Looking to switch up your usual weekend activities? Add bird watching to your list! April in PA marks the peak of bird migration season and with our diverse natural scenic places, including vistas, ridges, mountains, and gorges, Pennsylvania is a hot spot for bird watching this time of year.
New to birding? Follow these tips from the National Audubon Society to make your experience memorable and safe.
- Do your research. Plan your trip ahead of time and bring a field guide and map to keep your sense of direction, as well as to help identify each bird and maps of their range.
- Bring a phone or friend and tell people where you are going.
- Gear up. Birding requires little equipment, but you do need a pair of binoculars. As you improve, you may want to invest in a nice camera or spotting scope. Also be prepared for inclement weather and dress appropriately.
- Watch out for your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in the activity in the trees, but make sure to check where you’re walking.
- Get out and explore! You’ll gain experience and knowledge after you spend more time with the birds.
1. Bald Eagle State Park
The aptly named Bald Eagle State Park contains diverse habitats that attract many bird species, but the park is especially known as a place to spy bald eagles. The mountain ridges create excellent flyways for migrating birds that stop at the park to rest and feed during their migration. Beginner and life-long birders find exploring the park with a pair of binoculars a treat no matter the season.
2. Blue Knob State Park
Featuring Blue Knob, the second-highest point in Pennsylvania, Blue Knob State Park offers spectacular views of the Ridge and Valley Province. While birdsong can be heard year-round, in spring songbirds and vultures return and it is an ideal time to see forest birds such as warblers and vireos before the trees fully leaf out.
3. Codorus State Park
With its range of diverse habitats including Lake Marburg, fields, and forestland, Codorus State Park can be considered a bird lover’s paradise, home to nearly 240 species of birds and, as such a designated “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society. In spring, birders can spy ruddy ducks, mergansers, and scaups often floating in large flotillas in the middle of Lake Marburg, while the park’s forests provide habitat for thrushes and warblers. Five miles of trails provide easy access to and through the varied habitats where osprey, bald eagles, hawks, sparrows, swallows, bluebirds, herons, kingfishers, and wood ducks are just a few of the birds that call Codorus home.
4. Fort Washington State Park
Over 200 species of birds have been recorded at Fort Washington State Park. The 493-acre park is highly concentrated with oak which provides food for spring and fall migrants as well as resident species. Spring is a great time to observe warblers and listen to their beautiful songs. Visit again in the fall to view all 16 species of raptors that migrate on the East Coast from the park’s observation deck on Militia Hill, the highest point of the park.
5. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary along the Kittatinny Ridge near Pottsville is renowned among birders throughout the land, especially for spotting raptors as they soar above in both the spring and fall. The sanctuary even makes available peak migration dates and times. The sanctuary’s land is also home to a variety of other species of birds including woodpeckers and other birds common to the area.
6. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area
While perhaps best known for the thousands of snow geese that pause in late winter at the 6,000 acre Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on their way to their northern breeding grounds, the area boasts several other types of bird species and has been deemed a “Globally Important Bird Area,” just one of six in Pennsylvania. The space is an exceptional location for viewing waterfowl, grassland nesting birds, and wetland dependent species.
7. Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is an ideal spot for bird watching with its wide variety of habitats. The Youghiogheny River is perfect for water-loving birds such as osprey, mergansers, kingfishers, and the occasional bald eagle. Download the Discover Birds and Blossoms Driving Tour Fact Sheet to find several perfect birding spots throughout the Laurel Highlands, complete with detailed driving directions. Birds you might see include the indigo bunting, common yellowthroat, gray catbird, ruffed grouse, blue-winged warbler, and American goldfinch.
8. Presque Isle State Park
Presque Isle State Park‘s location on the Atlantic Flyway makes it a favorite spot for birds to stop to feed and rest on their migration across Lake Erie. More than 339 species of birds have been identified on the Erie peninsula. In spring, shorebird migration peaks during April, while warbler migration is generally observed during mid-May. Stop in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center’s Nature Shop for a bird checklist to start or add to your “life list.”
9. Promised Land State Park
Designated by the National Audubon Society as an “Important Bird Area,” Promised Land State Park is situated 1,800 feet above sea level on the Pocono Plateau and offers a wildlife observation station. Common migratory songbirds that visit the park’s mix of deciduous trees in its forests are American redstarts, red-eyed vireos, and Blackburnian warblers. While at the park, be sure to try to catch a glimpse of the resident bald eagles and their nests.
10. Samuel S. Lewis State Park
With its stunning views overlooking the Susquehanna River, the 85-acre Samuel S. Lewis State Park may be one of PA’s smaller state parks, but it offers three distinct habitats. There are mowed grass fields on the northern and eastern park slopes, a pine plantation in the southern area, and mature woods in the western section that attract a variety of bird species. Hike the Hill Top Trail for plenty of bird viewing opportunities or climb to the top of Mount Pisgah, the highest point in the area, for even more spectacular panoramic views.
11. Second Mountain Hawk Watch
Second Mountain Hawk Watch offers an awesome vantage point to see Fort Indiantown Gap and overlook Stony Valley and the mountains beyond. A variety of raptors can be seen here including sharp shinned hawks, harriers, bald eagles, and golden eagles.
12. Susquehannock State Park
The 224-acre Susquehannock State Park Complex offers a number of prime viewing areas for birders. The Conejohela Flats, where upwards of 38 species of shorebirds feed and rest before continuing their journey to their northern breeding grounds, are an internationally recognized migratory shorebird resting area. As such, the flats have been deemed an “Important Bird Area” by the Pennsylvania Audubon Society. Two must-see stops for birders include the Hawk Point and Wissler’s Run overlooks to spy migratory birds, such as bald eagles, osprey, turkey, and black vultures, along with ducks, geese, songbirds, and shorebirds.
13. Waggoner’s Gap
Another prime viewing area for hawk migration especially in the fall is Waggoner's Gap, or Blue Mountain, a 125-acre, rocky outcrop situated on the Kittatinny Ridge. Every year one of the largest concentrations of raptors in the U.S. totaling between 15,000 and 20,000 pass by overhead. It is known as one of the best sites in the East along the Kittatinny Ridge to see Golden Eagles.
14. Buzzard Swamp Recreation Area
Enjoy 15 man-made ponds with 11.2 miles of trails offering exceptional wildlife viewing at the Buzzard Swamp Recreation Area in the Allegheny National Forest. An important link in the Atlantic flyway during the waterfowl migration, Buzzard Swamp offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the forest. During spring migration, 20-25 species of waterfowl can be seen around the swamp, along with turkey, osprey, and bald eagles. Take the aptly named, 1.5-mile Songbird Sojourn Interpretive Trail, marked by gray diamonds, to enjoy a nature walk filled with opportunities to catch a view of a variety of songbirds.
15. John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is one of the most popular birding spots in Pennsylvania to find migrant waterfowl, shorebirds, herons, and songbirds. Located in both Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, and close to the Philadelphia International Airport, this urban oasis acts as a nesting habitat for several rare wetland bird species including the Marsh Wren and Least Bittern.
16. Newlin Grist Mill
For both history and the environment, the Newlin Grist Mill and the surrounding 160-acre park is a place for exploration. Featuring a working grist mill, public programs, and over eight miles of nature trails, the property is the perfect place to learn about preservation, outdoor recreation, and wildlife. The enthusiastic staff will take you through outdoor classroom experiences featuring meadow explorations and seasonal nature walks to see your favorite birds in their natural habitats.
17. Tyler Arboretum
Since the 1970s Tyler Arboretum has held onto the tradition of birding. Located just 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia and with over 650 protected acres of beautiful woodland, this is a haven for local bird species and bird watchers alike. With seasonally charming meadows, and a lively program of seasonal events and activities, Tyler Arboretum is a delight for those wanting to reconnect with nature.
18. Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch
For the last 30 years, the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch has gathered volunteers and trained observers to watch and count bald & golden eagles, kettles of broad-winged hawks, lone ospreys, American kestrels, peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks passing overhead during the seasonal migration. With easy drive-up access to the overlook, Jack’s Mountain Hawk Watch is a great place to take in the nature and beauty of the Juniata River Valley.
19. Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art
With more than 500 acres of land and 12 miles of trails, The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art is a bird and wildlife watcher’s dream. Visitors can enjoy the property on self-guided tours or opt to join a Spring Bird Walk experience to view the spring songbird migration at the Ned Smith Center where the experienced leaders will take you through the property’s land and point out birds by sight and song.
20. Montour Preserve
The Montour Preserve is one of the best places in the Susquehanna River Valley for waterfowl watching. With extensive forests, pine stands, and brushy cover, this preserve is a great place for birdwatchers of all levels. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a nesting bald eagle near the lakeshore of Goose Cove.
To learn about bird watching in Pennsylvania, check out the visitPA website or the Fish and Boat website. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more PA inspiration. Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly Happy Thoughts e-newsletter so you never miss an update.