10 Top Birding Destinations in the United States

Flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Bobbushphoto / Getty Images

There are many amazing places to spot birds across the United States, but a few stand out as particularly special. Some locations are appealing for their sheer abundance of birds. With 530 species, Alaska holds the title for the state with the most bird species in the United States. Many birding locations are important stopovers for migrating birds, making them extra special during spring and winter seasons. Some places are home to unique species that are likely once-in-a-lifetime birds for even the most experienced birders.

Here are 10 top birding destinations in the U.S.

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Nome, Alaska

Semi-palmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) adult with brooding chicks on the ground in Nome Alaska

Danita Delimont / Getty Images 

Starting in late May, birders flock to this beautiful, remote stretch of tundra to catch sight of species in spectacular breeding plumage, from mergansers to Pacific golden plovers. Hundreds of species migrate to Nome: from bristle-thighed curlews and arctic terns, to red-necked grebes, red-necked phalaropes, and red-throated loons.

Only three roads lead out from Nome, and each offers a different viewing opportunity. Plovers are easily viewed along Nome-Teller Road, while Kougarok Road leads to a location where bluethroats may be spotted by the lucky and extra observant. Nome-Council Road leads to Safety Sound, an estuary and nesting area for Aleutian and Arctic terns. Nome is a remote location that involves a long travel time so plan to stay for at least four or five days to be able to take in all the sights and check off as many boxes on your species list as possible.

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Mount Desert Island, Maine

adult common loon with black and white coloring floating on the water with a baby loon on it's back

Harry Collins / Getty Images

Part of Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island offers a broad range of species thanks to a mix of habitats including coastline, bog, forest, and bare mountain peaks. It is a great place to go birding at any time of year, though seasonal migrations and nesting season offer extra special opportunities.

Year-round, visitors can spot residents including bald eagles, gray jays, and black guillemots. Seasonal inhabitants include nesting Atlantic puffins, a variety of warblers, and bobolinks. The Acadia Birding Festival is held in June of each year on Mount Desert Island, and is an ideal opportunity to mingle with fellow birders while exploring the area.

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Grand Isle, Louisiana

pair of least terns on the beach at Grand Isle, Louisiana

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A barrier island in Louisiana, Grand Isle honors its avian visitors each spring with the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration. The annual festival brings awareness to conserving what remains of this small but important forest habitat for birds. The area is best known for warblers, but visitors can also spot around 100 different species of songbird as well as swallow-tailed kites, terns, skimmers, pink roseate spoonbills, and many other species.

The oak forests that remain on Grand Isle provide essential cover, food, and refuge to migrating birds.

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Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Pair of sandhill cranes standing with their wings outstretched in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

ElementalImaging / Getty Images

The 57,331-acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is best known for its enormous congregations of migrating sandhill cranes. There is even a four-day festival in November celebrating their migration. But this beautiful species certainly isn't the only reason why birders arrive in droves to the desert oasis. 

The refuge also serves as a breeding ground for 100 bird species, and the total number of species observed is over 400. Waterbirds, including ducks and geese, and terrestrial birds, including Gambel's quail, roadrunners, and pheasants, are commonly spotted. Raptors, including bald eagles, golden eagles, northern harriers, and several species of hawks and falcons, can be spied hunting for prey. Songbirds are abundant as are gulls. And of course, the mountain scenery is second to none.

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Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

Canada geese in a salt marsh at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

Raymond Gehman / Getty Images

Though you can spot marsh birds and bald eagles year-round at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the real spectacle is the thousands of migrating ducks and geese that stop by every spring and fall. The refuge was created as a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl and they certainly flock to it. Forest, marsh, and shallow water provide a variety of habitat for black ducks, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, wigeon, and pintails. 

As for raptors, excluding Florida, the refuge boasts the greatest density of nesting bald eagles in the eastern United States. Ospreys are also common, as are owls, woodpeckers, and wild turkeys. Smaller species including warblers, vireos, orioles, and flycatchers can also be sighted. It is a rich habitat sure to delight the visiting birder.

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Cave Creek Canyon, Arizona

Blue Mexican Jay, Chiricahua National Monument Arizona

Federica Grassi / Getty Images 

Found in the Chiricahua Mountains, Cave Creek Canyon offers incredible birding year-round. There are 375 different bird species in this location, including the Mexican jay, Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, verdin, and the curve-billed thrasher. 

Raptors range from the Western screech-owl to the zone-tailed hawk and the golden eagle. Among the more exotic is the elegant trogon, a treasure for any birder to see. Only around two dozen of these elusive birds are spotted in the canyon each summer. This location is also famous for hummingbirds. Nearly every hummingbird species in Arizona can be viewed in the canyon. 

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Monterey Bay, California

pelican flying along the coast in Monterey Bay, California

Mark Miller Photos / Getty Images

Known primarily for whale watching, sea otter spotting, and one of the best aquariums in the nation, Monterey Bay is also a must-visit for birders. Off the coast, one can spot black-footed albatross, tufted puffins, jaegers, shearwaters, and alcid. Closer to shore, birders can check pelicans, California condors, Townsend’s warblers, snowy plovers, and cormorants off their lists. 

Wintering shorebirds are found by the thousands during migration season, as well as warblers and passerines. The abundance and diversity of birds in Monterey is as rich as that of the underwater marine life for which the bay is famous. The annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival in September is a great way to participate in events with other birders while observing an abundance of unique bird species.

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Everglades National Park, Florida

pair of pink roseate spoonbills wading in the water at Everglades National Park, Florida

ArendTrent / Getty Images

December to March is prime birding time in Everglades National Park, one of the country's largest national parks. Visitors can spot as many as 360 different species of bird in this stunning and unique watery habitat. The anhinga, also known as the snake bird or water turkey, can be found here, as well as the roseate spoonbill, the white ibis, the purple gallinule, several heron species, and many shorebirds. A wide variety of duck species and marsh birds also call Everglades National Park home.

The ponds are thick with a diversity of species and birders can simply stand at the water’s edge and check species off their list. There is wildlife everywhere — remember to check the flowering shrubs for hummingbirds, and the trees for warblers, woodpeckers, owls, and hawks.

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Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California

fire-eyed grebe in Tule Lake, California

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Tule Lake is among the best areas to view the largest number of bird species in one location, primarily because it is a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. Part of an area that includes four national wildlife refuges and thousands of acres of private farmlands, Tule Lake is a 39,116-acre refuge and breeding area for wild birds and animals. Everything from waterfowl to raptors, from shorebirds to songbirds can be found here. Pelicans, gulls, terns, and diving ducks make use of the deeper wetlands, while rails, ibis, egrets, and herons benefit from the cattails in the shallows. 

Smaller species include the marsh wren, yellow-headed black bird, northern oriole, and yellow-rumped warbler. Hundreds of bald eagles can be found here in winter. To allow wildlife photographers the opportunity to get closer to species while remaining concealed, Tule Lake has photography blinds available for reservation.

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Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

an orange colored a Ptarmigan sitting on a pile of rocks near green plants in the Denali State Park, Alaska

mlharing / Getty Images

Denali is a hotspot for viewing all kinds of amazing wildlife, including birds. About 160 bird species have been recorded in the park, most of them seasonal. In spring, you can witness the nesting behavior for everything from golden eagles to black-capped chickadees. The rare northern hawk owl also calls the park home. Many raptor species including gyrfalcons, northern goshawks, merlins, and peregrine falcons can be found here. So too can water birds in abundance, including wigeons, shovelers, scaups, long-tailed ducks, loons, mergansers, and scoters. Resident birds include the willow ptarmigan, great-horned owl, and the downy woodpecker.

The various habitats of forests, riparian corridors, shrubland, tundra, ponds, and lakes all provide a wonderful variety of species sightings, as well as breathtaking landscapes.