The Wissahickon Watershed: A birdwatcher's paradise

by Regina Marie
Posted 5/4/23

The Wissahickon Watershed, with its enchanting landscapes and remarkable bird population, is a testament to the resilience of nature in an urban setting.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

The Wissahickon Watershed: A birdwatcher's paradise


The Wissahickon Watershed, with its enchanting landscapes and remarkable bird population, is a testament to the resilience of nature in an urban setting. Stretching across 64 square miles, it’s home to an astonishing array of avian species. 

Small wonder there’s such a committed group of birding enthusiasts in our region. 

With more than 250 species of birds, the Wissahickon Watershed is a birdwatcher's dream come true. The area's diverse habitats, which include deciduous and mixed forests, meadows, and wetlands, provide the perfect backdrop for both migratory and resident bird species. Whether you are an experienced birder or just starting out, our region offers a unique opportunity to observe a wide variety of birds in their natural habitat.

Protecting this rich birdlife is a collaborative effort, which has volunteers at both the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association and the Friends of the Wissahickon working to restore its distinct ecosystem, ensuring that it remains a thriving sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. Birders, too, can play a part, by practicing responsible birdwatching and advocating for the protection of these natural treasures. As you explore the trails, remember that each species you encounter is a vital part of this unique ecosystem. 

Notable Species

Wood Warblers: These small, colorful birds are a sight to behold, as they flit through the trees in search of insects. The Wissahickon is home to a number of different warbler species, including the black-and-white warbler, the ovenbird, and the strikingly beautiful Blackburnian warbler.

Raptors: The Wissahickon's mature forests and open spaces provide an ideal environment for raptors such as the red-tailed hawk, the Cooper's hawk, and the eastern screech owl. In the winter months, keep an eye out for the magnificent Bald Eagle, which can occasionally be spotted soaring above the creek.

Woodpeckers: The Wissahickon is home to several species of woodpeckers, including the downy woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker, and the eye-catching red-bellied woodpecker. These industrious birds can be seen (and heard) throughout the year as they excavate cavities in trees for nesting and forage for insects.

Songbirds: The Wissahickon's rich tapestry of habitats supports a diverse array of songbirds, from the ethereal wood thrush to the vibrant scarlet tanager. Spring and fall migrations bring even more species to the area, such as the rose-breasted grosbeak and the indigo bunting.

Waterbirds: Wissahickon Creek and its associated wetlands provide vital habitat for a variety of water-loving birds, including great blue herons, belted kingfishers, and wood ducks. These species can often be observed wading in the shallows or perched on overhanging branches, watching for their next meal.

Birding Tips and Tricks

Timing is everything: The Wissahickon's bird population is at its peak during spring and fall migrations, making these seasons the best time to visit. Arrive early in the morning, when birds are most active and vocal, to maximize your chances of spotting a variety of species.

Use your ears: While binoculars are essential for birding, don't forget the importance of listening. Many birds, especially warblers and other small species, can be difficult to see but are easily identified by their distinctive songs.

Stay on the trails: The Wissahickon's extensive trail network offers ample opportunities to observe birds without disturbing their habitat. Stick to established trails, and avoid trampling sensitive areas, such as wetlands and meadows.

Be patient: Birding is often a waiting game. Take your time and be prepared to sit quietly in one spot for a while. This will give birds the chance to become accustomed to your presence and resume their normal activities. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to spot something special.

Dress appropriately: Wear muted colors that blend in with the environment, as bright clothing can deter some bird species. In addition, be prepared for varying weather conditions, as the Wissahickon's microclimates can change rapidly.

Learn from others: Joining a local birdwatching group or participating in a guided bird walk can be a great way to learn from experienced birders and discover new species. The Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association and the Friends of the Wissahickon often host birding events throughout the year.