​Don’t miss: Winter promises the thrill of seeing the tallest bird in North America: the rare whooping crane. Once reduced to fewer than 100 birds, the species has rebounded in wildlife refuges such as Goose Island State Park, thanks to conservation efforts. 

spinner image a painted bunting sitting on a branch
The painted bunting, one of the most colorful songbirds in North America, draws birders to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.
pchoui/Getty

3. Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail 

​Copy Florida’s human snowbirds as they follow our feathered friends south each winter. There you’ll find one of the largest trails in North America, the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a statewide network of more than 500 viewing sites. 

​Florida attracts flocks of winter birders because of its mild weather and countless bird species that migrate from the north.

​Take Lake Apopka northwest of Orlando, a bird mecca with more than 300 different recorded species. It’s one of the state’s top winter birding areas. Perch on the lake to revel in rare winter species such as the greater white-fronted goose, shiny cowbird and willow flycatcher. Find snail kites, limpkins and wood storks in Everglades National Park

​Elsewhere around the state, the coastal refuges of western Florida and the Panhandle are teeming with wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Visit Central Florida’s Lake Okeechobee to see bald eagles. Far south in the Keys, keep an eye out for reddish egrets and white-crowned pigeons. Finally, marvel at the migrating American white pelicans, one of North America’s largest birds with impressive 9-foot wingspans, in estuaries, lakes and mangrove islands throughout the state during winter.

Don’t miss: Head to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to see the beloved painted buntings, among the most colorful songbirds in North America.

spinner image a bald eagle flying among the trees
Bald eagles can be seen foraging over the water in the Delaware River valley.
John Kocijanski/Getty

4. Delaware Birding Trail

​Though the weather is distinctly chilly in winter, Delaware is brimming with birds along the Delaware Birding Trail, which spotlights six distinct ecological regions. The state’s coast is globally recognized as an Important Bird Area. 

​In winter, follow the route along the ocean and bays to spot loons, gulls and gannets and to the ponds and marshes for waterfowl. Make your way through fields and forests to find woodpeckers and brown-headed nuthatches. Look for abundant wintering ducks and geese in the estuaries and inlets. And pinch yourself if you spot the rare “Ipswich” form of the Savannah sparrow sheltering among the dunes. 

Don’t miss: Watch bald eagles forage over the water in the Delaware River valley. And look for the more elusive golden eagle known to be nearby in the winter. 

spinner image a pair of male and female hooded mergansers floating in the water
The Greater Niagara Birding Trail offers an impressive range of wintering waterfowl, including mergansers.
Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Getty

5. Greater Niagara Birding Trail

​Prepare for an astonishing swirl of gulls on the Greater Niagara Birding Trail, one of the best places in the country to witness these raucous seabirds, with many species recorded and one-day counts of more than 100,000 birds. Among the whirling thousands, you might spot wintering Bonaparte’s, ring-billed or herring gulls.

​This trail follows the Niagara River as it showcases 36 viewing sites along the way. In winter, birds are easier to spot along this important migratory route because colonies flock to the river when nearby lakes freeze. The waterway is also home to an impressive diversity of wintering waterfowl, including mergansers, scaup, canvasbacks, common loons and long-tailed ducks.

​​Don’t miss: Away from the water’s edge, open-country terrain hosts rough-legged hawks, northern shrikes and common redpolls in winter. 

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