Not Seeing Birds This Winter? Here Are 10 Hotspots to Look

10 Hotspots to See Birds in the Northeast

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If you’re not seeing birds this winter, then it’s time to switch things up. Some of the best places to see birds are often less visited by humans, especially during winter living in the northeastern U.S.

Before diving into our top bird-centric places, we want to share an exciting tool with you – the eBird mobile app Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed.

This app is a game-changer for bird enthusiasts. It allows you to report bird sightings and connect with a global database of bird sightings used by birders worldwide. You can also sign up to receive notifications about bird sightings in your area and become a citizen scientist by contributing your information. By doing so, you’ll be playing a crucial role in helping Cornell Labs gain insight into bird migration patterns and conservation. So, what are you waiting for? Get the eBird app and start exploring the fascinating world of birds today!

10 Hotspots to See Birds in the Northeast

1. Beaches 

Yes, the beaches in the Northeast are frigid cold with whipping winds during winter. But so what! Chances are you’ll have the birds all to yourself, and you’re bound to see some gulls and perhaps even a Snowy Owl.

Open spaces, like airports, are great places to see Short-eared Owls

2. Airports

Airports attract birds because they offer food, water, and cover. Many airports are located along bird migration routes and provide a great place to layover.

They’re also great places to see birds of prey that prefer open spaces, like Snowy Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls.

Airport grounds are attractive to Snowy Owls because the vast expanses of low, grassy, treeless grounds, especially when covered in snow, resemble the arctic habitat where the owls breed over the summer in Canada.

The Northern Harrier on the hunt for its primary winter prey, the meadow vole, in the grasslands

3. Grasslands

Grasslands are havens for an abundance of grassland birds year long, but during winter, they are home to the Northern Harrier and the Short-eared Owl. Their primary habitat is large expanses of grasslands home to their main winter prey, the meadow vole. 

It is common for birds to nest and roost on the ground with snow cover, so be careful where you walk. Stick to marked nature trails or designated viewing spots.

Witnessing Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls hunting for prey just before sunset is incredible. Surviving the winter is hard work for these birds of prey, and energy conservation is critical. Every time a bird spends energy flying to catch prey, it depletes the energy it needs to stay warm, so with every wing flap and aerial display, we know it comes at a significant cost to the bird.

Visit the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in Wallkill, New York, to enjoy the aerial acrobatics on display of Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls as they tussle for a prized vole.

Bald Eagles walking on the ice

4. Dams

Birds are attracted to water. Especially big birds, like Bald Eagles.

Water flowing through the dam attracts birds searching for food, including Bald Eagles, herons, gulls, and waterfowl.

Visit the Shepaug Hydroelectric Station in Southbury, Connecticut, to see wintering Bald Eagles.

The Shepaug Dam, on the Housatonic River, uniquely appeals to Bald Eagles. The hydroelectric station’s operation prevents water from freezing, so it’s easy for the birds to feed on fish below the dam.

But when the turbines go on, the turbulent water causes fish to surface, providing eagles with a fish smorgasbord.

Grab your binoculars and be ready to see aerial displays by adult and juvenile Bald Eagles. It’s a great way to spend a brutally cold winter day.

5. Reservoirs

Freshwater reservoirs are mostly frozen in winter, leaving a patch of open water where birds congregate.

Visit the Ashokan Reservoir in Olivebridge, New York (part of Catskill Park, one of the largest reservoirs in the New York City water supply system. Ashokan offers year-round, panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains and is home to a nesting pair of Bald Eagles and flocks of geese, gulls, and ducks.

Bald Eagle fishing from the ice

6. Rivers

It’s common to see a Bald Eagle floating on a chunk of ice flowing down the Hudson River in New York. Eagles don’t have a way to perch over the river as they hunt for fish or fowl, so floating on an ice chunk means the bird doesn’t expend energy hunting.

Depending on where you are, you might catch a glimpse of a Peregrine Falcon flying overhead or perching on top of a bridge. Seeing an eagle on the ice is an incredible moment to watch and photograph, so if you venture to the river, bring your camera.

7. Sewage Plants 

Sewage plants may not seem glamorous, but they’re great places to see birds. They offer a gourmet spread of insects for wintering birds, and the boilers act like space heaters for avian friends.

A Black Vulture inspects the garbage dumpster for its meal options

8. Garbage Dumpsters and Landfills

Birds are in dumps and landfills because there’s abundant food, and the massive amount of food waste becomes a bird buffet. Gulls are more prevalent during winter, and rare species might come down from their northern breeding grounds.

Some birds know the garbage trucks driving in carry the good stuff for foraging. Their presence, and sometimes rodents, also attract winged predators like eagles that see landfills as a prime hunting ground. Some birds even roost at the landfills.

Flock of Mallards after landing in a parking lot, mistaking it for a body of water

9. Fast-food Restaurant Parking Lots

Gulls are opportunistic scavengers that you’ll often find in fast-food restaurant parking lots. They pilfer french fries from customers or grab them from the trash. You might even see them fighting with other gulls over a fry or posing mid-air atop light posts. These birds provide exciting photo opportunities.

What better place to hear the blood-curdling scream of a Barn Owl than a cemetery?

10. Cemeteries

Cemeteries are not just graveyards; they also serve as a habitat for living creatures. They have trees that provide shelter for birds, and some even have ponds, streams, or fountains that serve as water sources for them. Hunting is prohibited, and visitors are respectful towards the environment. Best of all, cemeteries offer many great places for birds to roost.

Visit the Wooster Cemetery in Danbury, Connecticut, and you’ll find over 100 acres of rolling hills, a pond, and a swampy area where wildlife can seek refuge among the deciduous trees. It’s so peaceful and serene that you might mistake it for a wildlife sanctuary if you didn’t see the headstones.

Don’t forget to check your own backyard! Set up a bird feeder and watch as birds flock to your yard. You might be surprised at the variety of birds that visit your feeder.

Bird Hotspot Resource

If you want to find more birds, we recommend you pick up a copy of Find More Birds – 111 Surprising Ways to Spot Birds Wherever You Are, written by Heather Wolf. Heather is a talented birder extraordinaire and the author of Birding at the Bridge: In Search of Every Bird on the Brooklyn Waterfront. Her book is filled with tips to make you a successful birder and belongs on your bookshelf next to your Sibley and Peterson Guides.

We enjoyed birdwatching with Heather in her magical bird patch under the Brooklyn Bridge and were impressed by her expertise.

Seeing Birds in Winter

Winter birdwatching can be challenging, so doing homework and maximizing every moment you spend in the winter chill is necessary. Look through a birding field guide and jot down the names of every bird species in your area. Identify bird habitats, and if you know where birds typically roost or live in winter, use caution to avoid disturbing them.

Remember to keep your distance and avoid disturbing the birds. During brutally cold winters, birds live on the razor’s edge of starvation and must take every opportunity to find food and conserve energy. So, go about birdwatching from a distance and let them go about their business undisturbed.

Although the coldest months of the year might seem like the worst time to go birdwatching, winter offers an incredible opportunity to see birds more easily against the snow and to see seasonal visitors you might not see at other times.

So, what are you waiting for? Layer up, grab your binoculars, and head out to test these exciting winter birdwatching hotspots and see birds!

Happy Winter Birdwatching!

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