Five Fresh Ideas for Finding Birds This Fall

November 5, 2014
American Tree Sparrow by Adam Bender via Birdshare

Sure, the shiny bells and whistles of the bird world—those bright and cheery warblers—have mostly winged their way south to wintering grounds by now. But it’s still fall, and migration’s not over yet! There are still plenty of birds to see, with new arrivals every day.

New self-paced course: Learn How to Identify Bird Songs, Click to Learn More

Late fall means you have to venture out from those wooded warbler hot spots and into new habitats to find sparrows, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Here are a few places that could be hopping right through Thanksgiving.

Weedy Fields for Sparrows
Overgrown pastures, abandoned lots, fields gone fallow—all are havens for the next big wave of migrants to arrive after warblers: sparrows. Looking for sparrows along grassy trails cut in fields can be fun because your birds will flush as you walk and hopefully land on a branch just ahead of you in clear view. Keep an eye out for White-throated Sparrows in the East, Golden-crowned Sparrows in the West, Eastern Towhees in the South, and White-crowned Sparrows and American Tree Sparrows all over.

Mudflats and Marshes for Dabbling Ducks
Late fall is to ducks what September is to warblers—prime migration time. Dabblers are ducks that skim the surface of the water for seeds, aquatic vegetation, and invertebrates, so look for them in shallower waters. This group includes some handsome ducks: the Green-winged Teal with its iridescent green face mask, the Northern Pintail with its elegant tail plume, and the dashing Wood Duck. Females and young of these species tend to migrate earlier and move farther south, while males only move when the cold weather hits.

Bigger Lakes and Reservoirs for Diving Ducks
Divers are ducks that plunge underwater and paddle with their large feet to reach mollusks, invertebrates, fish, and submerged aquatic vegetation. Accordingly, diving ducks such as Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers favor deeper waters. The gales of November bring a bluebill wind out of the North, as rafts of Lesser and Greater Scaup sweep out of Canada. Hardy divers are pushed south by Old Man Winter; they migrate as their northern waters freeze over.

Coastal Beaches for Shorebirds
The waning days of autumn are too cold for sunbathing or building sandcastles, but if you’re a shorebird it’s the perfect time to snag invertebrates from piles of seaweed washed up on the beach. Large numbers of Sanderlings and Willets settle into their wintering grounds along seacoast beaches in November and early December. Likewise, huge congregations of Dunlins can be found in estuaries and muddy bays. Along the East Coast, it’s the perfect time to add the stout little Purple Sandpiper to your life list, but don’t be fooled—they’re not purple, more gray and white. On the West Coast, look for Black Turnstones and Surfbirds that spend their days foraging on rocky coastlines.

Need Some Help Finding Nearby Hotspots?

eBird contains a Google Maps-like tool for timely birding. Just visit ebird’s Hotspot Explorer, enter your location, and you’ll find a map with pinpoints of hot birding locations. You can narrow the results by date, too, if you like. Click through the pinpoints to see up-to-date lists of what local birders are seeing at these locations right now. Here’s more on how to use Hotspot Explorer.

For more on migration:


  • Gosh your website is hard to access. It requires me to provide details of a Google account I have not used in years. I do not remember anything about it and do not maintain it. Any suggestions?

  • Marcel Stratton

    Here in Northern Minnesota. High hills from shores of prehistoric Lake Agassiz;
    Red River of the North flowing into Canada. Crowded route for migrating bird flocks.

    Villain in the piece: 36 huge wind-powered electricity generators.

    ?????QUESTION: What has the Cornell bird lab heard of death of wild, migrating birds
    from flying into these windmills???? Is this danger to birds acknowledged and
    being followed??? Any action being taken???

  • Cheryl brune

    I had an oven bird in my yard for days. What really surprised me was when he would come to the platform feeder day after day and eat seed. I thought they we’re suppose to be secretive and hard to find. This is the third year to have this bird visit I feel sol

  • Edward G Haverlack

    On november 4, 2014, while traveling south on State Route 220 near Mustoe, VA, I saw an immature Golden Eagle just circling overhead.

  • Mary Ann perks

    Snow bunting
    Top of hunter mt
    Grassy area by fire tower

  • Joe Clark

    Any idea what
    I might look for in mr back yard?

  • Joe Clark

    That was fast

  • kathleen

    Just this past weekend (the beginning of November) a beautiful white-throated sparrow visited my humble feeder of sunflower chips. I live in a very urban area, and he was the first white-throated sparrow I’ve seen. I was thrilled at his visit and to watch this sweet and somewhat larger sparrow hop around for whatever he could gleam. He was gone in just 2-3 days later. Sigh!

  • Hugh

    Hi Frank – Sorry you’re having trouble – though I wonder which of our websites you’re trying to access. No login is required to access any of the information on our All About Birds species guide or our editorial materials. I wonder if you are trying to access the user areas of one of our Citizen Science websites, such as Project FeederWatch, YardMap, eBird, or others? In any case, please email us at and we’ll do our best to help you. Thanks for your comment – Hugh

  • Donna moore

    I have been having fun watching a squirrel and a blue jay,the squirrel would hide a peanut in my window flower box, and soon after the jay would come and dig it outlater,l am waiting for the day when they arrive at the same time.

  • Bird

    We are getting dark eyed junco’s in the upper midwest. Red tail hawks, vultures, nuthatches.

    Putting out LOTS of food for them.

  • IN early October I saw a flock of birds flying in unison in a milo field. they had an undulating flight like starlings but were sparrow like. I got a good look @ some of them through my binoculars & I am fairly certain they were longspurs. what other sparrow like birds fly in flocks like that. I live in Custer co. in western Ok. the birds were cited off I40 west of Weatherford Ok.

  • Ron Dilks

    I had a lot of fun with your bird finder .!I was in my driveway and I saw a bird in the tree.I went through all the steps and found it was at Carolina Wren. I preceded to play it’s song over and over and before I knew it I had about 10 Carolina wrens in the little tree above me. They were singing so much that I couldn’t tell when it was The sound from my phone or whether it was them singing

  • Marcel Stratton – I do not have specific research done on the wind turbines in Minnesota, however, NJ – being a windy coastal state – has done some research on mortality rates associated with wind turbines. Here are links to two opinion papers published by New Jersey Audubon with resources and additional research noted at the bottom. I hope this is helpful, although, there is more specific research for your area, I am sure.

  • Jason Roos

    I just got savannah and lincolns sparrow in a weedy field!