When to Go Birding

Birdwatching, or birding, is a popular hobby that involves observing wild birds in their natural habitats. Choosing the optimal time to go birding depends on several factors, including the species you hope to see, seasonal migration patterns, breeding seasons, and weather conditions. With proper planning, you can maximize your chances of seeing a diverse range of species and witnessing interesting bird behaviors.

Prime Birding Seasons

The peak birding seasons vary by region and the types of birds you want to spot. However, some general guidelines can help you determine the best times to go birding.

Spring Migration

Spring migration typically occurs from March to May as birds fly north to their breeding grounds. This is an exciting time as colorful tropical species pass through and temperate nesters arrive. Warblers, orioles, tanagers, and other songbirds flock to woodlands and wetlands. Waterfowl also migrate through wetland areas.

Mid-March to early June is usually the peak spring migration period in most of North America. However, the exact timing varies by location and species. Checking regional migration forecasts can help you plan trip dates.

Summer Breeding Season

Summer offers opportunities to see nesting birds, observe interesting breeding behaviors, and spot juveniles. Resident backyard birds are very active as they build nests and care for young. Wetlands come alive with ducklings and goslings. Many birds are in their bright breeding plumage.

June and July are ideal for seeing nesting songbirds in temperate forests. Coastal areas may have active shorebird and seabird nesting colonies. Timing varies by region and species, so research local breeding seasons.

Fall Migration

Fall migration typically occurs from August to November as birds head south to their wintering grounds. Like spring, a wide variety of species migrate through various habitats. Well-known migration hotspots host clouds of birds.

August to early October is the peak fall migration window for most of North America. Focus on coastal areas, lakes, forests, and grasslands. Shorebirds, hawks, egrets, warblers, and swallows are some migrating species to spot.

Winter Birding

Many excellent winter birding opportunities exist, especially in temperate regions. Waterfowl and raptors concentrate in large numbers. Irruptive boreal finches like pine siskins may visit backyard feeders. Grassland sparrows forage in open fields. Unique species like snow buntings and snowy owls visit northern latitudes.

November to February offers cold-weather birding fun. Check local hotspots for overwintering species. Feeder-watching and winter bird counts also engage birders during these months. Plan for winter weather and bring plenty of warm layers.

Key Locations and Habitats

Certain habitats and birding hotspots host a high diversity and density of species during peak migration and breeding. Target these locations for your trip planning.


Freshwater and tidal marshes, lakes, ponds, and rivers attract waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and other water-loving species. Many songbirds also rely on wetlands during migration or nest in adjacent shrubs. Visit wetland preserves or national wildlife refuges for prime birding.


Oceans, beaches, bays, and estuaries offer shorebird and seabird hotspots, especially during migration. Scan for gulls, terns, alcids, petrels, and more. Coastal forests and dunes provide habitat for songbirds and raptors.


Deciduous and mixed forests come alive with colorful migrant warblers, vireos, tanagers, and thrushes during spring and fall. Search the canopy and understory for birds. Forests also host nesting owls, woodpeckers, and hawks during summer.


Prairies, meadows, pastures, and fields provide essential habitat for sparrows, bobolinks, meadowlarks, and other grassland specialists. Look for these species during the breeding season or as they winter in tropical grasslands.


Don’t overlook birding right in your backyard, especially if you landscape with native plants and offer supplemental food and nesting sites. You may attract a diversity of residents and migrants.

Ideal Times of Day

Bird activity fluctuates throughout the day. Generally, early mornings and late afternoons are best for spotting the most species.

Dawn Chorus

Many birds sing at dawn to declare territories and attract mates. Their melodious chorus provides a magical birding experience. Arrive before sunrise, listen for songs and calls, and watch for birds leaving roosts. Spring and summer mornings are ideal times to enjoy the dawn chorus.

Early Mornings

The few hours after sunrise host the greatest bird activity, as birds fan out to feed. Arrive just after dawn to spot species that quiet down once the morning heat intensifies. Temperatures are also cooler for comfortable birding.

Late Afternoons

Birds often perk up again late in the day as temperatures cool. Return to productive birding spots in the late afternoon to catch more species that only vocalize and move at that time. Watch for roosting behavior too.


Stay until dusk to witness spectacular flights among swallows, swifts, and bats as they hawk insects. Listen for the haunting calls of nighthawks and owls. Sunsets also lend beautiful backdrops for photographing birds.

Weather Considerations

Weather significantly impacts bird distribution, activity, and migrations. Plan your trips around the following conditions:

Wind Conditions

Avoid extremely windy days that ground migrant songbirds. However, raptors often ride wind currents, making windy days excellent for hawk migration. Light southerly winds during spring and north winds during fall can promote migrations.

Stormy Weather

Inclement weather like dense fog, driving rain, or storms tends to depress bird activity. However, storms may trigger large migrations of songbirds and waterfowl once they pass. Hit prime spots the days after stormy weather.

Cold Fronts and Warm Fronts

Cold fronts in spring and fall can create ideal conditions for migrating birds. Warm fronts may trigger insects to emerge, attracting feeding birds. Check weather maps and plan trips accordingly.

Sky Conditions

Birds vocalize and feed more actively on sunny days with limited cloud cover. However, an overcast sky can make spotting hawks easier. Avoid birding in extremely dense fog.

Special Events and Bird Fests

Another strategy is timing your trip around a bird festival or special event. Many birding hotspots and organizations host annual festivals with expert-led tours, keynote speakers, and social activities. These events draw birders from across the globe, providing camaraderie and often special access to birding locations. They concentrate expert birders during peak viewing seasons.

Some major bird festivals in North America include:

  • The Biggest Week in American Birding in Ohio in May
  • Midwest Birding Symposium in Ohio in September
  • Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Annual Convention in Colorado in October
  • Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Texas in November
  • Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Florida in January
  • Godwit Days in California in April
  • Warbler Week in Wisconsin in May
  • Skagit Valley Birdfest in Washington in February

Check festival schedules as you plan your birding adventures. Whether you want to enjoy songbird migrations, hawk flights, breeding behaviors, or specialty species, well-timed birding trips will help you make the most of your outings. Just grab some binoculars, field guides, and proper outdoor apparel and start exploring the world of birds!

Beginner’s Guide to Birding Gear

Starting birdwatching for the first time and unsure what gear you need? As a beginner birder, having the right equipment will make observing and identifying birds much easier and enjoyable. Follow this guide to assemble your essential birdwatching kit step-by-step:


A good pair of binoculars tops the list of must-have gear. Binoculars allow you to magnify distant birds and discern field marks for identification. For birding, select:

  • Magnification: 7x, 8x or 10x power
  • Objective lens diameter: 30mm to 42mm
  • Features: phase-corrected, waterproof, fogproof, rubber armor coating

Brands like Nikon, Pentax, and Zeiss offer excellent birding binoculars. Be sure to test models for a comfortable fit.

Field Guide

A field guide is vital for identifying the birds you spot. Peterson and Sibley make the top guides. Choose a portable paperback designed for your region. A beginner’s guide with only common species may be less overwhelming.

Notebook and Pen

Keep a small notebook and pen to log details like date, time, location, weather, bird species seen, and numbers. This creates helpful records. Use pencils in wet weather.

Clothing and Gear

Dress for the environment and weather. Essentials include:

  • Neutral-colored clothing like greens, browns or grays
  • Hat, long sleeves, and pants to protect from sun, wind, rain, and insects
  • Sturdy hiking shoes or boots
  • Lightweight, breathable layers for variable temperatures
  • Raingear
  • Small backpack or vest to carry gear

Bird Feeders (Optional)

Consider placing bird feeders in your yard to attract species and observe behaviors. Offer black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, and suet. Clean and disinfect feeders regularly.

Camera or Spotting Scope (Optional)

Bringing a camera with a long lens or a spotting scope allows closer views of birds and photographs. But save these for when you have more experience.

Starting simple with essentials like binoculars and a field guide gives you freedom to discover the fun of birdwatching! As your skills grow, you can always add more advanced equipment to your birding repertoire.

Tips for Identifying Birds

One of the most rewarding yet challenging aspects of birdwatching involves identifying species. With a little practice, you can master ID techniques:

Study Field Guides

Familiarize yourself with birds in your area by studying field guide photos, range maps, and descriptions. Understanding key field marks will build your identification skills.

Observe Size and Shape

Note overall size and proportions relative to common backyard birds. Also observe key body parts like bill shape, wing shape, tail length, and feet.

Look at Plumage Patterns

Plumage patterns provide crucial ID clues. Note markings on the head, back, chest, wings, and tail. Compare plumage colors and patterns to guide illustrations.

Listen to Sounds

Recognizing songs, calls, chip notes, and wing beats aids identification. Use audio bird ID apps and CDs to become familiar with vocalizations.

Consider Behavior

Behaviors like flight pattern, posture, feeding style, and habitat use can help distinguish similar species. Compare actions to field guide descriptions.

Use Range Maps

Consider a bird’s expected range and habitat. Cross-reference location with range maps in the field guide. However, remember that vagrant birds can occur outside expected ranges.

Take Notes

Record field marks and behaviors in a notebook or use an app. Include date, location, weather, time of day and other details to help distinguish between similar species later.

With practice over time, identifying birds will become easier and more automatic. Patience as you build your skills is key!

Backyard Bird Feeding Tips

Backyard bird feeding provides an easy, enjoyable way to observe a variety of bird species up-close. Follow these tips to attract more birds to your feeders:

Offer Diverse Foods

Different birds prefer different seeds, nuts and other foods. Provide millet, sunflower seeds (black oil and striped), nyjer thistle, peanuts, suet cakes, fruit halves, and nectar for hummingbirds.

Use Quality Feeders

Invest in sturdy, well-designed feeders that protect seed from weather and accommodate desired types. Clean regularly to prevent disease transmission.

Set Up Bird Baths

Birdbaths provide drinking and bathing water sources. Choose shallow basins with sloped sides, rough texture for grip, and dripper or mister. Keep water clean.

Strategically Place Feeders

Situate feeders near trees and shrubs for birds to take cover, but ensure a clear flight path. Distribute feeders to minimize competition.

Limit Use of Pesticides

Avoid pesticides that may poison birds or kill off insect food sources. Use natural controls instead. Also provide native plants.

Sit Quietly and Be Patient

Allow birds time to find and feel comfortable with new feeders. Sit quietly at a distance and move slowly while refilling or cleaning.

Identify and Document Visitors

Keep field guides and binoculars handy to identify feeder birds. Maintain a log to track species and interactions over time. Enjoy your feathered friends!

Attracting Hummingbirds

Few sights compare to tiny, iridescent hummingbirds hovering at nectar feeders or delicately perched on blossoms in the garden. Attract these aerial acrobats to your yard with these tips:

Get a Feeder

Get a specialized hummingbird feeder with red coloring and feeding ports for hummingbird access. Select sturdy plastic or glass styles that are easy to clean.

Use Proper Nectar

Fill with premixed white refined sugar and water nectar (4 parts water to 1 part sugar). Boil then cool before filling. Avoid red dyes, honey, and artificial sweeteners.

Choose Blooms

Hummers are attracted to tubular red, orange, pink or purple flowers. Plant nectar-rich annuals like fuchsia and salvia. Also cultivate flowering perennials, trees, and shrubs that bloom through the season.

Supply Water

Provide a water source like a mister, dripper, or shallow birdbath for drinking and bathing. Hummers also collect insects from water surfaces.

Strategic Placement

Situate feeders and flowering plants in open areas for easy hummer access. Nearby small trees and shrubs offer perches and night roosts.

Eliminate Pesticides

Avoid pesticides that can poison hummers or kill flower pollinators and insect prey. Let natural pest controls thrive.

Clean Regularly

Change nectar every few days and clean feeders thoroughly to prevent mold and bacteria. Use a bottle brush designed for hummer feeders.

Be Patient

It may take a week or two for hummingbirds to discover and regularly return to your habitat. But the reward will be a dash of vibrant color from these energetic gems!

Common Feeder Birds in the Eastern U.S.

Setting up bird feeders is a great way to learn bird species. Here are 12 common feeder visitors in the Eastern United States:

Northern Cardinal

  • Bright red male and tan female
  • Eats black oil sunflower seeds, safflower, millet, suet
  • Found year-round across eastern U.S.

Blue Jay

  • Crested blue, white and black birds
  • Eats sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet
  • Lives in eastern and central woodlands

Tufted Titmouse

  • Gray with white face and crest
  • Prefers oil-rich sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet
  • Year-round eastern U.S. forest resident

Black-capped Chickadee

  • Plump gray-and-black bird with namesake cap
  • Feeds on black oil sunflower seeds, suet
  • Found year-round across northern U.S.

Mourning Dove

  • Light brown dove with slender tail
  • Eats millet, safflower, cracked corn, sunflower
  • Common year-round in rural areas and suburbs

Carolina Wren

  • Reddish-brown with white eyebrow stripe
  • Eats suet, peanut hearts, hulled sunflowers
  • Year-round Southeast resident

American Goldfinch

  • Bright yellow body and black-and-white wings
  • Eats oil-rich nyjer thistle, hulled sunflowers
  • Found year-round in weedy fields, yards

Carolina Chickadee

  • Gray chickadee with black cap and bib
  • Feeds on black-oil sunflower, safflower, suet
  • Southern counterpart to the Black-capped

House Finch

  • Reddish-brown finch with bold streaks
  • Prefers black oil sunflower and nyjer
  • Common suburban resident of eastern U.S.

White-breasted Nuthatch

  • Blue-gray bird with white face and belly
  • Likes oil-rich sunflower, peanuts, and suet
  • Found year-round in eastern forests

Downy Woodpecker

  • Black-and-white woodpecker with red spot
  • Eats suet, sunflower hearts, shelled peanuts
  • Common forest year-round resident

Dark-eyed Junco

  • Slate-gray with white belly
  • Prefers millet and cracked corn
  • Seen in eastern U.S. in winter

Watch for these visitors during different seasons. Offering preferred foods will entice them to stay and allow close observation.

Common Feeder Birds in the Western U.S.

The variety of birds at backyard feeders differs across North America. Here are 12 species you may see visiting feeders in the West:

Black-headed Grosbeak

  • Black, white and orange bird with large beak
  • Eats sunflower, millet, fruit, suet
  • Summer visitor to western woodlands

Spotted Towhee

  • Black, white and rufous towhee with orange eyes
  • Feeds on cracked corn, millet, sunflower
  • Year-round western scrub resident

Red-breasted Nuthatch

  • Blue-gray n