National parks at every latitude provide exceptional bird-watching opportunities throughout the year. But as migratory birds head south for the winter, astute bird-watchers take the hint and do the same. These seven national parks offer some of the best winter birding opportunities in the country.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Nearly 500 bird species have been recorded at California’s Point Reyes National Seashore. Winter can be the liveliest season here, as many birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway stop over on their way to habitats even farther south. Look for green-backed heron, hooded merganser, and ring-necked duck at Five Brooks Pond, or hike the Estero Trail to catch a rare glimpse of long-eared and great-horned owls in their natural habitat.
Cabrillo National Monument
The rocky tip of Point Loma Peninsula near San Diego is a sanctuary for all sorts of hummingbirds. Here, Cabrillo National Monument harbors Anna’s hummingbirds year-round, but many other species appear in late winter and early spring as they make their way north from Mexico. During these months, keep a sharp eye out for Allen’s, rufous, and calliope hummingbirds. Most impressively, and despite being rare species, clack-chinned hummingbirds and Costa’s hummingbirds are also not uncommon sights here.
Big Bend National Park
Bird-watching is all about location, and Big Bend National Park is perfectly situated right in the heart of the heavily trafficked Central Flyway. Thanks to this, the park provides a prime winter habitat for many migratory birds. Big Bend also hosts dozens of species year-round in its varied desert, mountain, and forest habitats, including white-winged dove, golden-fronted woodpecker, vermilion flycatcher, Scott’s oriole, and hepatic tanager.
Padre Island National Seashore
Corpus Christi has been awarded the title of “Birdiest City in America” 10 years running, so it’s no surprise that nearby Padre Island National Seashore is a bird-watcher’s paradise. During the winter months, migratory waterfowl find sanctuary in the park’s diverse habitat, which ranges from shores and wetlands to prairies and forests. Snow geese and ruddy ducks join sparrows, warblers, wrens, shrikes, gulls, terns, grebes, and many more as seasonal park residents.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
During the winter, one particular part of Louisiana hosts an incredible abundance of migratory birds. The Barataria Preserve lies on 23,000 acres of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve’s wetlands and shelters more than 200 bird species. Year-round residents like the snowy egret can be found here, as well as winter arrivals like the white-throated sparrow. The preserve is also home to flycatchers, warblers, thrushes, and six species of woodpecker.
Everglades National Park
Florida’s Everglades National Park is famous for its birds as much as its alligators. You can find a colorful ecosystem here year-round, but from December to April, something particularly special happens: Migratory birds from all over the Eastern Seaboard arrive to nest during the park’s dry season. Along the Anhinga Trail and other prime birding areas, look for several species of heron and egret, along with white and brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, and countless other species.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Located on an island 68 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park doesn’t quite have the stunning diversity of bird life found in many other parks. However, the birds that nest here do so in great abundance. This provides an amazing opportunity to witness waterbirds like gulls, terns, plovers, and sanderlings gather in some of the world’s largest droves.
It’s no secret that most birds head south for the winter. Some of the best bird-watching can be done during these months, so make the most out of this opportunity. Head to any of these national parks, don’t forget your binoculars, and if you get some good photos, share them with us on Instagram by using #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque.