Fall Migrating Birds to Watch For

Fall is a fantastic season for birding. While many birds may no longer be wearing their flashiest breeding colors, the drama of the season, the sheer numbers of birds, and the unexpected surprises that can fly into view make the season well worthwhile for birding and bird photography.

The Changing Face of Fall

The steady shift in the season makes each autumn day new and brings new colors, lighting, and birds to photograph. This can create a unique and dynamic palette for bird photos, as foliage changes colors and tree limbs become barren, providing new backgrounds and settings for every shot. Even if you aren’t able to go far during fall, the changes in your own yard or favorite local park or preserve can be astonishing, offering new opportunities to create thoughtful photos and new connections to nature.

Revisiting the same spot regularly during fall is a great way to connect with the season and learn its changes more intimately. As birds are migrating, each new day can also bring new birds to photograph, and it is important to take advantage of every opportunity, as migrants may stay in the area for just a few days or few weeks as they move along on their seasonal journeys.

Birds to Watch for During Fall

Fall is often viewed as a season when birds are leaving and lessening, but there are more diverse birds about than many birders or bird photographers realize. Birds to be on the lookout for throughout autumn include…

  • Waterfowl – Ducks and geese create tremendous flocks in fall, and can be found on most familiar waterways including ponds, lakes, and bays. Sluggish rivers can also host groups of waterfowl in autumn, especially in wooded areas.
  • Warblers – These active birds are often associated with spring, but warblers are also active in fall as northern species move south. Watch for warblers in wooded areas and along woodland edges, as well as on the southern shores of large lakes and bays.
  • Shorebirds – Many shorebirds are Arctic nesters, and bird photographers who don’t have the time or budget to visit the Arctic during the breeding season can get stunning photos of these birds when they visit shorelines and coasts during autumn.
  • Raptors – Raptors, including hawks and eagles, are often difficult to find in summer. In fall, however, these birds undertake awesome migrations. This makes them easy to find and photograph alongside cliffs and mountains where thermal air currents are ideal.
  • Game Birds – Skittish quail, pheasants, and grouse are fun to photograph in harvested agricultural fields in fall, where they will be actively foraging for spilled grain and seeds. Large flocks of wild turkeys are also great to find in fall.
  • Vagrants – Surprise visitors can appear in unexpected places in autumn, and vagrant birds can provide once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to photograph birds well outside their usual ranges. Stay tuned to birding groups for news about vagrants all season long.
  • Resident Birds – Don’t neglect the chickadees, woodpeckers, and jays in your yard during autumn. While these birds stay nearby year-round, their caching behaviors in fall are a great opportunity to capture unique bird behaviors in your lens.

Making the Most of Fall Bird Photography

The best way to get the best fall bird photos is to just get out and enjoy the season. Experiment with different lighting and how best to showcase foliage colors in different backgrounds, and focus on the subtle details that bring beauty to autumn birds. There is beauty in every day of every season, and the more you work to capture that beauty, the more you’ll appreciate the changes that make fall such a unique and noteworthy season, for photos and for birds.