What is the Best Time of Day for Bird Watching?

The best time for bird watching is when the birds themselves are most active. For many species, this means the early morning hours, just after the dawn breaks.

Bird Photography Camera
Photographing birds in the morning often leads to the best photos.

If your time is limited, and you want to see as many bird species as possible while you’re out, you’re probably wondering what the best time of day is to go bird-watching.

While it depends on the time of year and species you are looking for, in general, the best time of day to go would be early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when birds are most active and visible.

Birds tend to be more active during these times of the day because they are searching for food, singing to attract mates, or building nests.

The worst time of day to go bird-watching is during the middle of the day, it can be too hot for birds to be active, so they tend to rest and conserve their energy. This coincides with one of the worst times to photograph birds as well because the sun is overhead. This type of lighting makes bird photography tough because the bird’s colors are not evenly lit to reveal their beautiful colors, and harsh highlights can ruin your image in the mid-day sun.

Therefore, if you want to see the most birds and have the best chance of spotting different species, it’s recommended to plan your birdwatching trip for early morning or late afternoon.

The golden hour

Why Are Birds More Active in the Morning?

We have found the morning (usually about 1-2 hours after the Sun has risen) to be the most effective time to go bird-watching and take photos of birds. It’s not just luck either, there are some good reasons why this is the best time to go bird watching:

  • Birds are diurnal, which means they are most active during the day and rest during the night.
  • In the morning, birds are typically searching for food to fuel their activities throughout the day.
  • The temperature is cooler in the morning, which is more comfortable for birds to be active.
  • Birds need to find food before other animals, such as squirrels, have a chance to eat it.
  • Many birds sing in the morning to establish territories and attract mates, so they are more vocal and visible during this time.
  • During the breeding season, birds spend a lot of time building nests, which is also a morning activity.
  • Some migratory birds start their journeys in the early morning, making it an important time for birdwatchers to spot them.

Are Birds Active at Dusk?

Certain birds can be very active at dusk, which is the time just before the sun sets and the sky becomes darker. This is because dusk is also a time when birds are searching for food and water before it gets too dark.

During this time, many bird species are particularly active and vocal as they prepare for the night ahead. Some species, such as nighthawks and owls, are nocturnal, which means they are most active during the night and sleep during the day.

A Short-eared Owl photographed in the late day sun just before dusk.

Therefore, if you are interested in observing these types of birds, dusk is an important time to go birdwatching. It’s important to note that the activity level of birds during dusk can vary depending on the season, weather, and location, so it’s a good idea to research specific bird species and their habits before planning a birdwatching trip.

What is the Best Time of Year to Go Bird Watching?

Now that you know that the morning, late afternoon, and evening offer the best chances of seeing active birds, what about the time of year?

The best time of year to go bird watching can depend on various factors, including the type of birds you want to see and the location where you plan to go bird watching. Generally, the spring and fall are considered the best times to go bird watching because these seasons are the most active for bird migration.

Point Pelee Birding
A male Scarlet Tanager in the spring.

During these times, you can observe a wide variety of bird species that may not be present in the area during other times of the year. Additionally, spring is the breeding season for many bird species, which can make them more visible and vocal as they establish territories and attract mates.

Bird Photography during peak bloom season with Stefano Ianiro

Fall is also a good time to go bird watching because many species are preparing to migrate and may be more active and visible as they gather food and build up their energy for the long journey ahead.

However, it’s important to note that different bird species have different migration and breeding patterns, so it’s a good idea to research specific bird species and their habits before planning a bird-watching trip.

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