By Tony Croasdale, Environmental Educator at Parks & Rec’s Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center

May is prime songbird migration time. Each night, thousands, if not millions, of birds are migrating to our area. These birds are flying here from their winter homes in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Philadelphians are lucky to have many places to see these birds. From our largest parks to your backyard, and many spots in-between.

For some bird lovers, the most sought after of these migrants are wood warblers. These birds are tiny and usually brightly colored.

A bright yellow bird on a tree branch.
Canada Warbler

So where does a bird flying over a large city like Philadelphia decide to land? And where can you find these birds?

Your first thought might be our large watershed parks like Pennypack Park and Wissahickon Valley Park. These parks are attractive options to the birds. You can find concentrations of migrating songbirds in these parks. But you might also walk for miles without finding any.

Thankfully, birds landing in Philly have plenty of options and the ability to spread out. If birds are not close to a big park when they land for the day, they will make do in smaller spaces. Sometimes, species that like to live high in the tree canopy will settle on a short tree or even a shrub. Birds are easy to see when they concentrate in any available vegetation. This is called a “migrant trap.”

Migrant traps are all around us. Examples include:

  • small parks
  • yards
  • cemeteries
  • plantings around businesses or schools.
Birds still have their preferences. Take an evergreen dweller like the orange-faced Blackburnian Warbler. You might find one singing from the top on the lone spruce on your rowhouse lawn.
Bird with an orange throat, yellow body, and black wings.
Blackburnian Warbler
The aptly-named yellow and black Hooded Warbler? They might be found in a pocket park’s small patch of rhododendrons.
Yellow bird with black feathers on the top of its head and throat.
Hooded Warbler

Here are some smaller green spaces where I’ve enjoyed great May birding:

Other migrant traps you can visit:

Birds like a tailwind to migrate. That means the best days to look for migrating songbirds is when southern winds bring in warm fronts. There’s probably a migrant trap within walking distance of your home. Keep an eye out. On the next warm morning, you may notice your local park dripping with warblers!
If you venture out to find migrating birds, please practice social distancing—stay six feet away from others. Read more on how to stay safe in our parks.

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