A field guide to bird watching in Philadelphia, without even leaving the city.


For Linda Widdop, a girdled kingfisher in Pennypack Creek was her “spark bird,” which led her to bird watching.

It’s a striking bird – mostly blue with a white collar and a proud, spiky mohawk on top of its head. Its cry, a loud bird rattle you can hear hundreds of meters away, is almost from another world. And if you’re lucky, you might see it sneaking into a small hole along the mud bank where it nests.

“She’s such a cool bird,” says Widdop, who is now the second female president in the 130-year history of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club. And she helps others find their spark birds and also get started in the hobby.

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Bird watching became more popular during the pandemic – in part because “people realized the only place they could go was outdoors,” says Jason Hall, founder of the In Color Birding Club.

And it is becoming more and more inclusive. As birdwatching has become more diverse in recent decades, the incident last year when Christian Cooper, a black bird watcher, was falsely accused of threatening a white woman, sparked news push for inclusion, says Hall.

“Birdwatching was, historically, the activity of an old white man. People realize it has to be limited to that, and a lot of people are breaking down those barriers, ”Hall said. “So whether you are a novice birdwatcher, a novice black birdwatcher, a novice Asian birdwatcher, it doesn’t matter. It’s there for them, because these birds don’t care about our color.

If your interest is piqued, the Philadelphia area is a great place to start. The roots of ornithology run deep here, thanks to renowned birding scientists such as John James Audubon, John William Bartram and Alexander Wilson, who did much of their early work in the area, says Keith Russell, head of the urban conservation program in Audubon, Pennsylvania.

“It’s an activity that has been practiced in and around Philadelphia for a very long time,” says Russell. “We have one of the most vibrant birding communities in the United States. “

We also happen to have an excellent network of parks and lots of green space, which in total attracts over 300 species of birds to the city throughout the year.

So, if you want to get started with birding in Philadelphia, where can you start? Here’s what you need to know:

You don’t really have to go much further than your backyard or local park. These locations, Russell says, will give you plenty of time and space to master the basics of birding, such as identifying common species such as northern cardinals, blue jays, and mourning doves.

It allows you to learn and strengthen your skills, and there is a lot of information about bird watching. Some useful things to know include when certain birds are in the area, the time of day they are active, the habitats they live in and, of course, what they look like and what they look like.

“It all just helps with a little homework,” says Widdop.

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But at the end of the day, getting mentorship is key, Russell says. A good way to do this is to go on field trips with the different birding groups in the area, such as the DVOC or the In Color Birding Club. Many groups organize field trips to locations around the city throughout the year, and they are often free to attend.

“The advantage of a group, whether everyone is super experienced or not, is that you have more eyes on the same bird,” says Hall. “It’s a really good part when you go with a group. And the normal thing to make friends, to share things in common. It makes bird watching more enjoyable.

Not a lot.

The big one is a kind of field guide. The options include:

There are some great tools out there if you want to keep things digital:

Other useful equipment is a good pair of binocularsRussell said. You don’t have to break the bank, it’s good to keep it simple.

The DVOC Birding Backpacks program, including binoculars and a field guide to area birds in a handy backpack, is available at branches of the Philadelphia Free Library.

You don’t have to wear a khaki outfit, be completely silent when in the field, or confide in other bird watchers depending on their level of expertise, Hall says. “No, you can throw all that noise in the trash,” he said. “Soistyourself. Wear whatever you want. Express yourself. Sing, dance, bring your culture, your life, your bird watching experience. It will make it better.

To stay safe, tell someone where you are going and when. You can drop a pin on a map, send a text, or better yet, bring someone else with you.

If you observe birds in your garden, forgo the bird feeder, says Russell, and opt for planting native plants instead, as they provide natural food for the birds in the area. An unknown disease has killed many birds in the Mid-Atlantic this year, and while it’s unclear whether bird feeders are helping to spread it, it’s probably safer to kill yours at this time. in case they are.

Be respectful of birds and their habitat:

  • Don’t approach them or disturb them to get a better view, because usually you’ll just scare them off and “make him expend energy to fly away because he doesn’t feel safe,” Widdop says.

  • Stay away from private property. Also, don’t throw trash (that should go without saying).

  • Don’t use any technology to play bird calls for the purpose of attracting birds to you, Russell says.

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Philly has tons of options for bird watchers. And many of them, Widdop says, are free, accessible by public transportation, and accessible to bird watchers with physical limitations.

Here are some great places for birding in Philadelphia:

Heinz is “the perfect place to go” in the city, says Widdop, thanks to its accessibility and wide range of habitats. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted here, according to the online birding database eBird, including herons, warblers and wood ducks.

📍 8601 Lindbergh Blvd., fws.gov/refuge/John_Heinz

FDR has recently gained in popularity. Hall recommends the area known as “The Meadows” which is a former golf course and now attracts tons of birds, like the magnificent Indigo Sparrow or the Red-headed Woodpecker. More than 200 species have been spotted there.

📍 1500 Pattison Ave., fdrparkphilly.org

At 54 acres, this historic cemetery has plenty of space to explore – and it’s also something of a birding hotspot in southwest Philly. About 150 species of birds have been recorded here, including various types of hawks and warblers and, appropriately, mourning doves. If you go, be respectful, as the cemetery is still active.

4000 Woodland Ave., woodlandsphila.org

Bartram Garden is sometimes known as the backyard of Southwest Philadelphia, and it’s a great place for bird watching. Here you will be able to spot up to 200 species of birds throughout the year, including ibis, sandpipers, mockingbirds and hummingbirds, thanks to its riverside location, open fields and areas. wooded. As Widdop says, you could “bird any before work,” thanks to its relatively small size.

📍 5400 Lindbergh Blvd., bartramsgarden.org

This downtown park might not come to mind for good bird watching, but as Widdop says, “There are trees, aren’t there?” Along with the trees and green spaces come the birds, and Rittenhouse is actually such a great place for birding that the DVOC sometimes organizes birding tours there. People have spotted over 100 species there, including starlings, red-tailed hawks, snow geese and woodpeckers.

210 W. Rittenhouse Square, friendsofrittenhouse.org

It’s another large green space in the middle of a sea of ​​concrete that attracts tons of birds. Hall says the well-tended trees behind Independence Hall are a great place to search for warblers in the spring, when various types of this colorful South American bird migrate to the area.

📍 525 Market St., nps.gov/inde

Fairmount Park is great for just about any outdoor activity you’re looking for, but it’s especially good for bird watching. Some hot spots include the Sedgley Woods area, Boxer’s Trail, the Fairmount Water Works, Lemon Hill, and the Discovery Center (which includes a 37-acre lake), to name a few – but, as Hall says. , both the east and west sides of the park will not leave bird watchers at a loss. One to watch out for in the spring is the Baltimore oriole.

640 Waterworks Dr., myphillypark.org

At 1,800 acres, the Wissahickon is huge and includes meadows, forests, and streams, so expect plenty of variety. Widdop recommends the Andorra Meadow and the Houston Meadow, which have each recorded around 150 species of birds throughout the year, from the Slate Junco to the American Goldfinch. Carpenter’s Woods, she adds, is great too – but just about anywhere along Wissahickon Creek is a safe bet.

📍 Valley Green Road parking lot, fow.org

Located just behind the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, this area of ​​the larger Pennypack Park attracts over 250 species throughout the year. Chief among them are the bald eagles, which have nested in the area for years and attract even non-birders, but Widdop says she likes to look for warblers here in the spring.

📍 7801 State Rd., Phila.gov/departments/philadelphia-parks-recreation

This 275-acre, mostly underdeveloped park is the only state park located within the city limits. Russell recommends its widely open prairie-like habitat, which attracts a number of bird species that can be difficult to find elsewhere. In total, bird watchers have spotted over 160 types that range from snow geese to tree swallows, depending on the time of year.

📍 15001 Roosevelt Blvd., dcnr.pa.gov

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  • Linda widdop, president of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club.

  • Jason hall, founder of the In Color Birding Club.

  • Keith russell, head of the urban conservation program in Audubon, Pennsylvania.

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