The words “spring migration” are enough to bring a gleam to any birder’s eye. Spring birding is legendary – birds are flaunting their very best and brightest colors as they prepare for mating season. Their journeys take them across hundreds and even thousands of miles, giving birders a chance to see a much wider variety of birds than usual. Though migratory birds can (and do) show up anywhere, some spots are better than others. A few things that make for an outstanding migratory birds hotspot include:
- Resting places before or after water crossings. Areas on the edges of large lakes, gulfs, bays, or oceans draw migrants as they rest in anticipation of their crossing, or recover from their extended efforts. Some examples include Magee Marsh and Point Pelee on the shores of Lake Erie.
- Stands of trees or water in otherwise open spaces. When birds journey across places like the Great Plains, any area of trees or large bodies of water become an immediate draw. The same goes for parks in urban places – Central Park is one of the impressive migratory birds hotspots of spring.
- Food and fresh water. When you’re crossing a desert or a large body of salt water, there’s little food and drinking water to be had. That makes places like the Dry Tortugas a real attraction for migrating travelers.
All those factors and more make the places listed below the perfect places to catch spring migration in all its glory. We’ve gathered a list of some of the best hotspots in each region. For each, you’ll find the link to its eBird page, a brief description, and a list of several nearby locations worth checking out. (Note that in some places, “nearby” could be 50 – 100 miles away.)
Before you go, be sure to research and find out about any fees or restrictions. Review recent eBird sightings to see what’s been showing up. Once you’re there, chat with other birders and find out where the best action is. Spring’s migratory birds bring folks together to discover the very best nature has to offer, and they’re almost always willing to share their finds. Finally, remember to be considerate to other birders, the natural areas, and the birds themselves.
Great Lakes and Midwest Migratory Birds Hotspots
Magee Marsh along the shores of Lake Erie has become known as the “Warbler Capital of the World” and Biggest Week in American Birding each May.
Birds & Blooms editor Kirsten Sweet says, “It has super easy walking paths that overlook Lake Michigan, and the spring birding is phenomenal!”
Birds gather here on the shore of Lake Michigan before continuing on their way north to their breeding grounds in the northern US and Canada.
Across Lake Erie from Magee Marsh sits the world-famous Point Pelee. As migrants cross over the lake, this point is one of the first pieces of land that they see, and many of them stop here to feed.
Tawas Point offers some of the best birding on Lake Huron. The spot attracts many migrating songbirds in spring.
Whitefish Point is a well-known location for the incredible number of waterbirds that migrate past the point that sticks out into Lake Superior. Thousands of ducks, loons, grebes, geese, and shorebirds pass through each spring.
Gulf Coast and Southeast Migratory Birds Hotspots
High Island is one of the most active spring bird migration hotspots on the Gulf coast. The whole High Island area is designed to be birder-friendly and is full of different hotspots.
Dauphin Island sits just off the the coast of Alabama. It’s one of the first places that migrants make landfall after flying over the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
This is the place to go for early migrants, since it’s so far south. The best site on the island is the South Padre Island Convention Center trails.
Remote Fort Jefferson is an amazing place to be when a fallout occurs. The only fresh water on the entire island is a small well, and since all of the birds need water, the well is the place to be!
The special secret that brings all the birds to this park in spring? Mulberry bushes! The sweet fruit provides the sugar kick migratory birds need after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. The best spot is the fountain and bushes behind the Ranger’s House at East Beach.
Northeast and Atlantic Coast Migratory Birds Hotspots
When a warbler species is named after an area, you know the birding is good! There are variety of different spots in the area for bird-watching, all with high tallies.
The “Central Park Effect” is real. Migratory birds see one oasis of green in a landscape of pavement, and head straight for it. Insiders say climbing Summit Rock near The Ramble is ideal for spotting migrants.
On the other side of Delaware Bay from Cape May, NJ, this is another important stop for migratory shorebirds. Go at low tide to see them foraging in the shallows by the thousands.
You’ll need a boat to get to this small island, but the payoff is incredible. Migrants land here later in the season since it’s so far north. During the month of May, the entire island is a migratory birds hotspot.
Specially-managed impoundments here support migratory, wintering, and breeding waterfowl. So it’s no surprise that shorebirds like American avocets and piping plovers are a specialty of this locale.
West Coast and Southwest Migratory Birds Hotspots
This national seashore is large and you’ll need several days to really do it justice. It’s a renowned place to see Pacific Flyway migrants, especially on the outer peninsula that projects 10 miles into the ocean.
Arizona is known as a birder’s paradise, and the San Pedro valley in spring helps prove that point. In addition to migrants, keep an eye out for area specialties like the Elegant Trogon.
In winter, the thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes are the draw for birders here. In the spring, as the water dries up, migrating shorebirds take their place, joined by warblers, vireos, and flycatchers.
Migrating shorebirds pass through Grays Harbor in enormous numbers each spring. Look for species like red knots, which spend the winter in southern South America, then fly all the way north to the Arctic Circle to breed each year.
This is the place to go for warbler fans, with more than 20 species regularly spotted during migration in late April to early June. The spring is a little tricky to find for newcomers, so check out these directions first.
Rocky Mountains and Great Plains Migratory Birds Hotspots
This privately-run ranch charges a small fee for entry, which most birders willingly pay for a chance to check out one of the best places to view migratory birds in the state. Check in at the ranch HQ and then follow the birding trail.
The main draw here is the migrating sandhill cranes, which stop to rest and feed in the Platte River in the tens of thousands. This amazing sight takes place from mid-February to April each year.
This 20,000 acre marsh is one of the most important areas in the U.S. for migratory shorebirds like sandpipers and terns. Sandhill cranes also pass through in huge numbers, as well as the occasional whooping crane flock.
On the northern end of Great Salt Lake, Bear River is a vital stopover for migrating shorebirds like black-necked stilts. A 12-mile auto loop allows for easy access to the wide array of birding sites in the refuge.
Like many areas in the west, Camas is an ideal place to view migratory shorebirds, but it draws plenty of songbirds passing through as well. The vegetation around the refuge office is an excellent place to start.
Help us add to the list! Share your favorite spring migratory birds hotspot in the comments below, and tell us what makes it special.