Birding is one of the most accessible entryways into learning about the natural world around you, since it can be done anywhere! Our avian friends can be found readily in urban cityscapes, pristine old forests and everything in between. As they glide through the sky and alight on grass blades, tree branches, telephone lines or roof eaves, they provide a momentary sense of wonder — a simple way to feel inspired about the biodiversity of our planet and empowered to support it by making environmental changes.
Discover new and fascinating local bird populations or spot astounding migrators that fly through the tri-state regions, simply by visiting one of these amazing nearby parks, preserves, refuges or gardens.
There are over a hundred parks throughout the city of Philadelphia, and each provides a space — big or small — to bird-watch. Migratory birds, including kinglets and American Woodcocks, have been spotted in some of our city’s smaller urban spaces, such as Logan Square, Coxe Park and Matthias Baldwin Park.
Youth and Family Programs Developer Mary Bailey says, however, that John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is one of the best places in Philadelphia for observing popular migratory birds. The refuge hosts fascinating shovelers and flickers, all populating the area in spring to meet up — and in the autumn, to eat up. Be on the look-out, too: Red-winged Blackbirds here are some of the first signs of spring in Philadelphia.
Further north, Watershed and Sytems Ecology Project Manager Noëlle Raezer heartily recommends Wissahickon Valley Park for spotting woodpeckers. This particular park boasts nearly 2,000 acres of natural land with trails, streams and five different woodpecker species to find. Out west, the beloved Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center is the place to catch a majestic sighting of nesting Red-shouldered Hawks. And, if you want catch sight of an iconic Bald Eagle, join one of Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership’s bird walks along their creek trails.
Along the rivers, you can also check out historic Bartram’s Garden, where our scientists always find various colorful songbirds and native plants, as well as iconic Boathouse Row, where Patrick Center Scientist Roger Thomas says sleek cormorants can be seen diving through the currents.
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Countless hidden birding gems can be found in many suburban PA neighborhoods located right outside of the city. Ornithology Collection Manager Nate Rice recommends Parkside Place in Upper Gwynedd Township for its easy, accessible birding throughout the seasons, such as year-round Prairie Warblers and ravens, with visiting Northern Saw-whet Owls and White-crowned Sparrows during most winters. Bucks County Audubon Society maintains some great songbird habitat at Honey Hollow, while Nockamixon State Park has paved walking trails alongside scenic lakeside vistas where both Blue-winged and Golden-winged warblers have been spotted.
Open meadows and grasslands that nestle right up against preserved woods not only are a great place to spot birds, but also are prevalent in the suburbs. Bluebirds and finches can be found at Valley Creek and Cool Valley Preserves, both in Chester County. The rolling hills of Gwynedd Preserve and the scenic views of Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary are both complimented by sightings of doves, owls, Eastern Towhees, Ovenbirds and Tufted Titmice.
Associate Curator of Ornithology Jason Weckstein says he’s seen 136 different species of bird at Shortridge Memorial Park in Lower Merion, including Bald Eagles. Kingfishers have been spotted at Evansburg State Park and along some portions of the winding Schuylkill River Trail. And of course, Ridley Creek State Park and Valley Forge National Historical Park are both larger, more well-known destinations for a wide variety of birds, including wood ducks, hawks, herons and swallows.
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Across the bridge, New Jersey features plenty of outdoor parks to explore and find some cool birds. The small but mighty Palmyra Cove Nature Park and Amico Island Park both feature acres of wetlands and woods within heavily developed portions of the Delaware River. Collection Manager of Vertebrate Zoology Ned Gilmore recommends a visit to either of these ecological oases, especially if you are on the hunt for singing warblers or nesting osprey.
Down by the coastline, Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is not only a reliable location for spotting wintering Harlequin Ducks, but also a perfect spot in early spring, thanks to fenced-off portions of the shore, to catch sight of the nesting habitats of many migratory visitors. Cape May Point State Park is another important migration stopover for Red Knots on their way to the Arctic from South America, who are spotted here when they rest and gorge on horseshoe crab eggs.
VIREO Collection Manager Dan Thomas also recommends a visit to the enormous Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Brigantine, especially if you’d prefer bird-watching by car. This refuge is the place to see thousands of wintering waterfowl, such as American Black Duck and Atlantic Brant, as well as Peregrine Falcons and other raptors looking to exploit their stay for a meal. The undeveloped coastlines of this refuge also support one of the largest breeding populations of the federally threatened Piping Plover in New Jersey.
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With coastal forests, ponds, swamps and dunes, Delaware provides quite a variety of natural places to visit and bird-watch. Biogeochemistry Staff Scientist Melissa Bross suggests a visit to the phenomenal Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region. Its trails weave through wetlands and open bay areas where herons, egrets, ibises and other spectacular waterfowl can be spotted. The forests of White Clay Creek State Park, one of Delaware’s largest and most well-visited parks, also provide critical habitat for migrating and nesting birds, including the rare Cerulean Warbler.
Approximately 1,000 acres of natural lands make up Mt. Cuba Center, a public garden that supports and monitors many species of birds through periodic surveys. Their immaculate horticultural landscapes provide an opportunity for spotting and studying Eastern Meadowlarks, Wood Thrushes, Field Sparrows and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. And if beautiful gardens are your thing, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library also regularly hosts bird walks through their avian-friendly habitats.
Discover other Delaware state parks near you.