While winter is often associated with dwindling daylight and sub-zero temperatures, there’s a great deal of color to the season for wildlife lovers. The changing seasons bring massive flocks of migratory birds along North America’s many flyways, with ideal birding destinations stretching from the California coast to eastern Massachusetts. For all the bird lovers out there, the following regions offer some of the finest waterfowl, birds of prey and shorebirds in the entire country.
Space Coast, Florida
Spanning 112 miles along Florida’s idyllic eastern shore, the Space Coast is best known for its robust aerospace and space exploration industries, but there’s no shortage of gorgeous flora and fauna just waiting to be discovered by newcomers as well. While wildlife-filled destinations range from the shores of Cocoa Beach to Manatee Sanctuary Park—a small coastal sanctuary packed with shorebirds and Florida softshell turtles—it’s hard to find a better ecotourism destination than the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. During a wildlife expedition with Canaveral Tours, visitors can spot birds ranging from the northern shoveler to the roseate spoonbill, with no shortage of armadillos and alligators to be found along the way.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod is one of the Bay State’s most popular vacation destinations in the height of summer, but there’s a treasure trove of ecotourism opportunities waiting to be discovered when the weather turns cold. One type of bird in particular – the sea duck – can be found in large numbers across the peninsula, with species such as bufflehead, surf and eider all arriving during the migration season. During a trip to Provincetown, shorebirds ranging from red deer to red lappets can be encountered at scenic Race Point, while Cape Cod visitors looking for passerines can visit Fort Hill to find sparrows and finches darting through the fields.
The Magnolia State coast is known for its high concentration of oysters, and all of these shellfish serve as the perfect winter buffet for visiting shorebirds. Scenic coastal destinations such as Waveland Beach and Pascagoula Beach Park are havens for species such as king terns, sanderlings and even black skimmers, a fascinating bird that uses its long lower bill to catch fish along the surface of the water. Further inland, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center hosts passerines such as the red-winged blackbird and the indigo sparrow, while the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is a particularly stunning destination for an afternoon drive, equipped with several acres of wet pine savanna set aside for the Mississippi sandhill crane .
San Francisco Bay, California
Designated a Ramsar wetland in 2013, San Francisco Bay hosts more than a thousand different species of animals, with no shortage of birds to spot in winter. For San Francisco residents, there’s no need to go far from the city to find top-notch birding, and the Presidio, in particular, serves as a gold mine for passerines. On the eastern shore of the bay, the Hayward Regional Shoreline is an ideal destination for spotting northern harriers and a wide variety of owls, while the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge hosts vast numbers of migratory birds, with 30,000 acres of wetland habitat to explore.
Lake Erie Coast, Ohio
Ohio’s share of the Lake Erie shoreline is several hundred miles in length and is dotted with prime year-round birding destinations. During the colder months, Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve is a popular spot just east of Sandusky and offers the opportunity to spot long-eared, saw-whet and even snowy owls. Closer to the Michigan border, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is home to raptors like the northern harrier that soar high above the inland prairie, while tundra swans arrive in their thousands as they make their way across the continent. Especially for urban birding, the city of Cleveland offers the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, an 88-acre area rich in raptors, passerines and shorebirds.