Where to See Migratory Winter Birds in Marin County

By Karisma Wilson,

November 13, 2023

This fall, thousands of migratory birds flocked to California, most of whom are just passing through on their journey south, fleeing from the colder temperatures of their northern summer ranges. Some birds only visit for a brief rest before continuing south as far as Central and South America, but many stay for the duration of the winter season.

For millennia, migratory birds have followed the same annual flight paths, converging within “flyways” on their journeys. Marin County lies within the Pacific Flyway, an area that stretches from the Arctic to the coast of Mexico, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific. North to south, it is over 4,000 miles long and, in places, over 1,000 miles wide.

The San Francisco Bay specifically is a critically important stopover for birds moving along the Pacific Flyway. As the largest estuary (tidal mouth of a large river) on the Pacific coasts of both North and South America, the Bay offers an abundance of habitat for tired migrating birds. It serves as a vital rest and refueling point for these feathered travelers.

Peregrine Falcon

One of the key features that makes Marin County so attractive to these migratory birds is its diverse range of habitats. In addition to the wetlands and coasts, the region boasts a variety of ecosystems, including Marin’s agricultural lands. This diversity of habitats ensures birds of all kinds can find needed refuge as they make their long and challenging journey.

Black-throated Blue Warblers, Red-eyed Vireo, Peregrine Falcon, Loons, and more can all be seen at Point Reyes National Seashore. Though most bird species migrate at night when risk of predation is low and navigational cues from the moon and stars can be easily utilized, there are several popular birding locations throughout the park to catch these elusive seasonal visitors. 

Heading East towards San Rafael, you can see Northern Pintail, Long-billed Curlew, Mountain Plover, and Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitcher at Las Gallinas Ponds

Northern Pintail

To the south, around Bolinas Lagoon, there is an estuary where you’re likely to see a Green Winged Teal or an American Wigeon. Marbled Godwits have also frequently been spotted here. 

The season also brings changes to backyard birds. Temporary visitors like the Ruby Crowned Kinglet and Golden Crowned Sparrow can be spotted at feeders, and local favorites like Barn Swallows tend to depart as their food supply dwindles. Cedar Waxwings are also notorious for picking any fruiting trees clean around this time of year. 

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

As you observe the changing skies and wetlands this winter, remember the incredible crossing these birds undertake, and the crucial role that Marin County plays in supporting their migration and longevity. Supporting the preservation of these vital stopover points is a testament to the interconnectedness of our world while allowing future generations to witness and enjoy.

For other guided walks, hikes, and other educational tours check our monthly round up of events in Marin County

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