Where to Go Bird Watching in San Diego

Bird watching may seem like an old-fashioned hobby, but it’s garnered a lot of renewed interest lately from people of all ages. Birding is a great way to get outside, explore nature, develop a better understanding of the world around you, and see lots of pretty birds! There are lots of great bird-watching spots in San Diego, and it’s a fun activity for people of all ages. 

What to Bring Bird Watching 

Birdwatching essentials include binoculars, a bird identification guide, sunscreen, and any other protective equipment you might desire. Here are some things you may want to take bird watching:

  • A wide-brimmed hat can be helpful to keep the sun out of your eyes. 
  • Sturdy shoes are important for walking on all terrains. 
  • Wear long pants to avoid scratching your legs on bushes or coming in contact with poison oak. 
  • Hiking poles with straps around your wrist can be good for maintaining balance and taking the weight of your legs while hiking. 
  • Sunscreen is an essential layer of protection for your long-term health. 
  • A trail map or app on your phone.
  • And as always, bring plenty of water. Even if you think you’re only going to be gone a short time, your body can dehydrate quickly under the hot Southern California sun. 

Where to Go Bird Watching in San Diego

Birding at Beaches and Lagoons

While some birds have acclimated to city and suburban life, most will be partial to their own native habitats, including shorelines, lagoons, mountains, and canyons.

Look along any beach in San Diego and you’re likely to see sandpipers or other shorebirds running along the edge of the waves, pulling their food out of the sand as the water ebbs and flows. Pay special attention to their beaks, as each species is different and specialized to their favorite foods such as tiny aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. 

La Jolla Cove is a consistently reliable place for shorebird viewing. In addition to the little birds on the shore, you’ll likely also see many large brown pelicans, cormorants, and even the occasional osprey. 

Birds also love our local lagoons and river mouths. These marshy habitats provide a wealth of different food options, including insects, fish, mollusks, and plants. They have traditionally made important nesting grounds and stopovers for migrating birds. Common sights include the dinosaur-like great blue herons, the silently stalking snowy egrets, and numerous different species of ducks and other waterfowl. 

The Tijuana river estuary often has many fun bird sightings. If you live in North County, you can visit any one of San Elijo, Batiquitos, or Agua Hedionda lagoons. 

Bird Watching in the Mountains

If you drive out to the mountains you may be pleasantly surprised by all the birds to be found there too. 

You could encounter a group of our state bird, the California quail. They roam in groups and are especially active in the morning when they forage for seeds and insects in the underbrush. 

Look up in the trees and you may catch sight or hear the cackle of noisy Nuttall or acorn woodpeckers. They are two different species, but both have bright red feathers at the top of their heads.

A common sight in the mountains can be a group of turkeys. They too roam in flocks, with the ever-vigilant big toms keeping an eye out for the safety of the rest of the group.

San Diego Canyons and Trails for Birding

Popular local canyons to explore include Los Penasquitos Canyon, which stretches from Sorrento Valley to Poway, or Mission Trails Regional Park near San Carlos. 

If you head to the hills, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has many wonderful trails to explore for all skill levels. 

Look, but Don’t Touch

Remember, each one of these bird species depends on the natural environment in which they live. It can be easy to get distracted by the sighting of an incredible creature and accidentally step somewhere that disturbs their habitat, so please be careful while enjoying nature. It’s important to preserve these spaces for the future of the birds and so many other animals that call our “biodiversity hotspot” home. 

For more on local bird watching, read Birds to Watch in San Diego.

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