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Birdwatching in San Diego

Hundreds of species of birds call San Diego home

No one loves San Diego more than birds—except maybe birdwatchers. Feathered friends flock here for our fair climate, varied geography, and fresh- and salt- water habitats. Located along the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds, San Diego County has played host to 515 species, including those that have winged great distances, and others who call it home. Though winter sees the greatest number of birds here, birding can be done any day of the year, and everywhere in the county, from the beaches to mountaintops to the desert.

By: San Diego Magazine
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North County Coastal

The area around the Oceanside Harbor, including the San Luis Rey River Trail, Loma Alta Creek Slough, and Buena Vista Lagoon is a bird-friendly region of beaches, marshes, grasslands and freshwater habitat. Snowy egrets, great blue herons, Belding’s savannah sparrows, and American coots make it their home. Join the Buena Vista Lagoon’s monthly bird count on the last Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Batiquitos Lagoon San Diego


North County Coastal

The tidal marshes, eelgrass, and coastal sage scrub of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon attract 192 bird species, including terns, ducks belted kingfishers, California quail, great blue herons, and other winged beauties. At neighboring Batiquitos Lagoon, manmade sand islands make nesting grounds for shorebirds such as Forster’s terns and least terns, while other areas are frequented by Belding’s savannah sparrow, snowy egrets, and Black skimmers.



North County Coastal

Amazingly, the saltwater and freshwater marshes, mudflats, and scrub of the San Elijo Lagoon have been visited by 40 percent of all North American bird species. Between the lagoon and adjacent sand dunes, this is a great place to see threatened birds like the California Least Tern, Western Snowy Plover, California Gnatcatcher, and others. Join bird and wildlife walks on Saturday mornings or volunteer to help out with monthly bird counts.

Del Mar Torrey Pines San Diego

Del Mar/Torrey Pines

North County Coastal

Whether from the marshes and mudflats or on an overlook at the nearby North Bluff Preserve, the San Dieguito Lagoon is a prime spot to spy birds like least terns, geese, ducks, loons, grebes, and egrets. On the bluffs and shores of Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve, Ridgway’s rail, western snowy plover, and other species find a home. Look to the skies for red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks. In the adjacent Los Penasquitos Lagoon, a stone’s throw from the Torrey Pine-covered bluffs, those same birds find a home in salt and freshwater marshes, alkali flats, and coastal sage scrub. Free nature walks at Torrey Pines Nature Center depart every Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Red Tailed Hawk Point Loma

Point Loma and Ocean Beach

Point Loma Peninsula

Flanked by water on both sides, the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary has hosted 280 bird species, such as Black-vented shearwaters, surf scoters, black oystercatchers, cormorants, and black swifts, at one time or another. Just a minute down the road, the Cabrillo National Monument’s breathtaking views and textbook tidepools serve as an epic backdrop for birdwatching. The San Diego River meets the ocean just next to the golden shores of Ocean Beach; draining tides reveal mudflats and pools perfect for ducks, great blue heron, little blue heron, long-billed curlews, and marsh wren. The nearby Famosa Slough is a pocket of wetlands among urban development that provides a welcome juxtaposition of city and nature.

Mission Bay

Mission Bay & Beaches

From the air, Mission Bay’s 4,000 acres must appear to birds as a massive avian oasis. Indeed, such feathered species as the endangered light-footed clapper rail and Belding’s Savannah sparrow can be found here alongside willets, whimbrel, spotted sandpipers, and the ubiquitous seagull. Two likely spots for bird spotting are the neighboring Northern Wildlife Preserve and Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve along the bay’s northern reaches. Find an observation deck at the reserve’s southern end and allow interpretive kiosks to help you piece together the bay’s airborne ecological tapestry.

Phainopepla Anza Borrego San Diego

Desert and Mountains


The mountains east of downtown San Diego provide a cool, calm respite from the city, both for people and birds. The mountainous terrains makes for endless bird habitat that attracts the California and mountain quail, Bullock's orioles, Brewer's blackbird, lazuli bunting, and the Steller's jay, among others. In Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a wilderness that comes to life dramatically in the spring, among the native cacti and wildflowers visitors can spy Costa’s Hummingbird, Verdins, California Quails and black-throated Sparrows.

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