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Feel that? Spring is in the air. And it’s not just us — birds can feel it, too. The seasonal change welcomes waves of migratory species, inspiring avid birdwatchers to get out and spot their favorite feathered friends when they come to town. And in the U.S., avian enthusiasts have no shortage of options — from lush marshlands to maritime forests, here are six birding hot spots to check out this spring.
Rio Grande Valley, Texas
Hundreds of bird species return from their warm winter holiday in Latin America and the Caribbean and flock to Texas after the strenuous 18-hour Gulf of Mexico crossing. They come to rest and refuel in the marshlands and woodlands of the Rio Grande Valley, making this an ideal spot for birdwatchers to post up. The descent after the flight is known as “bird fallout,” when weary migrating birds touch down on the first land they’ve seen since their departure. Over 500 species of birds have been recorded in this area, from songbirds like the long-billed thrasher to shorebirds such as sandhill cranes.
If you have a passion for raptors, look no further than the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania. A push from conservationists in the 1920s and 30s led to the establishment of the first refuge for birds of prey in this small city outside Allentown. At the time, birds of prey were being hunted for sport from the top of Hawk Mountain in Kempton. Thanks to the efforts from conservationists Richard Pough and Rosalie Edge, the area grew to encompass 2,600 acres of protected habitat, and now it's a major flyway for 16 species of migrating raptors. April and May are the peak months to witness spring migration. Spotting magnificent birds of prey like the bald eagle, cooper’s hawk, and osprey from your mountaintop perch is an unforgettable experience.
Monhegan Island, Maine
This birder’s paradise off Maine’s Mid-Coast offers quintessential New England natural beauty — and it’s a major hot spot for migrating birds in the spring and fall. Monhegan Island requires an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from the mainland, and while the coastal scenery alone makes the trip worthwhile, birders come to the island to witness thousands of birds touchdown to break and refuel amongst Monhegan’s lush vegetation. Along with resident birds and some rarer species (like the Hermit Warbler and Calliope Hummingbird), practically all migrant species in the Eastern United States have been spotted here.
Dry Tortugas, Florida
These far-flung islands are located 67 miles off the coast of Key West, making them the most remote place on this list. However, for those eager to witness a spectacular migratory show, Dry Tortugas is a bucket-list destination. The location of the islands makes them a crucial stopover point for migrant birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America. Dry Tortugas is one of the few safe havens along this route, welcoming roughly 300 different kinds of migrating birds, from fork-tailed flycatchers to bananaquits. As an added bonus, the resident species — including the masked booby — are remarkable, too!
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
This northern California protected coastal area is a premier birding destination for North American species. Located along the Pacific Flyway, it covers 70,000 acres of lush habitat on a massive peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The region attracts 490 species of birds throughout the year — over 50% of all bird species found in North America and more than any other U.S. national park site. The bird population in Point Reyes National Seashore swells in spring, when migratory sea birds such as cormorants, common murres, pigeon guillemots, loons, and surf scooters return to the seashore. Raptors, flycatchers, warblers, sandpipers, and woodpeckers are also commonly spotted here.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Covering approximately 20% of North Carolina’s coastline, Cape Hatteras National Seashore features 68 miles of barrier islands, most of which are located in the Outer Banks. The area’s extensive maritime forests, freshwater marshes, and dune habitats have earned it a reputation as one of the best birding locations on the East Coast. While birdwatching is enjoyed year-round here, it’s particularly lively in the spring when migrating birds use the barrier islands as a rest stop, nesting ground, and feeding center. Pelicans, herons, ospreys, and migrating songbirds are just some of the species you can expect to encounter.