6 Warbler Hotspots to Try Out This Spring—Plus, How to Find Your Own

By Marc Devokaitis
March 31, 2019

From the Spring 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

“It felt sort of like a dream,” birder Ian Davies told The New York Times about one of the biggest birding days ever. “How do you com­municate what that dream was like to others?”

His eBird checklist was a start. It communicated that Davies’s dream day of birding at the Tadoussac Bird Observatory in coastal Quebec on May 29, 2018, included 108,000 Mag­nolia Warblers, 144,000 Bay-breasted Warblers, and 50,000 American Redstarts. In all, Davies (an eBird project coordinator at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who went birding on a vacation day) and his five buddies recorded an estimated 700,000 mi­grating warblers—a full half-million more warblers than any other eBird checklist in history.

It wasn’t just a lucky break. Davies and company had done their homework to know where to go and when. Some places, like Tadoussac, are geographically located in places that concentrate migrating birds—here are six of our favorites from around the U.S. for warbler-watching specifically (see below for our tips on how to find your own hotspots):

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“Today was the greatest birding day of my life,” Davies later wrote in the comments section of his epic eBird checklist. “For…9 hours, we counted a nonstop flight of warblers, at times covering the entire visible sky from horizon to horizon…. For hours at a time, a single binocular scan would give you hundreds or low thousands of warblers below eye level.”

While your local warbler hotspot may not produce quite such an extraordinary volume of migrants, by paying attention to landforms, shorelines, and other birders’ eBird checklists, you can narrow in on the best places around you. In Davies’ case, he and his friends had looked at previous eBird checklists from Tadoussac and found that the bird observatory there has been tallying large numbers of warblers on spring migration for the past 20 years. (It’s not widely known among English-speaking birders, but Quebec birders have been going there for decades.) Tadoussac’s geography is also conducive to massive warbler flights, as it sits along the St. Lawrence River, a large body of water (5 miles wide at Tadoussac) that is prone to funneling migrating birds along its banks.

“One of the things I love to do is look at topographic maps and eBird data to try to find spots that seem like they should be great during migration,” Davies said. “We knew large numbers were possible at Tadoussac, but I don’t think any of us imagined a day like this.”

Davies says there are still hundreds of other such treasure troves still waiting to be discovered. He recommends using the eBird Hotspot Explorer tool and paying attention to these four characteristics of a bonanza migration spot:

eBird: Four Tips for Finding Warbler Hotspots

eBird screen shot 

Landforms and waterways: Birds on migration often follow coasts, shorelines, river valleys, or the edges of mountain ranges. Good sites near water are often situated on peninsulas, funneling migrants toward the tip.

Isolation: In landscapes dominated by farmland, desert, or urban land cover (concrete), migrant birds will pile into isolated patches of green space wherever they can be found—stands of willows, ranches with surrounding tall trees, or even city parks.

Timing: Large numbers of warblers begin to arrive in early April along the Gulf Coast, but migration peaks in mid-to-late May at northern sites.

Weather: All of the right landscape features might still add up to a bust if weather conditions aren’t favorable. Birders can monitor migration forecasts at Birdcast to maximize the chances of catching a big wave of migration. Learn how to interpret a BirdCast migration forecast.