Where to go birding?
If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, then you may already have a space to watch the birds near you, but for many people, the best way to find birds is by heading out to the nearest greenspace. There’s nothing like seeing new bird species or ‘lifers’ and I don’t know about you but even though the future of travel is unclear, I still absolutely love exploring areas where other people are seeing birds, either dreaming of future birding trips or just getting a glimpse into the worlds of other birders’ lives.
Even in this uncertain post-pandemic world, we can’t help but dream about possible future trips. Whether it’s close to home or for a trip, choosing a birding location can be tricky if you’re new to birding or if you’re exploring an area you’re unfamiliar with.
Also see: the best free birdwatching apps
Top 12 birding locations in the world!
Here is a rundown of some of the top birding locations in the world. These areas have the highest recorded number of bird sightings in the world (according to GBIF data). While these numbers are only an indication of where the world’s tech-savvy birders live, they are all amazing birding spots that birders have chosen for good reason, and therefore totally worth a visit. Besides good proof that there is an abundance of birds in the area, these sighting figures mean there are birds to see and most likely other birders or guides to show you around if you’re new to the area.
1. Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas, USA - 698,443 sightings
Want to see waders? Shorebirds and waders are found here in their hundreds, including the Roseate Spoonbill. Some noteworthy sightings include the Wood Stork, an endangered species. During the migration seasons the park’s lake which is long, narrow and not very deep, attracts waterfowl. Within the woodland and thorn scrub one can find Groove-billed Ani and Altamira Oriole or if in luck, the rare Red-crowned Parrots and Green Parakeets.
An ideal destination for the avid or beginner birder, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco, South Texas attracts a huge diversity of South Texas birds. The park has varied landscapes of over 230 acres, including a shallow lake, woodlands and a thorn forest with diversity for all sorts of bird species. It’s no wonder that the park has a huge birding reputation and sits atop the list for the greatest number of bird sightings recorded globally.
2. Ottenby Bird Observatory, Sweden - 569,644 sightings
The Ottenby area is one of the most visited nature reserves in Sweden. Ottenby is full of hiking trails stretching across the coastal meadows and rich forests. Since the reserve is on a large stretch of coastline, birds and ocean views can be found throughout the reserve. The Lighthouse Långe Jan is open for visitors during spring, summer and autumn, and in Naturum Ottenby there is an exhibition detailing the history of the area and the bird observatory. Just below the lighthouse, BirdLife Sweden hosts a store aimed at birders and nature enthusiasts.
3. Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada - 393,817 sightings
Point Pelee National Park is all about migratory species. The park lies en-route of some significant flyways and on the shore of a large body of water – Lake Erie. Meaning when birds are travelling during their migration, they may need to rest, feed and recuperate, and this national park gives a good supply of all the above. A huge diversity of birds is therefore attracted here during this season and it’s quite incredible that within the park’s birding area, over 390 species have been recorded! Also, being very central on the continent, means there are some special rare birds seen here on occasion too. Of course, the park is famous for spring and fall migration, but you can find a good diversity of birds throughout the year.
4. Western Treatment Plant, Melbourne, Australia - 325,223 sightings
More than 295 bird species including rare and endangered birds have been recorded at the Western Treatment Plant, making it a real birder’s destination. Whether you’re a beginner birdwatcher or you’re more experienced, there are good birdwatching options nearby.
The site has recorded some of Australia’s rarest shorebird species, including the Asian Dowitcher and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The birds feed on the intertidal mudflats along the plant’s foreshore, which are exposed at low tide. Enriched by treated wastewater, these support enough invertebrates to feed around 16,000 birds. Ponds managed by Melbourne Water provide an alternative feeding habitat outside the few hours of low tide – another one of the site’s great advantages.
Brolga, a native crane, has been recorded successfully nesting in salt marshes next to the Western Treatment Plant, moving with their chicks onto the plant’s grasslands to forage. The extremely rare Orange-bellied Parrot has been seen here and Red-kneed Dotterels are in abundance with over 250 having been recorded at a single time.
5. Jomfruland Fyr, Norway - 168,188 sightings
Jomfruland is well worth a visit for all birdwatchers. It is a 7km long, narrow island that runs parallel with the Telemark coastline. This unique island off the coast of Norway is a great place to visit with spectacular birdlife! This location is one of Norway’s best spots to witness birds during migration. There have been over 330 species recorded in and around Jomfruland. The island plays host to some rare species, including an array of breeding species, including the Black Guillemot, Greenish Warbler and the Eurasian Golden Oriole. Together with the island’s two characteristic lighthouses, the Jomfruland Bird Station (Jomfruland Fuglestasjon) is located on the northern peak of the island and is run by the Norwegian Ornithological Society.
6. Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Argentina - 163,529 sightings
Just a few blocks from downtown Buenos Aires lies a 350-hectare green space complete with lagoons and marshes, alder forests and grasslands. Once functioning as a municipal space, the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve has been put in place to protect biodiversity in the area. This birding hotspot is close to the bustling metropolis and therefore well-positioned for those en route from the city. Not only is it accessible, but also home to over 250 bird species among other flora and fauna. This reserve provides a good representation of the biological diversity in the region. Species to note are the large population of Black-necked Swan and other waterfowl.
7. Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa - 146,209 sightings
Situated between Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa, is Rietvlei Nature Reserve. It is one of the world’s largest urban nature reserves comprising 3,800 hectares and accessible from the highway between Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport.
South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane, has been seen here from time to time. The Secretary Bird is a regular visitor and Rietvlei is home to a breeding pair of Fish Eagles. Several other species of bird can be seen including the Orange-throated Longclaw, the Little Egret, the Reed Cormorant, the White-breasted Cormorant, the Goliath Heron, the African Finfoot and the Green-backed Heron.
8. Changaram Wetlands (Ezhupunna), Kerala, India - 121,115 sightings
Changaram Wetlands is a birding hot spot in Kerala, India. With a large species diversity, around 120 resident and migratory bird species, all feeding on different sources, therefore offering little competition for one another. Some noteworthy species for the area include Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, pelicans, numerous ducks, sandpipers, kingfishers and terns.
9. Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto), Panama - 115,617 sightings
Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto) is one of the top spots for birdwatching in Panama and indeed the globe. Located near Soberania National Park, there have been 525 species of birds, recorded in this location. The road is accessed on foot and runs to about 24 kilometers long. You don’t need to walk its full length, a few kilometers will be enough to get some great sightings as the only route back is to retrace your steps. Guides are therefore recommended because of the sheer scale! It is also possible to visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center and its observation tower which stands at 32 meters and affords fantastic views over the forest.
10. Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco, Colombia - 74,413 sightings
Dubbed one of the best birding spots in Colombia and located just a few kilometers from the bustling city of Manizales, more than 307 species nest in this reserve. It was originally created to protect the water supply of the city. A spectacular cloud or mossy forest, it is considered to be one of the richest regions of biodiversity on the planet. It is well-known amongst many birdwatchers for the diversity of antpitta species seen there. There is birdlife in abundance in the lush forest and you’ll likely see many of Colombia’s special birds such as hummingbirds like the long-tailed sylph, tanagers, warblers and woodpeckers. The rare and beautiful Masked Saltator is highly sought after in the reserve, as it is very sparsely distributed in the Andes and is classified as Near-Threatened due to habitat loss, a sighting is lucky indeed.
11. Jahra Pools Nature Reserve, Kuwait - 70,554 sightings
As an important migration bottleneck, Al Jahra Pools Nature Reserve acts as a stopover for raptors and the undeveloped surrounding area of flat land is important for many harrier and eagle species, including Buzzards, Greater-spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle and the Western Marsh Harrier.
The reserve contains a sewage outfall with pools surrounded by reed beds and coastal flats and is the only major area of non-marine wetland in the country. It is also home to a number of warblers, crakes, gallinules and plovers within breeding seasons. When the pools are flooded they become important winter habitats for duck and geese, especially during winter.
Also see: Country with the most bird species
12. Via a Las Cascadas (Waterfall Trail), Mindo, Ecuador - 69,193 sightings
A whopping 500 species have been recorded in Mindo! So it’s an alluring destination for anyone, whether you want to ogle at the unique species of the area, or you’re an avid birder wanting to add new species to your life list, Mindo will deliver. Be sure to wake up early though, as the heat means that early risers are more likely to spot a bounty of birds. Aiming for birding outings between 6am and 10am will give you the most success.
One species that seems to have garnered a significant amount of attention recently is the Cock-of-the-Rock. Known for its spectacular appearance and ‘hopping’ courtship display ritual, this bird is quite the character and worth travelling for.