A little over 2 hours north of Minneapolis, Duluth sits on the southern shore of Lake Superior, a hawk-watchers paradise. “Hawks coming south from Canada don’t like to cross over the Great Lakes,” says Mehlman. “They go around one side or the other, so you get this funnel where they congregate.” The observatory estimates that more than 94,000 hawks are seen there every year, some migrating from as far north as the Arctic Circle. Birds start appearing in mid-August, so over Labor Day weekend, you’ll likely see American kestrels and sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks, and maybe even a peregrine falcon or two.
Other great hawk-watching locales are Hawk Mountain in Kempton, Pennsylvania, and almost any natural area along the Texas coastline.
No more than a half a day’s drive from most major cities in the Northeast, Cape May has a temperate climate that suits nearly every species of migratory birds, and they linger year-round. “That’s a great spot,” says Kaufman. Like Duluth, Cape May is situated at a funnel point; birds travel down the eastern seaboard and get to the tip of New Jersey, where they pause for a while to think over their next move. Around this time of year, the observatory, located at the southernmost end of New Jersey, on the Delaware Bay, hosts warblers and other warm-weather songbirds.
Hummingbird lovers may want to delay any travel plans until the weekend after Labor Day, when thousands of ruby-throated hummingbirds descend on this nature center about an hour outside of Memphis. The tiny birds travel thousands of miles from Canada over the Gulf of Mexico to Central America, stopping here to take a rest. The center hosts a “Migration Celebration” each year to tag and document the birds. This year, the festival takes place from September 11 to 13, but show up a week early and you’ll still see plenty of hummingbirds.
Mehlman recommends this refuge as a prime place for watching shorebirds, waterfowl, herons, and egrets. Situated between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, the park is best known as a wintering home for sandhill cranes. You likely see many over Labor Day weekend, but return in November for the “Festival of the Cranes,” when as many as 14,000 cranes descend on the refuge.
“Block Island has great concentrations of birds, mostly warblers, and it’s a beautiful place for biking,” says Kaufman. “It’s one of my favorite fall spots.” Take a 1-hour ferry from the southern shore of mainland Rhode Island or from Long Island, New York, and spend a day taking in the various habitats—grasslands, scrubland, salt and brackish ponds, freshwater wetlands, and beaches—that make the island particularly attractive to birds, especially songbirds, as well as various butterfly species.