Birding Hotspots for Incredible Winter Birds

Updated: Jan. 08, 2024

These birding hotspots might be cold but you'll forget all about it when you see these incredible birds.

For many people, it might sound crazy to head north in the winter instead of south but serious birders know there are plenty of incredible birding hotspots to visit even when it’s freezing. Owls tend to be the main species that draws birders north in the winter but there are many more birds to see! Here are some of the best places to visit for winter birding.

Klamath Basin National Wildlife, winter birding hotspotsDesign Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
Snow geese migration in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge

Klamath Basin: Northern California and Southern Oregon

Special sightings: Barrow’s goldeneye, bald eagle, white-headed woodpecker

The Klamath Basin is a major layover on the famed Pacific Flyway. Multiple freshwater habitats—including lakes,rivers and marshes—attract wading birds and waterfowl in absolutely unbelievable numbers.

Snow geese, cackling geese and Ross’s geese are winter regulars, along with Clark’s grebes and common and Barrow’s goldeneyes. More than 500 bald eagles, the largest concentration in the continental U.S., spend winter around the Klamath Basin. Combine a drive along the 10-mile Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Auto Tour Route marshes with a trip to Lava Beds National Monument’s upland habitat to maximize the diversity of your sightings. Check out coast to coast birding hotspots for every season.

winter birding hotspots DelawareCredit: Robert W. Ginn / Alamy Stock Photo
A photographer at Cape Henlopen State Park

Cape Henlopen State Park and Delaware Seashore State Park: Sussex County, Delaware

Special sightings: snow bunting, long-tailed duck, razorbill

Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park offers views of both Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and is a haven for wintering geese, ducks and other waterbirds. You’ll find all three types of scoter here, alongside diving seabirds like northern gannets. Look closely at flocks of double-crested cormorants, as great cormorantsoften mingle with them. Scan the dunes for snow buntings or even the rare Lapland longspur.

Nearby Delaware Seashore State Park’s Indian River Inlet is another excellent location where you might spot pelagic species like razorbills, dovekies or murres. Discover the top 5 birding hotspots for fall migration.

niagara falls in winter, winter birding hotspotandreiorlov/Getty Images

The Niagara Birding Trail: Niagara and Erie County, New York

Special sightings: Iceland gull, peregrine falcon, harlequin duck

The Niagara River Corridor, which includes Niagara Falls and the Niagara Birding Trail, is a popular tourist destination and a special place for winter birders. If you love gulls, Niagara Falls is the place to be! Thousands of gulls can be seen here in winter. Waterfowl gather in multitudes, including many that breed in the far northern Arctic, like Iceland gulls and tundra swans.

Areas directly surrounding the falls, including Goat Island, are ideal places to look for up to a dozen gull species, with the possibility of rare visitors such as black-headed gull. Woodpeckers, nuthatches and titmice abound at feeders and along wooded trails on the Dufferin Islands, offering a tranquil break from the falls. Don’t miss the 51 best winter bird photos.

Birding Hotspots for Incredible Winter BirdsRob Ripma
It’s exciting to drive down the road and see snowy owls sitting on telephone poles.

Upper Peninsula: Michigan

Special sightings: Snowy owl, boreal chickadee

There are so many great places to go birding in the UP. From Sault Ste. Marie in the eastern UP all the way to the Kewenaw Peninsula in the west, you can spend at least a week visiting all the awesome spots. Highlight species include snowy owl, Canada jay, spruce grouse, evening grosbeak, and boreal chickadee.

Birding Hotspots for Incredible Winter BirdsRob Ripma
Canada jays are a fun species to spend time watching and photographing.

Duluth/Sax-Zim Bog: Minnesota

Special sightings: Great gray owl and Canada jay

This part of Minnesota is likely the most well-known winter birding destination. It tends to get more owls each winter than the UP and is really well developed with services for birders. In addition to being great for owls, you can find Canada jay, black-billed magpie, pine grosbeak, common redpoll, both red and white-winged crossbills, and plenty of gulls. It’s also a good spot to look for Gyrfalcon, as well as home to the National Eagle Center—a winter birding paradise! Meet the boreal birds of the Northwoods.

Birding Hotspots for Incredible Winter BirdsEric Ripma
Evening grosbeaks are one of the most beautiful feeder birds in the north.

Algonquin Provincial Park: Ontario, Canada

Special sightings: Winter finches

For a bit more of an adventure, head north of the border to this park that is northeast of Toronto, Canada. The bird feeders at this park are a great place to see tons of winter finches. Look for purple finches, pine siskins, common redpolls, red and white-winged crossbills, and evening and pine grosbeaks.