One of the biggest epiphanies of becoming a birder is that you realize that birds are everywhere—from the South Pole to the Amazon to the Bronx. Wherever you live, birds live there, too. The first step is to simply pay attention.
The perfect place to start looking is in your backyard—even if it’s a tiny one. Many species are attracted to native flower beds and gardens; putting up a feeder will help bring the party right to you. Once you’ve gotten to know your yard birds, it’s time to start searching the rest of your neighborhood. Do you have a city park nearby, or a small pond, or an open field? Any green space or body of water will do. As you explore, keep looking up. Lots of birds like to sit on exposed perches, and power lines are a perennial favorite.
At some point, you’ll be ready to venture farther afield to meet some new, different birds. But how do you know where to go? Here are five easy ways to discover your local hotspots.
Find out which national wildlife refuges are close by and go exploring. There are about 560 national refuges in the United States, covering more than 150 million acres, most of which is prime bird habitat. Use the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service locator map to find your nearest refuge.
Check out nearby national or state parks. Some are less ideal for birding, because they were set up for appreciating features (geologic formations, historic buildings, the Statue of Liberty) rather than wildlife. But you’ll find interesting birds in most parks and open spaces. The National Park Service has an excellent map to help plan your adventure, and you can pinpoint state parks on the America’s State Parks website.
In recent years, states have created dedicated birding trails to promote their finest birdwatching destinations. These can be a big help in discovering new places. The routes generally link together sites across a logical path. For instance, the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, the first and longest such trail in the country, includes 310 points of interest along more than 2,100 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast. To get started, visit the American Birding Association’s state-by-state listing of trails.
Important Bird Areas
You can discover great birding spots, and help protect them, through the Important Bird Areas program, a massive conservation initiative by BirdLife International and Audubon. Each IBA is of particular importance for one or more species of birds, and they are all categorized by state, continental, and global priority, reflecting the world’s most significant bird habitats. Some organizations lead bird walks in IBAs; contact your local Audubon chapter for details and schedules. See a map and get involved with this program at Audubon’s IBA homepage.
For sheer information on where to find birds, nothing beats eBird. Since its launch in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, it's quickly become one of the world’s largest citizen science projects, and is now used by hundreds of thousands of birders who enter their sightings into a single database. You don’t need an account to access eBird’s wonders. Just go to eBird.org, click on “Explore Data,” and choose how you’d like to view the information. The “Explore a Region” option will show you which bird species have been seen in any country, state, or county; “Explore Hotspots” displays an interactive map of specific locations. Better yet, sign in and add your own sightings. It’s free and slightly addicting.