American Birding Association
March 25, 2023
Spend any amount of time at all in the company of birders, and you quickly discover their proclivity for places that are, in a word, weird. For example, ice-slicked jetties in a New England blizzard when it is too miserable for even the fisherman. Or mosquito-infested swamps in the Deep South in summer. There are the pelagic trips, of course, with their chopped-up fish, odeur de diesel, and birders barfing off the stern. And SEWAGE TREATMENT PONDS. And cemeteries.
Going to cemeteries may seem “weird,” but it’s not miserable (New England), nauseating (pelagics, sewage lagoons), or downright unbearable (Atlanta in summer, anyone)? As wildlife biologist Danielle Belleny, a. k. a. “The Cemetery Birder,” relates in the Mar. 2022 Birding, cemeteries are among the most enchanting of all venues for bird study. They’re also one of the most accessible.
To be blunt about it, people die all the time and all over the place—with the result that the ABA Area is filled with cemeteries. There are at least 150,000 such burial grounds in the U.S. and Canada, with the particularly notable ones being near, and often in, our biggest metropolises.
ABA webczar Greg Neise, himself a big city denizen and regular visitant to cemeteries, has shared with Birding magazine this suite of photos from cemeteries around his home in Chicago. Greg tells Birding, “Urban cemeteries are great places to go birding, and I’m lucky to have several near home. They’re wonderful for quiet study of common residents, the chance for a migration fallout, or even a rare owl.”
What are your “cemetery birding” experiences? Tell us your favorite cemeteries for birding, or just a pleasant memory or good bird from a visit to a cemetery. Please drop your comments in the space below.
I’ve had many great birding experiences in cemeteries, but one highlight was when I had my lifer and still only Harris’s Sparrow in Sackett Cemetery in Ottawa County, Ohio. It was a stakeout bird, which was decidedly not present while we nervously watched a winter storm rolling toward us… until it showed up!
I used to live across the street from Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, so I’ve had a lot of good moments there (including 14 lifers). But my favorite moment has to be when I found a Red-tailed Hawk nest almost directly above my great grandmother’s grave!
Our Lexington Cemetery in Kentucky is one of the hotspots for spring migration and is also the location for our New Years day birding. My best is hard to pick out. I’ve been there when we had 40 White-winged Crossbills in one tree but I think it’s when there is a cacophony of bird song during the height of spring migration. Last year was a nice respite to goings on when I had 20 Magnolia Warblers and found their bathing spot.
I have been birding for 50+ years and as such have birded numerous cemeteries as they often have great birds. Bryan City Cemetery in Texas is my most recent one that I have birded. Western Bluebird was the target bird and was seen by numerous people. The kicker was that it had 2 species of Bluebirds that winter and thus made it a challenge and fun.
I don’t spend as much time birding cemeteries as some birders, maybe since I’m lucky to have so much other green space all around my city and area. But two great cemetery experiences stand out — the first being a very cooperative Northern Wheatear one fall (a great but annual bird here). It was all the more notable since right across the road was Newfoundland’s second ever Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!! How often have those two species been seen within a quarter mile of each other?!?! Just two weeks ago, I enjoyed views of an ABA rare REDWING in a cemetery just… Read more »
I go every other week to our local cemetery and it’s always a great experience. Very peaceful, lots of birds because there are meny different kinds of trees and, minor but good for birding, no dogs allowed!
I drove from Southern Georgia to Fort Lauderdale in Oct 2015 to see the rare Variegated Flycatcher at Evergreen Cemetery. It was found first thing in the morning by another birder. Even better than seeing this rarity was meeting my now two great friends, Gill and Dixie, who live in Fort Lauderdale in the winter. I now get to see my friends every winter and have found other amazing Florida rarities with them, including the Dark-billed Cuckoo and Zenaida Dove.
A cemetery was part of my area for Cook County’s breeding Bird Atlas. It was the cemetery close to home and had quite a bit of habitat. One day birding my route I happened upon a spot where I was seeing quite a number of good birds. I finally glanced down to see I had been standing on the grave of my great aunt & uncle! Haha – family can help you out no matter where you go.
Oakwood cemetery in Syracuse New York acts as a good migration trap. I’ve had so many days that birds would only be there for a single day.
One of my favourite cemeteries in the world is Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston, where I lived in 91-93 (yes, I know that’s along time, but it shows just how the beauty of the place has remained imprinted in my brain). Exquisite monuments and fantastic landscaping with a multitude of migratory birds in the spring. Hope to see it again one day. Along with the gorgeous Arnold Arboretum! in my own town, Quebec City, there are two cemeteries with majestic views over the St-Lawrence River which are popular with local birders: St Patrick Cemetery and Mount Hermon cemetery. There are… Read more »
My most memorable cemetery birding experience came on a layover during air travel in September 2019! Having a few hours to kill at the Fort Lauderdale airport, I hopped an Uber to an eBird hotspot called Evergreen cemetery. Being my first chance to go birding outside the west coast, it was magical! I saw so many different warblers that I had only ever seen in my bird book, relished the neotropical air, and felt grateful for that quality of birding that allows you to enjoy every place you go as if you are on a lifelong treasure hunt.
We just buried my grandfather on this past Wednesday in Massachusetts. He was the proud son of a Sicilian mother and a Turkish father — both immigrants. As we gathered for the graveside service, we all were startled to notice a huge Tom Turkey circling a nearby gravestone. He stayed there through the entire service: a Turkey sent by our mischievous, fun-loving, Turkish grandfather!
There are several birds that used to be common in my area but have become less common as new developments are built. It’s been a few years since I’ve encountered a roadrunner. Just last week I happened to be sitting near a cemetery when a pair of greater roadrunners appeared and foraged for bugs in the cemetery grass!
My birdiest site in Redlands CA is a cemetery—Hillside Memorial Park. An eBird Hotspot, the cemetery also has the largest collection of Italian Cypress trees outside of Italy. Am always struck with the social activities of Acorn Woodpeckers on the palms.
In the arid Southwest, cemeteries can be refuges of moisture and greenery. At this cemetery at Fort Huachuca I found a Rufous-backed Robin! It’s interesting to have the joy of birding amidst the contrast of the headstones with so many wars in the background: WWII, Korea, Vietnam.
Went for a bird walk while my mother was making arrangements for my grandfathers funeral in Oklahoma. Red headed woodpeckers with juveniles. Scissor tail flycatchers. Mockingbirds chasing off hawks. Countless robins and small songbirds feeding. One of the most inspiring experiences that made me become a regular birder!
My favorite birding cemetery is called Mission View and lies in Wabaunsee County, Kansas. When I was a child, my mother and grandmother took me there every Memorial Day to lay flowers on the graves of my great-great grandparents and other remote family members. In 2009, I discovered a singing Bewick’s Wren at the cemetery, and have usually found a nesting pair there every spring and summer since. Bewick’s Wren is not plentiful in northeast Kansas, but this cemetery has become a reliable place that birders can go to find this species for their life, year, state or county lists.… Read more »