Great Bird Migration Spots

Yellow WarblerIt’s the event that bird watchers around the state have been waiting for: spring migration, the time of year when birds leave their winter grounds and head north. Typically, spring migration in Massachusetts lasts from early March to early June, with the peak usually falling sometime around Mother’s Day for many species.

So where do in-the-know birders go to best enjoy this annual occurrence? In addition to our many and varied sanctuaries statewide, listed below are a few of Mass Audubon’s favorite birding spots.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge and Watertown

Why Mt. Auburn, on the border of Cambridge and Watertown, is a “migrant trap” – a sizable area of greenery within a highly-developed urbanized area. The many trees, water features, and ornamental shrubs in the cemetery offers a safe place for birds to rest, find food, and prepare for  the next leg of their migratory journey.

What Songbirds, especially vireos, warblers, thrushes, and sparrows.

How This is such a popular spot that many Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries offer walks through Mt. Auburn during spring migration.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newbury and Newburyport

Why The extensive and varied habitats of this strategically located barrier island offer ideal stopover conditions for migrants along the coast, a pathway that many migrating birds follow in both spring and fall. The combination of salt, brackish, and freshwater wetlands as well as extensive coastal thickets attracts a wide variety of species. Birders like the area because many species are relatively easy to observe on the refuge.

What Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is attractive to a wide variety of species, but especially waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, and warblers in late spring and early fall.

How Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport runs Wednesday and Saturday morning birding programs through Parker River National Wildlife Refuge as well as other great area locations.

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield

Why In a state where forests grow up so quickly, and developments grow quicker still, areas of extensive grassland habitat are fairly rare especially in eastern Massachusetts. This makes Daniel Webster an important place for many grassland birds to stop during migration and also nest. It’s one of the largest regularly-maintained open grasslands in Mass Audubon’s habitat portfolio and is a popular birding destination at all times of year.

What Daniel Webster offers a fine chance to see various wetland species including waterfowl, herons, shorebirds, and swallows. Mixed flocks of blackbirds (i.e., grackles, cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and even the occasional rusty blackbird) as well as grassland specialties like bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks are possibilities. It’s also a favorite spot for raptors, especially open-country species like northern harriers and American kestrels.

How Explore the wildlife sanctuary on your own, or join a program offered through Mass Audubon’s North River Wildlife Sanctuary, also in Marshfield.

Scusset Beach State Reservation, Sandwich

Why The Cape Cod shoreline is often one of the first land masses that migratory birds encounter as they are moving north over the open ocean. These birds often follow the Cape Cod Bay shoreline directly to Scusset Beach State Reservation (a Department of Conservation and Recreation property), where they sometimes pause in the thickets there before turning north and continuing their migration.

What In addition to the songbirds that sometimes collect in the shrubby thickets behind the beach, seabirds like northern gannets, and sea ducks including scoters, eiders, and long-tailed ducks are regularly seen from the jetty near the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal.

How Stop by on your way to or from the Cape. Afterwards, hop back on Route 6 toward Barnstable to visit Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary.

Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Pittsfield

Why Canoe Meadows borders the Housatonic River, a natural migration pathway, and it’s part of the Upper Housatonic Important Bird Area (IBA). The wildlife sanctuary includes a variety of habitat types including hayfields, beaver wetlands, riparian woodland, old field, and mixed woodland. Three miles of marked trails traverse these habitats.

What A wide variety of birds from waterfowl and raptors to flycatchers, warblers, and sparrows can be seen. Be on the lookout for red-breasted nuthatches, blue-gray gnatcatchers, blackburnian warblers, northern waterthrushes, and bobolinks.

How Join one of the regular Friday bird walks during April and May at Canoe Meadows, run by Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

And do share in the comments: What’s your favorite spots to go birding during spring migration?

10 thoughts on “Great Bird Migration Spots

  1. Linda

    Western Mass. and the CT River Valley have it all, from warblers to eagles to Great Blue Herons! Check out the Arcadia Sanctuary , and the river valley area.

  2. Sallie Beaumont Mackie

    In the winter months I like to “hunt”, with the camera the raptors as they briefly visit our coastline. I became addicted to Essex County and especially Plum Island. The Parker River Reserve. I have filmed the snowy white owl quite numerous in 2011. I found the rough legged hawk and filmed it approaching me while it was hunting. The barred owl was filmed with awe as it was so close to the road. There is also the red-tailed hawk quite tame and near the road. Ospray are out but I missed it. The Egrets are back!! I filmed it in flight with the closing of the daylight sun on it’s back. The short eared owl in flight at the end of the day. Also two American Bald Eagles flying low and their hunting path was right over our heads. Never a bad day and I go usually three days a week.

  3. Kelley

    I agree John, there is nothing listed in between Watertown and Pittsfield which is a huge area with no birding hot spots being listed! I wish this area and as you mentioned specifically, the Connecticut River Valley, would be recognized.

    1. Hillary Post author

      You are right — there are so many amazing birding spots around the state, including the Connecticut River Valley where we have several wildlife sanctuaries. We just wanted to share a selection of spots and we would love to hear everyone’s favorite locations for birding during migration — so please do share in the comments!

  4. Janice Doppler

    While birding at Arcadia Audubon Sanctuary in the Ct River Valley last May I talked with two birders who normally bird at Mt Auburn Cemetery in May. They were impressed by what they saw and named species they were seeing that they wouldn’t have seen at Mt Auburn.

    Arcadia is on the Ct River flyway and has forest, meadow/forest edge, restored grassland, marsh, river, and farmland habitat. Lots of birds and the potential for many species. A spring and fall hot spot for sure.

  5. John F. Messerschmitt

    I can personally vouch for how many different birds (and other wildlife) Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield. But as a bonus 15 minutes away (in Lenox) is Pleasant Valley Audubon with treats for bird and beaver watchers.

    1. Susan (Markham) Haff

      Hello John Messerschmitt –

      Thank you for the word about Pleasant Valley. I think it will be a great place to take my granddaughter, Eva Markham, who loves nature. In the summer I take her to the Boston Harbor Islands and nature walks near the ocean. However, I am always looking for a reason to go back to fondly remembered places in Berkshire County. It’s on my list for this spring/summer.

      Susan Haff

  6. John Hutchison

    Places to watch migration…do birds go thru the ct river valley. Why no spots in western ma or even central am listed in this email. Is mass Audubon really Boston Audubon.

    John Hutchison
    Past president of the Allen bird club
    45 year trip leader in western Massachusetts

      1. Swimmy

        Do you realize how far away Pittsfield is from Springfield or Northampton? Pittsfield is in the Berkshires, practically in NY.


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