Audubon's Field Guide to Birding Trails

Audubon's Field Guide to Birding Trails

There are a lot of species to see out there. Here are four sets of regional birding trails to guide you to some of the country's great spots.

By Kenn Kaufman
Published: July-August 2008

More so than many parts of the country, the East is a land with extreme seasonal changes in weather. These in turn lead to tremendous diversity in birdlife as migration peaks and ebbs throughout the year. This makes it possible to pursue colorful little warblers in the woods as they rush northward in spring, flashy bobolinks singing over the meadows in summer, busy flocks of sandpipers trotting across tidal flats in fall, and flights of ducks and gulls arriving at the coast or along major rivers at winter's approach. Every season has its avian wonders. To appreciate them, we must know not just when to look, but where.

Fortunately, we have birding trails to guide us. These routes point the way to the prime sites, from the well-known hot spots to the undiscovered gems. Complimentary trail guides available online or on printed brochures (sometimes both) are full of tips and advice on when to visit. On the birding trails, everybody wins: Local communities benefit from tourism dollars, birders get to check off their lists, and habitats gain protection as their value is recognized. So grab this guide and come check out 10 of my favorite eastern trails. (Click here to download the guide.)

Delaware Birding Trail: Despite its size, Delaware encompasses six well-defined ecological regions. This trail takes in all of them, revealing their contrasts and providing an education in ecology even as it entertains with great birding. Many of the trail's 27 sites are along the coastline, where beaches, tidal flats, and marshes offer exciting bird diversity year-round. Pale little piping plovers nest on the beaches, joined in spring and fall by busy flocks of other plovers and sandpipers, while migrating black terns, yellowlegs, stilts, and rails gather in the marshes. In winter great flocks of snow geese and ducks shelter in these same wetlands, and their thundering flights at dawn are reason enough for a cold-weather visit. If you can tear yourself away from the coast, Delaware's interior has stunning meadows and forests with their own treasures. The low hills along the state's northwestern edge contain songbirds typical of more northerly climes, like the soft-voiced veery and the sharply patterned blue-winged warbler. Southern tier pine flats are enlivened by gangs of spunky little brown-headed nuthatches, which reach the northernmost edge of their range here. For more information: Visit the Delaware Birding Trial or call 302-739-9912.

Maine Birding Trail: Anchoring the northern end of our Atlantic Coast, Maine is almost as large as the rest of the New England states combined, with miles of wild coastline and vast tracts of wilderness offering plenty of room to roam. The state's birding trail is divided into eight regions, showcasing the wide range of natural habitats. Many visitors will be eager to explore the north woods, looking for creatures more typical of Canadian boreal zones. Here you can find husky-voiced boreal chickadees, colorful pine grosbeaks, nomadic white-winged crossbills, and more. Those lucky enough to spot a famous spruce grouse will delight in how astonishingly tame this little forest chicken can be. Other trail loops weave through hardwood forests and blueberry barrens, and along wild rivers, beaver ponds, and coastal marshes. Of course, prominent among Maine's attractions are the offshore islands, and this trail includes multiple departure points for boat trips heading out to seek seabirds like terns, guillemots, and the celebrated Atlantic puffin. Audubon scientists have succeeded in reintroducing puffins to several islands where they had vanished, so your chances of seeing this comical bird have improved in recent years. For more information: Visit the Maine Birding Trail (207-827-3782) or Project Puffin.

Essex National Heritage Area Birding Trail, Massachusetts: Essex County, Massachusetts, is not a huge tract of land, but it includes some of the country's most renowned birding spots. Inland forests and grasslands support a wide variety of nesting birds in summer, as well as long-distance migrants like brilliant scarlet tanagers and flashy black-and-buff bobolinks. Not far away, the coastal regions come into their own during spring and fall migration seasons and especially in winter. The riverfront at Newburyport is thronged with gulls and waterfowl during the colder months, while nearby Plum Island's dunes, fields, and marshes often play host to snowy owls, ghostly visitors from the Arctic. Rockport's stony coast offers superlative birding in winter: Little flocks of intricately patterned harlequin ducks hug the shoreline, and seabirds like razorbills, kittiwakes, and gannets come close to shore when the wind is right. For those who wish to pursue seabirds in their own element, this trail includes information on boat trips to Stellwagen Bank, a marine sanctuary frequented by deepwater birds like shearwaters and storm-petrels (as well as by whales). For more information: Visit the Essex National Heritage Area or call the Essex National Heritage Commission at 978-740-0444.

Magazine Category

Author Profile

Kenn Kaufman

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Midwest Trails

I, too, am disappointed in the lack of information about Midwest trails. There's a lot more to it than flat, open land! What about the forests of Michigan and Minnesota and Wisconsin?

Midwest Trails

We seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties with the story, and the Midwestern trail pages aren't showing up. You can see the Midwest trails if you view the story as a single page (click "Show full page", located beneath the page numbers). Our IT department is working to fix the problem.

Bird watching

Wisconsin has great bird watching areas. One of the greatest places to watch bald eagles is the Wisconsin River.

I will be travelling to the

I will be travelling to the Chicago area soon and would like information on Midwest trails. Do you have that information??

Check page 10.

Check page 10.


The email I received from Audubon said "Chicagoans for instance, can spy Bobolinks, tanagers, hawks, warblers and rails—and still be home in time for lunch." Yet when I clicked the link and read through the lengthy list of birding trails, I saw nothing in the Chicagoland area. I certainly can't get home for lunch from Kansas or Kentucky.


It's true! Montrose Harbor here in Chicago is the place to go I hear, though currently doing a bird count for LPZoo, I've seen all sorts of good stuff. A little out of the ordinary for the area nothing crazy. Champaign, IL has some great migrants, and the suburbs (Kane County) of Chicago gets Sandhill Cranes, White Pelicans, and all sorts of randoms if you know where to look. I'm bummed Audubon skipped over it. :-(

If you want to see the state endangered Black Crowned Night Heron, come visit Lincoln Par Zoo, we've got hundreds!

No Midwest trails to share?

How come you don't provide any information about Midwest trails?

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.