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Bird Watching on Vacation


It is not necessary to plan a specific birding getaway in order to see new birds to add to your life list. Many birders regularly build their life list with casual sightings in different locations, and it is easy to add birding to any vacation itinerary.

Vacation Destinations Perfect for Birding

Any vacation destination can lead to sightings of new and unusual birds. Songbirds, finches, hummingbirds, seabirds and even birds of prey are remarkably adaptable and can be found everywhere. To find new birds while on vacation, however, it is essential to know where to look for easy sightings. Popular birding spots include:

  • Large parks, particularly with varied landscaping
  • Public gardens and arboretums
  • Riverside walkways and trails
  • Mountain or canyon hiking and biking trails
  • Deserted beaches

Even in the midst of the largest cities, birders can find exciting new species to observe. Central Park in New York City, for example, is home to more than 150 species of birds throughout the year depending on breeding and migratory populations. In San Francisco and Chicago, birders can observe feral flocks of parrots and other pet birds as well as a wide range of shore birds and other species. Suburban areas may be home to numerous jays and other large songbirds, while rural areas feature extraordinary numbers of all types of birds.

Packing for Birding on Vacation

While birders planning a trip to a birding festival or organizing a specialized bird watching trip may bring along a tremendous amount of specialized equipment, recreational birders only need a few basic birding supplies to find birds on any vacation.

  • Binoculars: A compact, portable pair of binoculars can help you easily observe birds no matter where you are.

  • Field Guide: Tuck a regional field guide into your luggage for a quick reference for any species you sight.

  • Notebook: Bring along a birding journal or small notebook to take quick notes on new species you observe for later comparison and positive identification.

  • Camera: A simple digital camera can be valuable for capturing birding observations quickly and easily so the species can be identified later on without interrupting the vacation plans.

More extensive equipment such as multiple guides, spotting scopes and a fully-equipped field bag are not necessary for casual vacation birding.

When to Bird Watch

Knowing when to spot birds effectively can increase any birder’s chances of finding a new or unusual species during a vacation. The early morning hours, before family activities begin, is one of the best times to observe birds as they feed and preen after a long night. The late afternoon is another popular feeding time and taking an hour or two for casual birding can be a welcome break from a structured vacation itinerary.

Adding a few extra hours to a vacation can make birding easier to include in the schedule. Instead of traveling first thing in the morning, for example, let other family members sleep in while you visit a nearby park or trail for some easy birding. Other ideas for building time in to the schedule for birding include:

  • Plan a lazy day at the beach for sand castle building and gull and shore bird watching.
  • Add a visit to a local zoo and aviary to the itinerary.
  • Plan a late afternoon picnic lunch at a local park bringing bread to feed birds.
  • Visit a local wildlife center to support conservation and learn about regional species.
  • Take a scenic rural or lakeshore drive with ample time for spotting birds.
  • Contact a birding organization prior to traveling to get tips on the best local hotspots.
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