Bird watching has long been a favorite activity in Washington County, Maryland. Professional ornithologists, photographers, birdwatching enthusiasts and nature lovers come from across the USA to soak up the scenery and snap the common and elusive bird pics, do scientific research, and simply enjoy.
According to the Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources’ website, there are over 445 species of birds in the state, with about 222 species which regularly nest here. A complete list can be found here: Maryland Birds. Our location with the Potomac River as our southern boarder lends itself to some of the best birdwatching in the Mid-Atlantic!
The spine of South Mountain (our eastern border) is known as the “Atlantic Flyway” and is the pathway for neotropical migrating birds when traveling to/from warmer climates, such as hawks, eagles and owls! Washington Monument State Park has an official Hawk Watching station, recognized by the Hawk Migration Association of North America, or HMANA.
Depending on migration patterns, these birds are commonly seen in the springtime: Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlarks, Indigo Bunting, and Red-headed Woodpecker various Flycatchers, Vireos, and Warblers. Raptors and Red-tailed Hawks are also commonly seen. American Bald Eagles make appearances too!
Other common raptor sightings include the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, American Kestrel, and even Broad-winged Hawks.
Great Blue Herons are frequently spotted along the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. White-crowned Sparrows are among the wintering species. At night, Barred Owls, Screech Owls, and Great Horned Owls can be heard and can be seen too.
Bird Trails and opportunities to view them are abundant in Washington County. See below for some of our favorite places to watch, and wait.
- Antietam Bird Trail
- C&O Canal Bird Trail
- Bird Watching South Mountain Recreation Area
- Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area
- Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area
Great birding adventures begin with a place to call home base. Depending on your personal lodging preferences, you can choose from primitive campsites, lock houses on the C&O Canal, cabins, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, and a full range of hotels. Many of our non-hotel lodging options are nestled along scenic byways, overlooking many of Washington County’s most scenic landscapes. You can be as close to the birds and nature as possible, or enjoy modern comforts and amenities before heading out to immerse yourself in nature.
You’ll want to make sure you’ve had a delicious meal before heading off the beaten path for your birdwatching adventure. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of dining opportunities. From fine dining to neighborhood pubs and grills, bustling eateries, diners, delis and fast food chains, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds and fill your belly. If you plan to head out on the trail for the day and don’t want to interrupt your birdwatching to go eat a meal, several establishments offer boxes lunches you can order and take with you. It just requires some advanced planning.
As you travel to access many of the prime spots for birdwatching, your journey will most likely be along one or more scenic byways. Whether you’re on the Maryland Historic National Road Scenic Byway, The C&O Canal Scenic Byway, or the Antietam Campaign Scenic Byway,
You can plan your birdwatching adventure for just about any time of year. Spring and Summer are prime time for birdwatching in Washington County, and Autumn is a beautiful way to see habitats in scenic fall colors. Many birds that have migrated to Central and South America are then returning to the area to breed, plus there are year round residents like cardinals and chickadees and hummingbirds to enjoy.
Cover photo: Owl in Kiwanis Park by John Canan Photogrpahy