With millions of birds on the move with migration, fall can be spectacular for birding. It gets even better when you know exactly where to go to see the very best birds. Even though many birds leave in fall, there are still plenty of great birding locations to visit in this transitional season.
Find Birds in Habitats that Meet their Survival Needs
Food: In fall, top bird foods include the ripened seeds of weeds and grasses, late-season fruits such as grapes and apples, and abundant nut crops. Areas with prodigious amounts of bird-friendly berries are especially favored by autumn birds as they feed frantically before migrating.
Water: Autumn water can be either very abundant with seasonal rains or it may be entirely lacking after summer droughts. Birds need water, not only for drinking and bathing, but also for the aquatic plants, insects, and other foods it supports. Areas with more water will naturally support more fall birds.
Shelter: At this time of year, birds will shelter in coniferous trees, evergreen plants, brush piles, and rocky hillsides. Shelter will also protect birds from late summer predators that may be hunting more and bulking up before hibernation.
See also: How Bird Diets Change in Fall
Top Fall Birding Locations
The parks, preserves, and hotspots that will be best for fall birding will vary depending on local climate, recent weather patterns, geography, and available resources. However, there are certain types of areas that are better for fall birds. Birders that visit these areas are sure to see a wide variety of autumn’s best birds.
Migration pathways are focused by geography into popular corridors where many birds will migrate at once. These flyways are more likely to host higher numbers of seasonal migrants. Raptors, waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds are all seen in flyways. Many wildlife preserves, nature parks, and other protected lands are situated along them, and are prime birding hotspots during fall migration.
Many birds migrate along shores and coasts as they make their way south. Even resident birds are likely to take advantage of the resources along lake, pond, bay, and river shorelines, as well as oceanic coasts. Both the north and south shores of large bodies of water can be great fall birding spots. Traveling birds need to rest and refuel along their journeys before or after crossing the water.
Many migrating birds take advantage of thermals (warm air currents) alongside rocky cliffs and mountains to aid their soaring flight. Mountainsides overlooking broad valleys give birders a chance to see these migrants: spectacular kettles of raptors, hawks, and vultures. Not only are birders in the midst of the migrating flocks, but the elevated view can also make bird identification easier.
4. Geographic Bottlenecks
As birds migrate, they look for the easiest routes to follow and often use geographic landforms to guide their routes. Tight bottlenecks, such as canyons, mountain passes, isthmuses, and rivers bring migratory birds together. While the exact species vary based on the type of bottleneck, birders can always expect great fall sightings in these concentrated areas.
5. Vineyards and Orchards
Birds that eat fruit, including waxwings, catbirds, thrushes, grosbeaks, tanagers, and thrashers, can often be found in fall orchards or late season gardens that may still have thriving plants. Botanical gardens with abundant fall blooms can also attract hungry autumn birds, including hummingbirds if the flowers are rich with nectar. Even a small backyard garden or a grapevine lining a suburban fence can attract fall birds.
6. Agricultural Fields
After commercial harvests are finished, many agricultural fields are ideal spots to see sparrows, finches, cranes, blackbirds, pheasants, and quail. Spilled grain or leftover waste in the fields will attract these birds. Because the plants have been cut back or flattened, sightings can be much easier than if the plants were thick and lush. If fields are flooded, they may also be visited by tremendous flocks of ducks and geese.
7. Pine Forests
As birds seek out suitable shelter in late fall, coniferous forests can be ideal hotspots to see finches, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and jays. They all enjoy the bounty of pine nuts and seeds from these trees, as well as the shelter they offer. You can find owls and hawks in these forests as they hunt small rodents and other prey.
8. Water Treatment Plants
As smaller water sources begin to ice over in late fall, the broad, open water of water treatment plants can be attractive to birds. Furthermore, many water treatment facilities use the natural filtration of wetlands as a final step of the purification process. This creates extensive habitats around settling ponds. Ducks, geese, and other waterfowl find these habitats perfect, particularly in autumn.
9. Fall Birding Festivals
Many nature organizations and conservation groups plan fall festivals to highlight peak migration periods. Attending one of these festivals is a great way for birders to discover local autumn birding hotspots with experienced guides. You can return to those same hotspots over and over again long after the festival has ended.
See also: Fall is a Great Time for Bird Festivals
Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard
The very best autumn birding hotspot can be a birder’s own backyard. Fall foods, liquid water, and secure shelter will attract not only migrating birds, but also hardy residents that will stay in the area year-round. Woodpeckers, jays, titmice, chickadees, and many other species will happily visit backyard feeders in fall and winter. The more bird-friendly the yard, garden, and landscape is, the more birds will visit.