Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Birdwatching at the Zoo

The range of habitats, including woods, open areas, and water, combines to attract a diversity of resident and migratory birds to the National Zoo throughout the year.

View Zoo Bird List

Some of the better areas to find birds:

Wetlands by the Bird House

The ponds by the Bird House occasionally host wild ducks. Usually wary of people, wild ducks find the combination of free food, ice-free water (especially in winter), and plenty of winged company irresistible.

The highly colorful wood ducks and mallards are regular visitors. In fact, this is one of the few places in the Washington, D.C., area that reliably hosts wood ducks in winter. Other ducks such as gadwall, American wigeon, northern pintail, northern shoveler, and teal have been observed here.

From April to October, the Zoo hosts a nesting colony of black-crowned night herons. Other wading birds occasionally visit this area including: great egret, yellow-crowned night heron, and great blue and green herons.

Paved bike trail along Rock Creek

This trail follows Rock Creek as it meanders through the Zoo grounds. It is accessible from the bridge over Rock Creek near Amazonia and the stretch from the bridge to the Calvert Street Bridge can be quite birdy. The riparian forest hosts nesting wood ducks and a variety of songbirds.

Gnatcatchers have nested here and brown creeper, kinglets, woodpeckers including sapsucker, pileated, and hairy, winter wren, northern parula, and barred owl have been observed. Many songbirds such as warblers, flycatchers, vireos, and thrushes use these woods during their spring and fall migrations.

The creek itself is a favorite loafing area for mallards and wood ducks and occasionally other waterfowl as well as kingfishers and black-crowned night herons and great blue herons. Raptors are sometimes present and may include red-tailed, red-shouldered, and Cooper's hawks in season.

Olmsted Walk

This tree-lined walkway winds through the Zoo from Connecticut Avenue to Rock Creek. Extensive plantings of tall trees entice migratory songbirds to linger during their spring and fall migrations.

The scattered fruiting trees attract robins and waxwings while the dense shrubs are favored by sparrows, mockingbirds, and catbirds.

Particularly birdy areas along Olmsted Walk:

  • Gibbon Ridge and the Great Ape House -
    The tall oak trees are especially attractive in spring to a variety of warblers and other migratory songbirds that feed on insects.
  • Lemur Island -
    The tall shade trees host nesting Baltimore orioles and eastern kingbirds.
  • Visitor Center -
    Sapsuckers often winter near the Visitor Center; look for their telltale sap wells in the trees.