5 Best U.S. National Parks for Birdwatching

Even if you’re not a member of the Audubon Society, that doesn’t mean you can’t still appreciate the beautiful splendor of our feathered friends. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, more than 45 million Americans engaged in birdwatching in 2018. And if you’ve decided to go beyond your backyard to find new birds, then these five national parks are ideal havens for discovering birds in their natural habitat.

National Mall, Washington, D.C. — 260 species

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You might be surprised that a city-based park is home to so many birds. But the National Mall in the heart of the nation’s capital serves as a haven for 260 diverse species of birds, including numerous waterfowl. Its prime location next to the Potomac River attracts a variety of birds and acts as a seasonal home for migratory songbirds. While the National Mall doesn’t have the largest availability of diverse vegetation when compared to other National Parks, it does serve as a great option for spotting a large number of species in one day.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Gary, Indiana — 285 species

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Indiana Dunes National Park could serve as a two-in-one vacation. This park sits just at the southern base of Lake Michigan and is the location of numerous lakeside beaches. If you’ve had your fill of catching rays or opt to visit this national park during the off-season, birding is a very popular attraction.

In fact, this activity is so common that the park and nearby tour operators offer guided birding tours. If you time your trip to Indiana just right, you can stop by the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival in late May. This three-day event is hosted by the Indiana Audubon Society and focuses on conservation and education to preserve the area as a haven for local and migratory birds.

Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada — 375 species

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With a name like Death Valley, you probably imagine an inhospitable and barren wasteland. But the opposite is true. If you’re not familiar with this park, you might be surprised that it spans two states. Death Valley offers diverse habitats that include valleys, woodlands, and canyons. Because of this, this national park attracts a wide array of seasonal migratory and year-round bird species.

One of the most recognizable bird species is the Roadrunner. While it looks nothing like the purple and blue Looney Tunes cartoon version that outsmarts Wile E. Coyote, this bird is a year-round resident. Experts recommend that you traverse multiple habitats to increase your chances of spotting the largest variety of birds.

Gateway National Recreation Area, New York & New Jersey — 375 species

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Gateway National Recreation Area is yet another national park that straddles multiple states, this time New York and New Jersey. The park is a critical home for birds, many of which are on the threatened or endangered list like the piping plover. It is located within the Atlantic Flyway, a main north-south pathway that birds follow during seasonal migration patterns.

Gateway features three major units: Sandy Hook, Jamaica Bay, and Staten Island. Advanced birders will usually prefer Jamaica Bay because it serves as a refuge for more difficult-to-spot birds. The park even offers a special birding field guide that highlights 12 of the more popular species guests will see.

Everglades National Park, Florida — 280 species

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Most people know that the Everglades is an extremely diverse biosphere, and not just for birds. This watery reserve offers nine unique birding spots perfect for discovering feathered friends that can be divided into three main categories: wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey.  

Some of the most common species include the white ibis and the wood stork, along with numerous species of egrets and herons. This park is a popular attraction for birders from around the world. Should you choose to go birdwatching at Everglades National Park, be sure to use their interactive checklist.

While bird watching is a popular pastime at pretty much every national park in the U.S., this is a great list of places to get you started. If there’s a particular bird that you have in mind and want to see in real life, be sure to use the Audubon Society’s interactive bird guide on their site for detailed information about specific species and maps of where to find them.

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