At any given point, there are 1,107 species of birds flying through the skies, chirping on tree branches, and meandering around marshlands throughout North America, according to National Geographic.
Trying to catch a glimpse of birds in their natural habitats is a favorite past time of hobbyists and nature lovers. In fact, approximately 45 million people spend time birdwatching, based on data from a survey by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Luckily, the Delaware River Watershed, which touches parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey is a prime spot for seeing all types of winged wonders.
“Within this vast ecological system there are a variety of habitats which make it attractive to a variety of bird species,” says Kelly Wenzel, project director of urban education and outreach for New Jersey Audubon and Petty’s Island Preserve. “Freshwater wetlands, forested wetlands, forested upland, urban centers, tidal marsh and estuarine habitats make a biodiverse quilt, drawing birds from up and down the coast of the Americas as they migrate along the Atlantic Flyway.”
To make the most of birding, check out these prime birdwatching spots throughout the Delaware River Watershed.
The DuPont Environmental Center – If you want to take a self-guided tour of the marsh, stop at the Dupont Environmental Center in Wilmington, Delaware and stroll along the boardwalk. “The marsh contains a bunch of Sparrows and Wrens and is also a popular hunting ground for Hawks and Harriers,” says Ian Stewart, ornithologist at the DuPont Environmental Education Center. “Ospreys nest here in the summertime on a platform in the marsh.”
Stewart adds that the center’s tall building allows for visitors to scan the skies and the trees for bird sightings as well.
Bartram’s Garden – Located near Philadelphia, Bartram’s Garden is an ideal spot to enjoy some urban birding. “There are diverse habitats, including a native grass meadow, tidal wetlands, and a wilderness garden full of native plants, all in relatively close proximity,” says Mary Strand, Welcome Center coordinator at Bartram’s Garden. “Birders are able to find a wide variety of species of birds without needing to travel great lengths to encounter different habitats.”
In the summer, visitors can spot Baltimore Orioles, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, and Great-Crested Flycatchers, and the fall season offers up chances to observe Bald Eagles and Hawks. The environmental center also has binoculars available for visitors to use while exploring the grounds.
Heritage Conservancy at Bristol Marsh – Bristol Marsh is a rare and important freshwater tidal marsh located along the Delaware River, just southwest of the historic district in Bristol Borough.
It’s a prime spot for viewing Great Blue Herons, Mallard Ducks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, and American Robins, according to Shannon Fredebaugh-Siller, community engagement programs manager at the Heritage Conservancy at Bristol Marsh.
“Our center is great for birding because it has direct access to the Delaware River and a beautiful marsh habitat,” she adds. “It is very easy to traverse the trails, and viewing platforms allow great views out into the water to observe birds.”
Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area – Located in Pottstown’s Riverfront Park, on a paved section of the Schuylkill River Trail, the Schuylkill River Greenways Environmental Center and Heritage Area is a must-stop spot for birding in the watershed.
“Our center offers free rentals of bird watching kits for visitors, which include a pair of high-resolution binoculars with a carrying pouch and a bird guide available in English or Spanish,” says Sarah Crothers, education director for the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area.
Crothers explains that visitors can expect to observe large wading birds such as Herons and Egrets along the river and creek banks, while Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures are commonly found in large trees along the waterfront.
Petty’s Island – This 340-acre island is located within the Delaware River between Camden and Philadelphia on the Atlantic Flyway migratory bird route. Because public access to the island is limited to specific programming, the site provides a needed respite to the surrounding urban environments.
“Petty’s Island serves as an oasis to birds in the lower Delaware River watershed region,” says Wenzel. “Its location within a large urbanized landscape increases its value to migrating birds which may have few other options for stopover and refueling sites during long migrations. The island’s isolation also provides protection for breeding songbirds.”
Since observing bird species on the island, New Jersey Audubon has identified 131 different species, with 13 new ones in 2019. New Jersey Audubon is contracted through the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust to run public programs on the island, including four birding field trips per year (registration is required).
The Nature Place at Berks Nature – The Nature Place is designed with birdwatching in mind, says Communications Specialist Kaitlyn Tothero. “We have a bird wall consisting of pictures and names of birds commonly seen here in Angelica Park and large windows to view them from,” she says, adding that the windows are designed to discourage bird strikes with a horizontal-striped, acid-etched pattern.
The Nature Place offers visitors a Bird Sighting Checklist with over 90 bird species that regularly fly and flock around the center. “Our most commonly sighted birds in Angelica Park include the Red-Winged Blackbird, American Robin, American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Tree Swallow and Turkey Vultures,” says Tothero.
Tacony Creek Park – Tacony Creek Park is an urban oasis located near Philadelphia that is home to several bird species year round. However, if you want to spot a greater variety, plan your visits in the fall or spring. “We see a huge increase in the number and variety of species we encounter during spring and fall migrations,” says Robin Irizarry, Philadelphia watershed coordinator for the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership at Tacony Creek Park.
Highlights of birding at Tacony Creek Park include spotting Great Blue Herons, Peregrine Falcons, Belted Kingfishers, and White Breasted Nuthatches. The park’s stewards regularly lead free, guided bird walks in both English and Spanish, so visitors can take advantage and learn about the various species in the park at different times of the year.
The Watershed Institute – Throughout the 950-acre Watershed Reserve in Mercer County, New Jersey, bird feeders dot the landscape and attract a wide variety of species. “Visitors can expect to see a variety of feeder birds near our building including, Goldfinches, Black-Capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, Cowbirds, Juncos, Woodpeckers, Finches, Cardinals, and Sparrows,” says Rob Nicolaides, communications manager for The Watershed Institute. “Red-Winged Blackbirds. Mallards, Hawks, Wrens, and Bluebirds are also common on the larger reserve.”
The Watershed Center also offers an informational bird-watching station and allows visitors to take binoculars out into the Reserve to explore birds on the property.
In addition to birdwatching, the 23 environmental education centers that make up the Alliance for Watershed Education offer an array of fun and educational activities that connect people to the trails and waterways. Explore the centers and get outdoors today!