Top Winter Birding Hotspots

There are plenty of great birds to see during the winter months, you just have to know what birding hotspots to hit!

Many birders long for spring and fall migration and forget that the winter months offer some incredible birding all throughout the United States! I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite winter birding hotspots that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Some of them will will allow you to experience a true northern winter feel while others will help you escape the cold and snow for a warmer climate.

1. Duluth, Minnesota – The famous Sax-Zim Bog outside of Duluth is a birding hotspot that is sure to give you that north woods winter feel while you see some very interesting bird species. If you can handle the snow and cold, you can expect to see several owl species including Great Gray and Snowy, a host of northern finches, Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, and many others! Yes, it might be cold but you might not even notice with all of the interesting birds around. OK, even the birds might not distract you from the freezing temperatures but you’ll still have fun! For more information about birding in this area, visit the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog website.

Snowy Owls are commonly found around the Duluth area.Rob Ripma
Snowy Owls are commonly found around the Duluth area.

2. Rio Grande Valley, Texas – If you would rather escape the snow and cold, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is the place for you! This part of the country offers you the opportunity to see several species that you won’t find anywhere else within the US including Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, and Red-billed Pigeon. In addition to the regularly occuring birds, the winter months are the best time to find rare birds in the Rio Grande Valley! Just this past week, a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat was found at Estero Llano Grande State Park. On some of my winter trips to the area, I’ve seen many rare birds including Rose-throated Becard, Golden-crowned Warbler, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Tropical Parula. The World Birding Center webpage is a good place to start if you are looking for additional information.

Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.
Green Jays are one of the most sought after species for birders making their first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

3. South Florida – South Florida is another one of the birding hotspots that allows you to escape to a warmer climate. The region is loaded with great birding hotspots that cover a variety of habitats from beaches to the Everglades to the Florida Keys. If you love herons and egrets, this is definitely the place for you. Not only are there a good number of species, I’ve found that this area is the best spot to get great photos of them. In addition to the herons and egrets, the beaches of south Florida are a great place to look for many shorebird species that will provide you with some great identification practice! The Everglades are also a great place for birding and you could really spend days exploring Everglades National Park. If you continue south, you’ll end up in the Florida Keys which seems like a different world compared to the Everglades. Currently, there is a Key West Quail-Dove on Long Key which is a very rare bird in the US! To learn more about this area, the Tropical Audubon Society offers good information.

One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.
One of the many herons that you can find in south Florida is the Tricolored Heron.

4. San Diego, California – I’ve always enjoyed birding in San Diego and the surrounding area. The weather is usually beautiful and there are many amazing birds to see. One of my favorite parts of birding in San Diego is that you can go from the ocean, up to the mountains, and then back down on the other side to the desert in one day. This allows you to see several different habitats and many different birds! You can learn more about birding in this area by visiting the San Diego Audubon Society.

One species that I always like to see when I'm in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.One species that I always like to see when I'm in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.
One species that I always like to see when I’m in San Diego is the California Gnatcatcher. I photographed this one at the San Elijo Lagoon.

5. Barnegat Light, New Jersey – This birding hotspot is a little different than the rest of the ones I’ve listed here. It’s along the East Coast and is famous for watching and photographing waterfowl. I made my first trip to this area last year and was blown away at the volume of waterfowl as well as how close you could get to them for photos. Some of the most sought after waterfowl species like, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks and all three scoter species can be seen here. In addition to the waterfowl, keep an eye out for some of the alcid, such as Dovekie and Razorbill, Great Cormorant, Purple Sandpiper, and Northern Gannet. More great information about this location can be found on the New Jersey Audubon website.

Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I've ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I've ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!
Barnegat Light, New Jersey is the best place I’ve ever been for photographing Harlequin Ducks!

Have you ever had the chance to visit any of these amazing birding hotspots?

Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.