There are few pastimes in the world that are quite like bird watching, in which avid avian enthusiasts travel the globe to catch glimpses of bird species in their natural habitats. Although birding is popular worldwide, the following are five destinations that can’t be missed.
1. Cape May, New Jersey
It may be surprising for some to know that New Jersey, the most densely-populated state in the US, is home to one of America’s premier bird watching destinations. Situated at the southernmost point in the Garden State, Cape May lies at the convergence of two major migration routes, allowing visitors to see a diverse array of bird species, particularly during the fall migration season. The appropriately named Cape May warbler and other songbirds can be glimpsed in abundance, along with seabirds and raptors. Peregrine falcons and bald eagles flying over the Cape May Peninsula or perching in the trees are nothing short of breathtaking. Birding has even become ingrained in the local culture, as Cape May has hosted the “World Series of Birding” each May since 1984.
© Trenten Kelley
2. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Made famous by Charles Darwin’s observations and the publication of his book The Origin of Species in 1859, this archipelago off the South American coast is a haven for biodiversity and popular with birders the world over. In addition to the thirteen species of finches noted in Darwin’s observations, tourists can gawk at the Galápagos Hawk, the islands’ only native bird of prey, the charming blue-footed booby, and the Galápagos penguin. Another bird worth observing is the waved albatross, native only to the Galápagos, whose elaborate courtship ritual is fascinating, to say the least.
© Paul Krawczuk
3. Papua New Guinea
Located between northern Australia and Southeast Asia, this tropical island nation is home to a diverse array of stunning avian fauna, including several species of the aptly named Birds of Paradise, including the Superb Bird of Paradise, Magnificent Bird of Paradise, and the regally titled King of Saxony Bird of Paradise, named after a nineteenth-century German monarch. Visitors can also marvel at the rare Melanesian scrubfowl, Wahnes’ parotia, and Varied Pitohui.
© Greg Miles
4. Danube River, Romania
Largely untouched by human encroachment, the Danube River delta in Romania has long been regarded as one of Europe’s premier destinations for birdwatchers, colloquially known as “twitchers”. Birders in the region will commonly encounter white, and to a significantly lesser extent, Dalmatian pelicans, along with pygmy cormorants and red-breasted geese. The ferruginous duck, although frequently seen in the Danube delta, is becoming increasingly rare in other parts of Europe. Its location between the North Pole and the Equator makes it a common stop on the migration routes of assorted eagles, egrets, vultures, and cranes.
© Olivier Duval
5. Sao Tome and Principe
For birdwatchers interested in the rich avian diversity that Africa has to offer, a splendid introduction is birding on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. The small island nation is home to several rare species that can be found nowhere else on the planet, including the Bocage’s Longbill, Newton’s Fiscal, and the critically endangered Sao Tome grosbeak, whose population hovers around 50 individuals.
Other birds to marvel at in the archipelago include the magnificent Harlequin quail and blue-breasted Cordon Bleu. Indeed, if there was a blue ribbon awarded to the country with the greatest assortment of rare bird species, Sao Tome and Principe would be a hands-down favorite, because the avian diversity demonstrated on the two islands is a sight that all birders must see in their lifetimes.
© Helena Van Eykeren