American South

The Best Places in America to See Fall Bird Migrations

All across the country, birds are making the trek south for the winter—here are some of the best places to witness their journey

Geese lift off a lake in front of a sun pillar at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, Missouri. (© Mike Hollingshead/Corbis)

As summer turns to fall and leaves begin to turn, birds of all kinds begin to make their trek from cooler, northern breeding grounds to the warmer, southern areas where they'll spend the winter. With some of the flocks moving by the tens of thousands, the fall migration offers novice and expert bird watchers alike a chance to observe one of nature's great journeys. Fall is a particularly great time to catch birds on their southward migration, explains Scott Sillett, research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, because the fall migration lasts longer than the spring version, affording birders a better chance at seeing the birds in action. "They’re trying to get to where they winter, but they don’t have to immediately get there and set up shop and reproduce. It's a different pace of life in the fall," Sillett says. "And in the fall, you have more young birds on their first southern migration. There are more birds moving over a longer period of time."

The migrations of some birds, such as hawks, will be reaching their peak in the coming weeks, while other migrations, like waterfowl, will continue on through November. Want to get in on the action? Here are seven places all over the United States where you can see birds—from tiny hummingbirds to majestic bald eagles—as they make their way to warmer climes. 

Cape May Point, New Jersey

(Sharp shinned hawk. Credit: © Jonathan Blair/Corbis)

Through December, visitors to Cape May Point in southern New Jersey will be able to see waves of migrating hawks as the birds make their way south for the winter. Hawks aren't the only birds that use the peninsular area as a stopover during their southern trek: waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds also used the varied habitat of Cape May as a resting point during their migrations. "It's an all-around great birding location," says Geoff LeBaron, Christmas Bird Count Director at the National Audubon Society. The weekend of October 24, Cape May will host its Autumn Birding Festival, featuring organized bird-watching sessions, boat tours and educational programming.

Cape May attracts such a diverse number of bird species thanks to its own ecological variance—wetlands, marshes, forests and beaches can all be found in the area, providing birds with a wide range of habitat options. "Cape May is one of the best places to bird in the Eastern U.S. during migration," Sillett says.

Geographic location plays a huge part in making Cape May such a destination for migratory birds. "For birds migrating along [the Eastern] coast, that’s the last bit of land they encounter before crossing Delaware Bay, so you tend to get concentrations of birds there," Sillett says. "The hawk migration in the fall is just spectacular." Another place Sillett suggests for catching the hawk migration is Hawk Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania.


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