The best US states for bird watching, a Helpful Illustrated Guide

Your birding list is growing nicely but you may have a few gaps here and there. Perhaps your Black-capped Chickadees aren’t giving you the same buzz. You’re looking to maximise the bang for your buck so most people tend to look for the States with the greatest bird diversity.

Perhaps your list already has a healthy number of ticks, your next option might want to challenge yourself by looking for States with the most endemic species, most threatened and rarer birds with small ranges.

Or maybe you’re a serious birding hotshot, and you’ve ticked off what most of the lower 48 States have to offer. You may have to venture all the way to Alaska or get micro and start targeting specific species one by one, but you probably already know that 🙂

We’ll uncover some of the top birding destinations you can go to get those final ticks on your lists, and show you how we can work out the best states for birdwatching.

Targeting US States with the most bird species diversity

The Best US States For Birdwatching - USA bird biodiversity map

The bird diversity map above shows us which US states have the largest variety of species. What I find interesting about this is how the coastal states seem to dominate, with the only exception being South Eastern Arizona. This is great it you want to combine a birding trip with some beach time… So, based off the species diversity map, the Texan Gulf Coast, California and Arizona are the top three hotspots with up to 250 species each. These states should be top of your destination priority if you want to make serious progress with your life list.

Something to consider though, the species diversity map will consider species that are migratory and postntially only passing through a specific location in spring or autumn rather than being resident. So, you may need to time your trip carefully to make sure you catch migratory birds passing through.

To know exactly when other birders are seeing these species, head to the Birda app to join the community. Check out the newest sightings using the Locations feature and the Nearby Feed. Join the Birda app and explore new locations and sightings!

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Targeting US States with the most endemic species

The Best US States For Birdwatching - USA bird map for endemics species

Endemic species are species that only occur within the borders of a single country. In the case of the continental US, there are 15 endemic species with most of them concentrated around Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. If you already have a health number of ticks in your life list and haven’t visited then this would probably be a good choice of destination.


Also see: Hawk identification tips

Targeting US States with ‘small-ranged’ birds

The Best US States For Birdwatching - Small ranged USA bird map
USA Small-ranged birds are defined as the species with a geographic range size smaller than the median of species occurring in the lower 48 states. So simply put, you less likely at seeing species in these areas in any other part of the US.
This has consequences for all birders because unless you spend time in somewhere like South Eastern Arizona, you are going to have a tough time adding a significant number of lifers to your list.

Top birding destinations


Arizona is our top birding destination of choice for two reasons. The first is due to it’s high species diversity (up to 250 species). The second is due to number (over 100) of small ranged bird species that exist in the area. So from a strategic point of view, you are likely to see a large variety of species, many of which you have little chance of seeing anywhere else in the US. Here is a list of popular birding areas in the South East Arizona:

  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
  • Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
  • Chiricahua Mountains
  • Huachuca Mountains
  • Humphreys Peak
  • Las Lagunas
  • Madera Canyon
  • Mount Lemmon
  • Muleshoe Ranch Preserve
  • Patagonia Lake State Park
  • Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
  • Portal
  • Ramsey Canyon
  • Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
  • Sabino Canyon
  • San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
  • Slaughter Ranch Museum
  • Sweetwater Wetlands Park
  • Watson Woods Riparian Preserve
  • Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is 320 acre birding haven and migrant trap in the Southern Arizona about an hour, 60 miles to the East of Phoenix. The park is know for its hummingbirds, wrens, warblers, Summer Tanager, Lawrence’s Goldfinch.

At the time of writing eBird checklists indicate a total of around 272 different species have been seen in the park.

For more info visit:

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is 118,000 acre wildlife refuge in the South Eastern Arizona that was established in 1985. The refuge is a Semi desert grassland that is know for its diverse birdlife as well as being home to the highly endangered Masked Bobwhite Quail. A captive breeding program on the refuge is home to 99% of all Masked Bobwhite Quail!

The Arivaca Cienega is a wildlife oasis and popular birding spot due to its permanent water source. The water in the are is attributed to the refuge being at the center of the Cienega Creek Basin, funneling water into the area.

At the time of writing eBird checklists indicate a total of around 231 species have been seen in the refuge.

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon located in South Eastern Arizona about 45min/40miles from Tucson, AZ. Situated in a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains, it boasts over 250 species of birds, 15 of which are hummingbirds as well as are Elegant Trogon, Elf Owl, Varied Bunting, and Flame-colored Tanager.

At the time of writing 2019 of these were logged in eBird checklists for the ‘Madera Canyon–Proctor Rd’ hotspot.

Other US States:

Whilst Arizona is a great state for getting more ticks on your bird list, there are some other incredible States for birwdatching. We’ve got a few more top birding destinations for you to think about.

Nome, Alaska

Late May is one of the best times to head to this remote area of the tundra. Many bird species will be transformed into their breeding plumage, species including Mergansers and Golden Plovers. Nome is a renound hotspot on the migration route for species like Arctic Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, Red-throated Loon and Harlequin Duck.

As this top birding destination is quite remote, there are only three roads leaving the town but each will offer you incredible birding opportunities. Waders like Plovers are best viewed from Nome-Teller Highway, and, if you’re lucky, Kougarok Road can take you to some great locations for viewing Bluethroats. Safety Sound, an estuary viewed from Nome-Council Road, is a fantastic spot to see Arctic and Aleutian Terns.

You’ll want to plan for 5-7 days to really take in Nome’s sights and species, but also for the travel time. Look ahead for your trip by using Birda’s Location Feature, found on the app’s Discovery page. Find out more about this here.

Bluethroat singing in Nome, Alaska

Grand Isle, Louisiana

If Swallow-tailed Kites, Terns, Skimmers and Roseate Spoonbills aren’t on your list yet, Grand Isle in Louisiana hosts a variety of songbirds, warblers and waders like Black-necked Stilt. This top birding destination holds an important habitat for migrating birds on Grand Isle; the Oak Forest is an essential stop-over point for birds to fuel up and rest before continuing their journey.

Mount Desert Island, Maine

A great place to get more ticks is near the coast. All year round at Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, you can find a huge variety of species. A myriad of habitats will find you coastal, swamp and woodland species as this is a spot for many breeding birds like Black Guillemots, Bald Eagles, and Gray Jays. Between May and June, you’ll find the wonderful clown of the sea, the Atlantic Puffin as well as a range of warblers and bobolinks.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

Keen to tick some waterfowl species on your birding list? Look no further than Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. This top birding destination is an incredible refuge for migrating birds as the habitats of marshes, estuary and forest create a mosaic of land type for Blue and Green-winged Teal, Black ducks, Wigeons and Pintails.

If raptors are what you’re after, aside from Florida, you’ll find no better place than the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Ospreys, Owls, Eagles can be seen in abundance here, as are woodpeckers and orioles.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

If it’s Sandhill Cranes you’re after, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge may be the next birding destination for you. Not only is the mountain scenery incredible, you’ll be in for a chance to see many species of raptor, warbler and gulls if you’re after more ticks for your list. Those trickier duck and geese species can be found here, as well as Gambel’s Quail and Roadrunners.

Sandhill Cranes in New Mexico, a top birding destination

Monterey Bay, California

You might not have seen the incredible species that sail around the seas. Monterey Bay in California might be the next place you’ll want to visit. Not only can you spot sea otters and whales, but perhaps Black-footed Albatross, Jaegers, Tufted Puffins and Shearwaters! Some shorebirds you may spot are Snowy Plover, Pelican and Cormorants. This is also a fantastic place to witness the migration of hundreds of warbler species.

Central Park, New York

Haven’t managed to tick as many warblers yet? This unlikely space might hold more than you’d expect; spot them easier in Central Park, New York! Known for being one of the top birding destinations during spring and autumn, this sanctuary of green space surrounded by concrete is a haven of wildlife. Head to The Ramble for the best birding spot. Scarlet Tanager, Hummingbirds and Hooded Warbler are all star species during migration.

Everglades National Park, Florida

One of the best places to visit during winter is Flora’s Everglades National Park. Here you could spot birds that spend most of their lives in or around water. The Purple Gallinule and White Ibis are amongst the species you can spot, and keep an eye out for Anhinga and Great Blue Heron. Something else to keep your eye out for is Hummingbirds close to flowering plants, or listen out for woodpeckers, owls and a variety of warbler species.

Lake Erie, Ohio

Ohio is also a top birding destination with Lake Erie and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area to boast. Accessible boardwalks will take you around the marsh and allow for great views of warblers and wetland birds. Magnolia Warbler, Indigo Bunting and Sora Rail might be spotted here.

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California

Have you managed to spot Marsh Wren, Northern Oriole, Yellow-Rumped Warbler or Yellow-headed Blackbird? Not to worry, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the top birding destinations and might offer what you’re looking for!

This national park is one of the best stop-over spots for migrating birds. Not only can you spot seabirds like Pelicans, Terns and Gulls diving for fish, it’s a great space for shallow wetland birds like Ibis, Rails, Stints and Herons. This is also a great spot for photographers, keen to up their photographed list on Birda, find out more about our lists here.


Though we’ve mentioned our top birding destinations, there are thousands of great places to visit for birdwatching. You can find more of them on the free Birda app. The Locations feature can show you birds you’ve seen and birds you’re yet to see. Find out more here.

And if you’re looking for other birders just like you, why not join the Birda App’s community? Share and connect with nature and other birders around you. Free download today! 

Connect to nature and like-minded people while you discover and explore the birdlife around you! Amplify your birdwatching experience with Birda today. 

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