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Audubon Touts Birding in a Dozen National Parks


You can see trumpeter swans like these in Grand Teton National Park. USFWS photo.

The September-October 2009 issue of Audubon magazine has a dandy article about birding in the national parks. You don’t have to be a birder to find it interesting,

The author, Kenn Kaufman, says he’s never found his birding outings to national parks disappointing. In this Audubon Field Guide article he summarizes birding opportunities in an even dozen national parks that are among his personal favorites. Kaufman writes very efficiently; he really knows how to cut to the chase. Few birding articles I’ve seen have packed so much useful information into so few paragraphs.

Here are the parks touted in Kaufman’s field guide article together with snippets that illustrate qualities appealing to the birding set.

Denali National Park & Preserve

Long-tailed jaegers, graceful seabirds that seem oddly out of place so far from the ocean, nest on the open hills, and chunky rock ptarmigans lurk in rocky patches. Denali’s tundra is the most accessible spot for Americans to see the northern wheater, a dapper little Old World thrush that nests there.

Saguaro National Park

Boldly patterned gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers excavate their nesting cavities in tall saguaro cacti. Many other birds, from tiny elf owls to noisy brown-crested flycatchers, take up residence in these natural birdhouses once the primary occupants move out.

Yosemite National Park

The top avian prize here, the great northern owl, is sometimes found in meadows surrounded by dense coniferous forest at higher elevations. Spotting one takes time and luck….

Rocky Mountain National Park

Strikingly patterned Williamson’s sapsuckers and red-naped sapsuckers nest in the sun-washed aspen groves, while broad-tailed hummingbirds stop among riotous displays of flowers in the open meadows.

Everglades National Park

Begin your Everglades experiences at the Royal Palm Hammock. Here, at the Anhinga Trail, a boardwalk bisects an open marsh where wildlife has become accustomed to human crowds and birds have taken center stage, luring generations of watchers.

Acadia National Park

In summer, the best birding is in Acadia’s forests. Southern hardwoods like oak and maple mix with habitats more typical of the far north, such as spruce-fir forest and birch groves, supporting a rich variety of nesting songbirds.

Isle Royale National Park

At dawn in early summer, the spruce forests and meadows echo with the plaintive whistled songs of white-throated sparrows, the varied trills of winter wrens, and the haunting whistles of hermit and Swainson’s thrushes.

Glacier National Park

Where streams plunge over cliffs, the rare black swift may build its nest behind the waterfall, sites that are inaccessible to ordinary mortals. Near their nests, watch the swifts speed high over the valleys or swoop low over the lakes.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Magnificent forests that line the river and stand atop the surrounding ledges supply the perfect breeding habitat for many migratory birds. In forest dominated by stately oaks and hickories, lucky observers may spot brilliant scarlet tanagers in the treetops or broad-winged hawks wheeling high overhead.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Along the crest of the Smokies, spruce and fir forests contain a whole suite of nesting songbirds with Canadian connections, such as tiny gold-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, and the fiery orange-and-black Blackburnian warbler. The heights are covered in rhododendron thickets, home to secretive black-throated blue warblers.

Big Bend National Park

Serious birders visiting Big Bend in summer have one bird at the top of their “most wanted” lists: the Colima warbler, a subtle gray-and-yellow gem that reaches the United States only in this park.

Grand Teton National Park

Concentrate on the lowland valleys east of the mountains, where rivers, lakes, and marshy ponds comprise a refuge for a plethora of nesting waterfowl, including the magnificent trumpeter swan, one of North America’s largest native birds, measuring five feet from bill to tail….

I can't quibble with Kaufamn's choices. This dozen is just fine, though not the same as my personal favorites, which would include Congaree National Park (high-density woodpecker habitat) and Point Reyes National Seashore (more than 400 bird species), to name just two.


Boy - did they miss the boat. Indiana Dunes has more than 350 species. Much more than Great Smoky Mountains or Rocky Mountain.

I get your point, Rangertoo, but I have a problem with your use of the term "missing the boat." The Audubon Field Guide in the current edition of Audubon magazine is not an Audubon top 12 list or anything like that. These 12 national parks are simply among author Kenn Kaufman's "personal favorites."

Bob: Agreed.


I'll see your 350 species at Indiana Dunes (353 in the certified species list, although that number includes 47 considered "historic" like Passenger pigeon and Ferruginous hawk, and only 303 currently considered there at least as vagrants) and raise it to 363 at tiny Cabrillo NP (.6km^2, but they cheated & certified species in the entire 4km^2 federal reservation). Numbers can be deceiving: I'd probably enjoy birding at Indiana Dunes more than at Cabrillo, as Cabrillo has great views of the city and bay, but primarily coastal sage scrub habitat, much less diverse than the habitats at Indiana Dunes, and much of their bird list is vagrants occasionally blown far outside of their geographic ranges, and thus unlikely to be seen on any given day.

The top 10 NPS units in terms of birds on their certified species lists (present only, not counting probably present, unconfirmed, false report, or historic) are:

Big Bend NP 412
Santa Monica Mountains NRA 400
Death Valley NP 394
Cape Cod 375
Cabrillo 369
Cape Hatteras 364
Carlsbad Caverns 363
Padre Island 356
Everglades 356
Channel Islands 356
Point Reyes 348

#15 Yellowstone 321
#18 Grand Canyon 312
#23 Indiana Dunes 303
#33 Rocky Mountain 260
#73 Great Smoky Mountains 208

Being on a major flyway matters; 7 of the top 10 are coastal; BIBE, DEVA, & CAVE are habitat islands. [Long histories of intensive birding also helps with list completeness and rare/vagrants.]

Rangertoo and other NPS folks can get certified species lists from http:/nrinfo
Those numbers are different, because they include species of all status types (historic, etc.)

I hope to have an application for publicly-facing websites including individual unit's websites up by the end of the year. It will have links to NPS information on that species (any technical reports, what other parks it is in, etc.), plus links to good outside resources like FWS t&e status, Cornell's AllAboutBirds, ITIS, etc.. My crude proof of concept is sitting at:

Suggestions & criticisms are welcome


87(tie) Congaree Swamp NP 191

Sorry Bob. But I highly recommend Congaree for the state & national record trees, and the vines/lianas, especially Campsis.

No apologies needed, tomp. Total number of species that can be seen in a particular park is not the be all and end all of birding worth. Heck, it isnt even one of my top two considerations. Great Smoky is extra special because of the remarkable mix of northern and southern species. Big Bend is the only place where you can spot a Colima warbler. Congaree is a place where maybe, just maybe, there'll be a confirmed sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker.

tomp - cool stuff. Thanks for the info

tomp - I once worked at Cabrillo. I am not in NPS resource management so I do not understand how to work the nrinfo database website you sent. Can you explain how to generate the list of top parks like you did for such things as fish and mammals? I figured out how to look at one park at a time, but how did you identify the tops parks in order? You have piqued my curiosity.


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