USA’s 12 Birding Hotspots (2020 Summer Guide)

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Are you looking for a birdwatching holiday in the USA? With a massive variety in species and destinations, America has always been popular with bird-spotters, and is a great place to go if you want to see exotic and unusual birds in spectacular places. The USA is home to a vast number of dedicated bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and there are so many different types of habitat to visit from coasts to swamps, through mountains and creeks, that you will have trouble finding the best places.

James Morgan at BirdwatchingBuzz here tells you about the best places to go this summer on your birdwatching trip of a lifetime, and also highlights the species you can expect to encounter at each of the chosen spots, so read on and use this guide to help plan your trip!

1: Cape May, New Jersey

Located at the very southern point of New Jersey is Cape May, a wonderful place to watch a wide variety of birds at different times of the year. Early summer sees hosts of shorebirds come to the Cape to look for food – expect to see Ibis, Sandpiper, Willet and many more – while for many the highlight of Cape May is late summer, in particular September, when the spectacle of migrating hawks including Peregrine, Merlin and Osprey among others is something that simply cannot be missed.

2: Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Little more than 20 miles north of San Francisco is Point Reyes, a stretch of shoreline that is a dedicated nature reserve. This is a destination all-year around for birds of many kinds, and the variety could not be greater. You can expect to see Blue Warblers, Horned Puffin’s, King Eiders and a wide range of seabirds. Woodpeckers are abundant too in what is a great place for watching birds and a beautiful part of the California coast.

3: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park, Texas

Favoured in the late spring and early fall when migration takes place, Big Bend National Park is nevertheless an all-year destination with plenty of scope for spotters. This park, nestled in a curve on the Rio Grande, offers possible sightings of the rare Colima Warbler, as well as beautiful Vermilion Flycatchers and various species of bunting. Lucifer Hummingbirds can also be seen at Big Bend, which is itself worth a visit for the spectacular scenery it rests within.

4: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York City

Close to JFK airport, New York, is the wonderful Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, one of the best places for all-year birding in the region. Easy to reach and teeming with life, here you can see osprey in flight – and there’s little more spectacular – plus various Heron, Snow Goose, Eurasian Wigeon and many different waders and shorebirds. Popular with locals enjoying a day out and bird-spotters from across the world, Jamaica Bay is a must if you are visiting New York.

5: Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Among the best summer spots for watching songbirds is the beautiful Acadia National Park, on the coast of Maine at Bar Harbour. The park is home to no fewer than 21 nesting species of Warbler, making it a wonderful place to be if you love the songbirds. Also frequently seen are the spectacular Atlantic Puffin, Common Loon and Eider, Bald Eagles and Ospreys, all in a setting that is as charming as can be in one of the most beautiful parts of the USA. This is an all-year site, but is fabulous during migrating season too.

6: South-Eastern Arizona

Such is the abundance of birding destinations in the south east of Arizona, it would be unfair to single any one out. Try and visit any of Cave Creek Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Saguaro National Park and Madera Canyon if you are visiting the area, and that’s not a complete list! The species that can be seen here are plentiful and wonderful at once, and include everything from Mexican Jay and Gray Hawk to a variety of Hummingbirds and a spotters favourite, the Painted Redstart. No matter the time of year you visit, this part of Arizona is not just spectacular, it’s also unique.

7: Monterey Bay, California

Offering one of the most diverse selections of species in all of the USA, Monterey Bay – a glorious 30 mile long stretch of California coast some 90 miles south of San Francisco – is a favourite with birdwatchers thanks to being easy to get to and the fabulous opportunities. Birds seen here include the Black-footed Albatross, a sight not to be missed, plus at the other end of the size scale the wonderful Anna’s Hummingbird goes about its daily business. Seabirds abound, too, and among the sanctuaries in the area you can find Elkhorn Slough, a massive area of wetlands where grebes, cormorants and many other water birds congregate. Simply not to be missed, Monterey Bay is a birding paradise.

8: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida

Although favoured for birding in the spring, when the nesting season is in full flow, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a great place for all-year birdwatching and offers some exciting opportunities. Wildlife photographers come here to try and get a shot of the American Bittern and White Ibis – often seen in the open here but usually very secretive – and also seen frequently are the spectacular Swallow-Tailed Kite and Red-shouldered Hawk, plus a variety of waders and songbirds. Just 16 miles from Fort Myers beach, this is an easy to reach spotters delight and one that should not be missed.

9: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Texas is a great birdwatching state, and we have already mentioned one place to visit earlier in the list. Santa Ana offers something very special, being rife with raptors and songbirds as well as many other spectacular birds. Expect to see the Plain Chachalaca, Hook-billed Kite, Gray colored Robin and many more. Thousands of hawks are known to be seen in a single day, such is the bird-life around here, and this easy to find refuge is a very popular one on birding tours.

10: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Pennsylvania

Pay a late-summer visit to the glorious Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and you are in for a treat. Hawks, Falcons, Eagles and more all use this as a stopping point on their southern migration, and it’s a sight that simply has to be seen. People come from all over the world to experience this magnificent sight. In the early summer, the Mountain is home to nesting songbirds of many different varieties, a completely different scene to that later in the year. Not far from the city of Hamburg, this is one for any birding tour of the USA.

11: Crane Creek State Park, Ohio

Located on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie is the Crane Creek State Park, one of the prime birding spots in the state of Ohio. This is the place to spot a wide range of waders and shorebirds, as well as water birds and a selection of warblers. Trumpeter and Tundra Swan can be spotted here along with the spectacular Green Heron, while Bald Eagles can often be seen around the area, and are always a glorious sight as they soar on their amazing wings. Some 22 miles from Toledo, this is an easy park to reach and one that is very popular throughout the year.

12: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

There are few places like Bosque del Apache to spot spectacular and rare birds, and this is one destination you should have high on your list of birding locations. Admittedly, this is a park that is famous for its winter spectacular when many species of Geese arrive en masse, and leave together, but there’s plenty here for the summer months too. Cranes and Quail are also to be found here, in what has to be one of the most wonderful places to settle down and watch birds. Just a few miles from San Antonio, mark this one as somewhere to visit when you’re on your birding trail.

Final Word

The above is by no means a comprehensive list of birdwatching spots in the USA, as there are many more that are worth visiting for their own reasons. The many lakes and wetlands across America offer excellent opportunities for birding, as do the various National Parks. With plentiful places to go, you can even plan a single state visit and still get to see some quite wonderful, rare and exotic birds.

Travel in the USA is also easy to arrange, so whether you are driving yourself (rental car prices here) or going by public transport there are coach and rail services that can get you to all corners of the country. Few other countries offer such variety in terms of locations and species, so why not start planning now? be sure to include a coastal destination among your chosen spots, and certainly head to one where you stand a good chance of seeing the Bald Eagle in flight, as it really is breath-taking something to be savoured. Enjoy your birding in summer 2020!

James Morgan

James Morgan is an avid birdwatcher, traveler, and writer.