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"Where and When do I Look for Birds?"

Written by Diego Segura

Photography by Hannes Burlin

Finding Your Next Adventure

Birdwatching is a pastime celebrated for its accessibility, where just about any patch of habitat has the potential to host birdlife. You could see vultures or hawks overhead, find small passerines in hedges and trees, or spot waterfowl feeding in lakes and rivers. We share a lot of spaces with wildlife (not just birds!), where oftentimes unique and interesting species are overlooked because their presence isn’t commonly known. As long as you’re respecting park boundaries and others’ property, there really is no place you can’t look for birds! Have fun discovering new and unique spots around you to find different species—these can be local parks, national forests, your backyard, and anything in between!

How Can I Find New Places to Look for Birds?

Whether you’re just starting out or have been listing for over a decade, finding your next birding hotspot can be a fun way to learn about your local habitats! One great tool for finding nearby parks or hotspots known by birders is eBird's hotspot finder, which uses maps and citizen science to display locations and their eBird webpages. By using citizen science data (i.e., bird lists reported by people logging their birds on the website or accompanying app), eBird is able to display recent bird sightings and species lists from the park level to the national level.

Interested in traveling for birds? If you’re in the U.S., check out Audubon’s page for travel, which lets you explore state-specific profiles and park information.

Visiting National Wildlife Refuges and state-run areas can help you learn more about local wildlife while supporting conservation and management! Refuges often charge admission fees to pay for the care, management, and monitoring of protected lands open to the public. By visiting refuges you can help contribute to their mission of preserving wildlife while educating birders and residents alike about protected spaces.

When do I Look for Birds?

As seasons shift and climactic conditions change throughout the year, many bird species might go through patterns of migration from one region to another. Across the world species rosters can change between winter residents and summer breeders, adding a unique mix of diversity with the changing seasons.

In northern and southern latitudinal extremes, migrants will fly from equatorial regions to their breeding grounds during their respective summer months; during the winters, these migrants will be replaced with hardier wintering birds. Migrant birds can include anything from small insect-eating warblers to sparrows and even hawks!

What is Migration?

If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you could imagine migrating birds just like road-trippers. Packing themselves with calories before their flights, birds might “stage” in one area whilst gorging themselves on anything and everything to prepare for their journey.

A good portion of birds are nocturnal migrants, meaning they will depart in the evening and land somewhere along their path in the morning—in such magnitudes that they can be recorded with weather imaging devices! And, just like taking a break at a rest stop to have a snack and stretch, birds stop in a variety of areas along their journey where they can refuel and prepare for the next leg of their flight.

What Does this Mean for Birders?

The active travel of species during migration months (whether northbound or southbound) allows us to see birds normally found within a narrow migration window, or who only appear in certain areas as brief visitors along their larger journeys.

While many species do seasonally migrate, others might just disperse amongst their local area without any true long-distance migration. What’s more, there are species that deviate from the traditional “north-south” migration pattern: seasonal elevation migrants, local dispersers, nomads, and more illustrate the ways in which birds can adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Discovering how diversity can shift with the time of year is a fun and insightful aspect of birdwatching! Using field guides, you can learn more about the expected species in your area and where their different ranges—year-round, winter, migratory, breeding, or accidental—fall in relation to your locality. You might be surprised to find the diverse cast of birds that call your area home!

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