Special Report

Best Places to Birdwatch in Every State

Detailed Findings & Methodology

“Even in your own backyard you can do some pretty significant birdwatching,” Christie Vargo, center strategy specialist with the National Audubon Society in Columbus, Ohio, said. “It’s a matter of learning what birds are going to be in those specific habitats.”

Learning about the habitat preferences of birds can help a birdwatcher identify different species common to particular places. Hawks and owls inhabit forest or woodland; blue herons and swamp sparrows frequent wetlands such as bogs and swamps; and meadowlarks and bobolinks flit about grasslands or prairies.

The top birdwatching areas in each state have many characteristics in common. Many lie in designated wildlife areas such as national wildlife refuges and state parks. The protected lands offer birds a more natural place to build nests and find food away from humans.

Many of the areas are also near water, whether they’re rivers, marshes, lakes, oceans, or anything in between. Water is an ideal place to find the fish, worms, or bugs that many bird species rely on to survive.

David Ringer, chief network officer at National Audubon Society, says “ high species diversity usually means that the spot has a good habitat for birds – lots of food, water, and shelter.”

The most passionate of birdwatchers, or birders, travel the country to wildlife preserves and parks — from St. Paul Island in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Fort De Soto Park in Florida. They also attend festivals and special events nationwide, such as the annual Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration in the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Mississippi.

“A birder will follow wherever the bird is that they need to add to their life list,” said Vargo, referring to the term for a birder’s bucket list. “We’re getting a lot of snowy owls in Ohio, and birders are flocking to the locations where the snowy owls are right now.”

Yet as the popularity of birdwatching increases, so do the risks to birds. According to the science news website LiveScience.com, climate change is altering migration patterns, with migrations beginning earlier in the year. This is setting back the success of bird breeding and increases mortality rates of migratory birds not strong enough to make long journeys.

Audubon’s 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report shows that 314 species of North American birds are threatened by shifting and diminishing habitats because of a changing climate.

To preserve the future of our beaked friends, the National Audubon Society has created more than 2,500 Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas to identify and protect bird habitats from coast to coast.

In order to determine the best places to birdwatch in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed community-submitted data at ebird.org, a site created for birdwatchers to share and track data about what birds they see and where. Each area was ranked by the number of different bird species that have been seen at the site. The area with the most birds seen was determined to be the best place to birdwatch in the state.