Oakland is a Birdwatcher’s Paradise

Local Information

Oakland is home to the nation’s first government-owned wildlife refuge. Established in 1870, Lake Merritt still exists in downtown Oakland and serves as an important migratory waterfowl rest stop on the Pacific Flyway.

Bird lovers can see more than 100 different types of birds at Lake Merritt throughout the year. American white pelicans, Barrow’s goldeneye, buffleheads, grebes and canvasbacks fish the waters, while Caspian terns dot the beaches. Lake Merritt is home to a large variety of herons, egrets, hawks and woodpeckers. Canadian geese and tufted ducks are popular attractions here. Black-crowned night herons, snowy egrets and scaups are common, while brown pelicans and great blue herons make occasional appearances.

Sausal Creek flows from the East Bay hills to the Oakland Estuary, passing through a number of habitats that support a wide variety of bird species. Sausal Creek features several good birding locations, including Dimond Canyon and Dimond Park, Josie de la Cruz Park and the trails near Sequoia Arena in Joaquin Miller Park.
Located on the shores of the San Leandro Bay in Oakland, California, Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline is home to more than 90 species of birds, including the federally endangered Ridgway’s Rail that lives only in San Francisco Bay salt marshes.

For even more sightings, bird lovers can head to one of several birding hotspots in San Francisco, including Fort Mason, Crissy Lagoon, El Polin Spring in the Presidio, Heron’s Head Park, John McLaren Park, Buena Vista Park and Glen Canyon Park. Lands End and Sutro Heights feature wheelchair accessible trails. Golden Gate Park – San Francisco Botanical Garden and Lake Merced are also excellent bird watching locations.

Oakland is a Birdwatcher’s Paradise During Every Season of the Year

Oakland is an important stop for birds traveling in the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in America. Stretching 4,000 miles north to south and 1,000 miles east to west, the Pacific Flyway extends from Alaska to Patagonia. Birds stop along San Francisco Bay for food and rest during the spring and fall migrations. The estuarine habitat, uplands, open water, mudflats, salt ponds and salt marshes of Oakland provide a respite for migrating birds and an excellent opportunity for birdwatchers.

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland hosts a wealth of water birds from late July to early April. The encircling arms of the park make it easy to observe the shorebirds feeding on the restored mudflat.

Shorebirds live by the tides; many shorebirds feed at high tide while others feed when parts of the mudflat is exposed. Shorebirds will move out of view as the tide ebbs, so birdwatchers should plan their trip to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park when the tide has begun to move out or when it is partway back in, and bring a spotting scope. Look for Virginia Rails, Ridgway’s Rails and Sora during high tide; and Common Goldeneye and scaup floating just offshore.

Fall through spring is a great time to see water birds near Oakland. Birdwatchers can see Ridgway’s Rails, spotted sandpipers, peregrine falcons and tens of thousands of other shorebirds, ducks and seabirds. Elegant Terns flock to the East Bay Shoreline before heading south for the winter. Here, bird-lovers can see long-billed curlew, dowitchers, whimbrel, western and least sandpipers, black-bellied and semi-palmated plovers and sanderling. Hayward Regional Shoreline is also a hotspot for birding in the autumn – rare warblers, vireos and sparrows feed in the anise near the eucalyptus growing there.

Fall and winter are the best time to see ducks in Oakland and San Francisco. Look for rails in the spring, particularly at high tide. Stilt and avocet chicks take to the waters in June, while the least tern can be seen May through August.

Oakland, CA, and San Francisco are two of the nation’s best places for bird watching during all seasons of the year. With views of both Lake Merritt and the East Bay Hills, Lake Park is perfect for nature-lovers. For more information about birding in Oakland or to learn about why Oakland is the best place to retire, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us.