Top Birding Trips to Escape the Winter Months

Many birders that live in the northern states look for any excuse to escape the cold. Head to these hotspots for a birding trip you'll never forget.

If you are like many birders, you’re looking for any excuse to escape the cold and snowy northern winters. Birding can give you the perfect excuse! These hot birding trips could be your ticket to a warm and bird-filled winter vacation! Psst—if you don’t mind cold weather, check out these birding hotspots for incredible winter birds.

Merritt Island Florida birding tripCredit: vinoverde / Alamy Stock Photo
Boardwalk at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge visitor center

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: Titusville, Florida

Special sightings: roseate spoonbill, reddish egret, Florida scrub-jay

Situated a few miles south of the Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island is one of central Florida’s best spots for a winter birding trip. An array of migratory waterfowl flock here in the thousands, which offers visitors chances to see hooded mergansers, northern pintails and many more.

Regular residents include some of Florida’s best species like the roseate spoonbill—and alligator sightings are pretty much guaranteed. Take the 7-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive through saltwater marsh and pine flatwoods for easy viewing of the refuge’s most fascinating creatures. Look for songbirds and raptors while hiking the Cruickshank Trail, and scan the roadsides toward Canaveral National Seashore for your best chance to see scrub-jays.

Also explore Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

green jay, birding trip, Gulf Coast of Texasmilehightraveler/Getty Images
A green jay stays in the thick shaded brush in Brownsville along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park: Hidalgo County, Texas

Special sightings: green jay, plain chachalaca, hook-billed kite

Spot Central American fliers without needing a passport. Take a winter birding trip to this Texas hot spot just north of the Mexican border. Late winter and early spring are primebirding seasons here, with very mild temperatures and abundant wildlife.

The feeders outside the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge visitor center attract southern favorites like Altamira orioles and golden-fronted woodpeckers. Hike the lake trails to see three types of kingfishers (green, belted and ringed) and plenty of other water lovers.

Twenty miles west, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park offers a two-story wheelchair-accessible Hawk Observation Tower to give you a true bird’s-eye view. Don’t miss the nearby National Butterfly Center, where plantings have attracted more than 230 butterfly species, including rare tropical visitors.

A short distance away, Corpus Christi has been called the “Birdiest City” in the U.S. and you’ll understand why after one visit! From Aransas National Wildlife Refuge north of town to Padre Island National Seashore to the south, you’ll find plenty of incredible birding areas around this city.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Cochise CO AZ / OCT AM Cottonwood & Tamarisk trees line the banks of the San Pedro River at FairbankRandy Prentice / Alamy Stock Photo
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area: Hereford, Arizona

Special sightings: ferruginous hawk, golden eagle, pyrrhuloxia

Southeast Arizona is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the United States. Deserts, canyons and isolated mountain ranges known as sky islands provide habitats for hundreds of avian species throughout the year.

Trails starting at San Pedro House, a historic estate in the park, route along the river through cottonwood forest. Here you’ll spot specialties like the Gila woodpecker, black phoebe and Abert’s towhee. In desert areas, look for curve-billed thrashers and wintering flocks of lark buntings.

Drive less than an hour east to the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area to see a massive gathering of more than 20,000 wintering sandhill cranes, along with other wading birds and waterfowl. Ferruginous hawks, the largest hawks in the U.S., are found here, too.

If you are looking for a winter birding trip to really escape and get away, Portal, Arizona, might be for you. Situated in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeast Arizona, this town is miles from anywhere but offers incredible birding!

Explore the beauty and history of Verde Valley, Arizona.

Hawaii Added to the ABA Area©Rob Ripma
The Maui parrotbill is one of the rarest birds in the world.

Hawaii

Sure, this location is much farther away for a birding trip, but who doesn’t want to spend some time on these fascinating islands. With Hawaii recently being added to the ABA area, many birders are making plans to visit. There are many beautiful species that are endemic to the islands, such as the Nene, Hawaii’s state bird. The Hawaii Audubon Society offers many details on the best hotspots on each island, including Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.!

Rob Ripma
Rob is a lifelong Indiana resident and co-owner of Sabrewing Nature Tours. He has birded extensively throughout the Americas and also spent time birding in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Rob is currently on the executive boards of two organizations: Past President of the Board of the Amos Butler Audubon Society in Indianapolis (after leading the board as President for 6 years) and Secretary for Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). He also serves as the field trip coordinator for BSBO’s Biggest Week in American Birding annual event. Rob sat on the executive board of the Indiana Audubon Society for three years as Treasurer and Vice President. He is a co-founder of the Indiana Young Birders Club and speaks at a variety of organizations and schools about birds and birding to share his knowledge and experiences in the field. His leadership and expertise led to Rob working as the primary bird blogger for Birds & Blooms Magazine from 2013-2017. Rob enjoys working with both new and experienced birders of all ages and believes that teaching people about birds will not only increase interest in birding but also help them better understand why we must work to protect them and their habitats. Additionally, he loves educating others about the positive impact nature tourism can have on local economies, especially in developing countries. This passion led to his involvement in the production of a PBS television program called, “Flight Path: The World of Migratory Birds”, where a crew accompanied him on a tour to Panama to highlight and bring to life the effect that birds and birding have on both the people that see them and those who work and live in areas visited by birders and nature lovers. Rob graduated from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in 2008 and lives in Carmel, Indiana with his wife and daughter.
Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.