As the cold fronts swirl in, bird patterns are flocking. It’s time to pull out your wool sweaters, knee-high boots, and binoculars. That’s because the best way to celebrate the fall is to look up at the sky and watch our feathered friends as they migrate to and fro.
Whether you define yourself as a birder, a birdie, a twitcher, or have yet to cultivate your passion for watching birds in the early morning hours — this is the list you’ve been waiting for. The United States is home to forests and meadows of epic proportion, filled to the gills with aviators of all stripes and plumage. With over 10,000 species of birds in the world, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t grab a pair of binoculars, hop the next flight, and go stake out some seriously beautiful feathered friends. Bring along a drawing journal and some watercolors in case inspiration strikes.
Best places to birdwatch in the U.S.:
1. Cape May, New Jersey
Situated in the middle of a major flyway, this East Coast spot is a haven for traveling birds of all locations. Settle in during the right seasons, and you’ll be rewarded with millions of hawks, shorebirds, seabirds, and songbirds to boot.
Contact: Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center: (609) 884-2736. Center for Research and Education: (609) 861-0700. Cape May Point State Park: (609) 884-2159.
2. Everglades National Park, Florida
They call the Everglades a mecca for birds. In fact, the area was declared a national park in 1947 in order to protect its birdie inhabitants. There have been over 400 species of birds recorded in this 50 mile expanse of grassy river, and they include Florida specialties such as Snail Kites, Smooth-billed Anis, and White-crowned Pigeons. Check this area out December through April for the best views. (Save on a tour for the whole family when you use a Goodshop coupon to book with Gator Park Tours.)
Contact: Everglades National Park: (305) 242-7700. Audubon Society of the Everglades: (561) 588-6908.
3. Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Located on a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean, Point Reyes Seashore attracts birds from migratory patterns that map far and wide. This particular point is a perfect landing strip for travel weary aviators, as it offers saltwater estuaries, coastal scrub, freshwater wetlands, riparian corridors, and coniferous forests. The seashore alone has 120 nesting species! And, best of all, birders will be delighted to find a wide array of birds year-round.
Contact: Point Reyes National Seashore: (415) 464-5100. PRBO Conservation Science: (415) 868-1221.
4. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refugee, Texas
A jewel of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, this wildlife refuge is located at the ecological crossroads of a subtropical and desert climate. The result? Birds from all flyways funnel through on their journeys over the American continent. Santa Ana also boasts two very rare birds, the Tropical Parula and the Clay-colored Robin. Explore the refuge’s trails and wildlife drive for fun adventures, and consult Lonely Planet for great deals on nearby nature expeditions.
Contact: Santa Ana NWR: (956) 784-7500. Friends of the Wildlife Corridor: (956) 783-6117. World Birding Center: (956) 584-9156.
5. Acadia National Park, Maine
Hugging the Eastern coastline, Acadia national park glimmers next to Bar Harbor along the coast of Maine. The jagged shoreline, tidal pools, streams, and lakes attract 325 bird species throughout the year. Autumn sees a plethora of waterfowl and seabirds while spring and summer are a boon for songbirds. Save money by staying in the nearby town of Bar Harbor, and spend your mornings rowing upstream, surrounded by Maine’s best display of eagles, puffins, and loons.
Contact: Acadia National Park: (207) 288-3338. Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce: (207) 288-5103.
6. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Pennsylvania
With a name like Hawk Mountain, how could you resist? Located in central Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain boasts a truly phenomenal birding experience. An average of 20,000 birds of prey glide past this rickety lookout each fall, often mere yards away from onlookers. While the best months for hawk migration are coming up fast (September and October), you can catch some truly beautiful nesting songbirds in the late spring and early summer.
Contact: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: (610) 756-6961.
7. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York
Planning a trip through JFK airport in New York? Next time you swing through, make sure to visit the nearby Jamaica Wildlife Refuge — as it boasts a total of 330 species, including 72 nesting species! This 20 square mile green refuge exists in the middle of bustling urban life, and is a site not to be missed. The refuge is visited by everything from Eurasian Wigeon and Tricolored Heron to Osprey and Clapper Rails. (Never heard of them? Then all the more reason to give it a visit!)
Contact: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge: (718) 318-4340. Gateway National Recreation Area;.New York City Audubon Society: (212) 691-7483. Linnaean Society of New York: (212) 252-2668; Brooklyn Bird Club.