Pandemic-era lockdowns spurred people across the globe to embrace new hobbies, and birding certainly enjoyed a surge in popularity. While many birds are too sensitive to thrive in human-congested places, 20% of the world’s avian species can be found in cities. What’s more, birding in cities is easier than expected — just look up!
Whether you’re observing avians you happened upon (typically considered “birdwatching”) or are actively searching for certain species (typically considered “birding”), the process will likely shed new light on the most familiar alleys, buildings, and sidewalks. With more than 800 species of birds, roughly 50 of which exist only within US borders, the United States is a great place to start your urban birding adventures.
Using a combination of eBird hot spots, rank on Lawn Love’s 2023 list, endemic species, and local efforts to promote birding, we’ve identified some of the best birding cities (that have more than 300,000 human residents) across the country.
City: 291 bird species, 16 hot spots
Travis County: 425 species, 375 hot spots
Earlier this year, Austin became Texas’ newest “Bird City” according to the Audubon Texas and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It was credited with successes in “community engagement, habitat enhancement and protection, and creating safer spaces for birds.”
It’s no wonder. Austin sits at the meeting point of hill country, prairie, and woodland ecosystems. eBirders have spied 208 species in Zilker Metropolitan Park, while Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory is a prime spot for viewing waterfowl and shorebirds during winter. St. Edwards Park is a springtime breeding ground for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
City: 371 species, 308 hot spots
Though probably most famous as the setting of “The Wire,” Baltimore’s harbor and inland parks make it a great city to look for birds. For example, Druid Hill Park — one of the oldest public parks in the United States — is home to the yellow-crowned night heron, as well as the unmissable Baltimore oriole. But perhaps the most impressive thing is how groups like Birds of Urban Baltimore are introducing locals to the nature around them, guiding neighborhood birding walks and raising awareness about environmental justice issues.
Cook County: 402 species, 551 hot spots
Though the Chicago area has dozens of birding hot spots, some of the best sites are found along the lakeshore. With 349 species recorded, Chicago’s Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary is Illinois’ hottest hot spot on eBird, thanks to its diverse array of bird habitats. These dunes, shrubs, trees, and wildflowers attract migrating flycatchers, warblers, and sparrows.
Meanwhile, avian enthusiasts who find themselves checking out Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate statue can join locals looking and listening for cardinals, swifts, and the occasional falcon.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
El Paso County: 418 species, 170 hot spots
There’s a reason Colorado Springs inspired the song “America the Beautiful.” Sitting at the base of Pikes Peak, the city’s parks — many of which are free — are distinguished by sandstone domes, spires, and hoodoos, as well as forests of pine, scrub oak, and juniper and wide-open vistas of prairie grasslands. These diverse habitats are packed with an equally diverse array of resident and migrating birds, including red-tailed hawks, pygmy owls, flycatchers, bluebirds, and even the occasional yellow-crowned heron.
City: 210 species, 75 hot spots
More than 200 species of birds have been observed by eBirders in Honolulu, and while a number of these were introduced, many are native. Oahu is home to 16 endemic species, including the leggy black-necked stilt and the vibrant vermillion ‘i’iwi.
For a quintessentially local experience, look for Honolulu’s official bird, the manu-o-Kū. These black-beaked white terns have adapted so well to urban living that they incubate their eggs (one at a time) in the forks of tree branches and rocky roof ledges.
Miami-Dade County: 417 species, 351 hot spots
South Florida’s climate and environment have made it a haven for tropical birds, including escaped pets, introduced species that have adapted (the Miami area is home to dozens of species of human-introduced parrots), and drop-ins from the Caribbean.
But even with decades of habitat destruction and exotics adapting more quickly to revived landscapes, there are still indigenous birds to be seen in and around Miami. City-savvy species like blue jays, Northern mockingbirds, and loggerhead shrikes thrive in the urban environs, while anhingas, green herons, and fish crows can be found at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
New York City
City: 350 species, 359 hot spots
The United States’ biggest city is also one of its top birding destinations. More than 270 species have been spotted in Central Park alone, including vireos, herons, woodpeckers, and almost 30 species of sparrow. Songbird lovers should head to The Ramble, a wild garden in the middle of the park, while those looking for owls should check out the North Woods.
Manhattan isn’t the only borough with great birding. The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island all have excellent parks that are accessible by public transit.
Maricopa County: 457 species, 509 hot spots
Phoenix is the largest city in the wettest desert on the planet. Despite soaring temperatures and lack of rainfall (the city averages less than eight inches annually), the city’s Sonoran Desert landscape is filled with a startling array of plant life, including fragrant mesquite trees, spiny ocotillo, and iconic saguaro cacti. All that vegetation makes for a vibrant bird habitat.
The Desert Botanical Garden is a great spot to watch birds while learning about the environment they call home. Dreamy Draw Recreation Area is a prime place to spy desert dwellers, such as the Gambel’s quail or the greater roadrunner.
City: 499 species, 340 hot spots
While all of California’s coastal cities offer a healthy mix of land and shorebirds, San Francisco boasts a particularly spectacular variety of species. In the city itself, eBird lists clusters of hot spots with more than 250 species, including Presidio, Lands End, Lake Merced Park, and Golden Gate Park.
Watch (and listen) for an assortment of cormorants and coots, woodpeckers and flycatchers, sparrows and warblers, and birds of prey. If you get lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the rare red-footed booby.