When I first got started bird watching everything was new and exciting! I loved adding new birds to my life list. However, after a few weeks I realized that I needed to get more strategic. Because there were times when I’d strike out completely and see literally zero birds. How could that be? Welp, I was going to the wrong places at the wrong times.
After striking out a few times I did a ton of research with the goal of never striking out again! Now, I’m going to share with you what I learned.
What is the best time to go bird watching? The best time to go bird watching is early in the morning. However, depending on the species of birds you want to encounter you might want to go birding at mid-day, sunset, or even dusk. For example nocturnal birds like Owls are most active at night.
Keep reading to learn more about bird watching at different times of day, which birds you can expect to see, and when peak bird activity is.
Bird Watching at Sunrise
For the best birding experience you’ll Ideally you want to be out within an hour of dawn, this will ensure you hit the peak of bird activity. The phrase “The early bird catches the worm” is very literal. Birds love getting an early start, one of their most active feeding times is between sunrise and about 11 am.
When the sun rises many insects become active, this is the signal for birds who prey on insects to get into position to hunt. Insectivorous birds like Woodpeckers, swallows, sparrows, buntings, and mockingbirds are all early risers. So if you’re looking for these species getting up nice and early will yield the best opportunities to find them.
Other bird species get an early start to refuel themselves, their mate, or their nestlings after a nights fast. At my local pond I regularly see coots, geese, little egrets, and ducks feeding on minnows and other small fish bright and early.
Here are a few pictures from my early morning excursions
Mid Day Bird Watching
If you set out bird watching dead smack in the middle of the the day, around 12 pm to 2pm you’ll like notice that there are less birds active at that time. Many of which will be hiding, in shrubbery and laying low. Birds tend to be less active in the mid day to keep themselves cool and away from predators. This make the famous phrase below true except in a few cases.
“The early bird catches the worm”William Camden
The main exception to the ‘early bird’ rule, are predatory birds! These birds of prey are notorious late risers, especially the soaring birds that depend on thermal currents to hover around to spot their prey.
A species of bird you will regularly see in the middle of the day are hawks. This makes a lot of sense because hawks are considered diurnal meaning chiefly active in the daytime. Their reliance on their eyesight to hunt make mid-day hunting their time of choice.
In Northern California where I live its common to see hawks perched on top of light poles waiting for their prey to pass by and make a mistake. Hawks hunt mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, lizards, and even other birds. Going out for a mid-day birding trip is perfect if you’re looking to see hawks in action.
Bird Watching at Sunset
Birding at sunset is probably my favorite time to go out. One reason is that sunset is arguably the second most active birds are in the day. Many species of birds need to find enough food and resources to survive the night, this is especially important if they have young to feed.
I live in a region where there are lots of shorebirds, and herons, egrets, coots, sandpipers, cormorants, willets, oystercatchers, and terns can all be seen hunting for late night snacks before they roost for the evening. This makes sunset and incredible time to take in breathtaking visuals and see awesome birds simultaneously.
Dusk Bird Watching
Most birders don’t stay out beyond the sun setting, but I’m here to tell you from first hand experience sticking around until the sun sets is often a great time for birding. My wife and I have experienced some of our best bird watching moments right after the sun has set.
At this time many birds are getting ready to roost, and this a great opportunity to get a good look at them. For example, at a local spot near me the Berkeley Aquatic Park, in Berkeley California. I was able to get up close and personal with Black Crowned Night Herons, Little Egrets, and other aquatic birds because they were settling down and getting roosting.
I found them to more relaxed and couldn’t care less about me taking their picture. Checkout the images below of a group of little egrets in their digs for the night.
Bird Watching Based on Birds Schedules
|Time of Day||Species||Notes|
|Early Morning Birds||Finches, Robins, Cardinals, Thrushes, Tits|
|Mid-Day Birds||Hawks, Eagles, Vultures, Falcons|
|Night Time Birds||Owls, Nightjars, Night Herons, Night Hawks|
Birds are just like people in the fact that they too have schedules they follow daily. They typically feed, sun, bathe, drink, and sleep at the same times every day. Similar to the way we feed, commute to work, relax, and sleep each day. So it pays off to recognize the routines of the birds near you. If you want to learn more about birds that don’t live nearby you can utilize the chart above as a rule of thumb for the times of birds you want to see.
In reality there is no bad time to go out birding, as the experience is always enriching when one can get outside and enjoy nature. Just unplugging for a second for the stress of the times we live in is a true treat. However, as birders we want to make the best of our time in the field by either capturing a special moment or adding a new species to our life list. The best way to do that is by being strategic as to when we go out. I hope you’ve found helpful information in this article about the best times to go bird watching.