With so many waterways and so much open space, Sonoma County is prime bird-watching territory — and autumn, when migratory birds are on the move, is one of the best times of the year to spot unusual species.
If you’re hesitating to give it a try because you can’t tell the difference between an egret and an eagle, don’t let that stop you. Everybody has to start somewhere. Besides, birding makes the perfect excuse to get yourself outdoors and onto a trail.
So grab a bird guide and binocs if you have them (definitely nothing to worry about it if you don’t), and head for one of the spots below. They’re all perfectly prime territory for observing our avian friends:
Situated along the Pacific Flyway, the Refuge and its estuary provide an important wintering area for west coast migrating waterfowl.
Among the denizens, both year-round and transitory: American white pelican, northern harrier, American wigeon, peregrine falcon, ring-necked pheasant, greater yellowleggs, red-necked phalarope, Llast tern, western burrowing owl, and the song sparrow. Download a complete bird list.
Located on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, the park’s large size and lake attract diverse bird species, especially during migration. You may see a variety of geese, egrets, herons, hawks, woodpeckers, owls, jays, warblers and sparrows.
Thanks to the unique and complex surrounding habitat of Sonoma County's largest freshwater wetlands, this trail is a birder’s paradise. More than 200 species of birds are known to reside in or feed and rest in the Laguna in the course of migration, including egrets, hawks, sparrows, finches, woodpeckers and even bald eagles. For more details, read Explore the Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands.
Sonoma County Regional Park trails in Bodega Bay offer wonderful opportunities to spot pelagic birds on the water, shorebirds in the mudflats and waterfowl on the harbor. Head to trails at Doran Regional Park, the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, and Pinnacle Gulch Coastal Access Trail for great birding, surf, sun, and fun.
Located on the Russian River west of Windsor, this park is a nesting spot for great blue herons from January through July, and you’ll see the magnificent birds throughout the year, along with hawks, coots, mallards, hummingbirds, the occasional osprey, and many other types of birds.
The largest of Sonoma County’s regional parks, 3,402-acre Tolay Lake is named for the seasonal lake that forms in the valley between its hillsides. It is prime habitat for hawks, eagles, owls, white-tailed kites, and many other birds.
For more birding options in Sonoma County, visit:
- Sonoma Birding, for information about birding in and around Sonoma Valley, including events and an informative list, with map, of about 20 “Birding Hot Spots” within 30 minutes of Sonoma Plaza.
- The Madrone Audubon Society’s website, Madrone Online, for info about birding locations around Sonoma County. You’ll find an event calendar, articles, photos, and birding news.
- Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots. A labor of love by local birdwatcher Colin Talcroft, this site has tons of information ranging from birding locations to field guide reviews. He also has a downloadable/printable county field list.
For more outdoor adventure possibilities, read Best Sonoma County Birdwatching Parks, Guide to Hiking in Sonoma County, and Outdoor Activities in Sonoma County. And find more info about outdoor activities, things to do, and hotels & lodging in Sonoma County.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez