Located about a mile from Philadelphia International Airport, this 1,200-acre preserve is where to see warblers, vireos, and other songbirds in spring and fall, Northern Saw-whet Owl in winter, as well as Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon
By Edie Parnum | Published: 4/24/2009
Over 25 years ago, I was a beginning birder and began going to the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Here with the help of knowledgeable guides, I learned about birds. I saw my first Hudsonian Godwit and learned that the refuge is an occasional fall stopover for the long-distance migrant traveling from the Hudson Bay to southern South America.
Because the refuge is a green oasis in an urban landscape and possesses a variety of habitats in close proximity to each other, it hosts a diversity of birds at all times of the year. You can easily forget you’re in a busy metropolitan area. A pair of Bald Eagles nested at the refuge this year, as if to underscore the point.
The refuge originated in the 1950s, when 200 acres of wetlands were preserved. It was the last remnant in Pennsylvania of what was originally 6,000 acres of freshwater tidal marsh. Designated a national wildlife refuge in 1972, Heinz is now known as one of the nation’s finest urban preserves.
— Edie Parnum
Edie Parnum regularly leads bird walks at Heinz NWR and other nearby locations. She is ornithology chair of Valley Forge Audubon Society and a local compiler of the Christmas Bird Count.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Marsh, tidal creek, pond, woods, and meadow.
10 miles of flat easy hiking trails. A 0.65-mile trail is wheelchair-accessible. Cars not permitted.
311 species. Breeding birds include Great Horned Owl, Least Bittern, Wood Duck, Cooper’s Hawk, Wild Turkey, Willow Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Marsh Wren, and Swamp Sparrow. 35 warbler species, including Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Prothonotary, and Mourning. The refuge is a favorite place to look for Northern Saw-whet Owl from mid-December through February and American Woodcock in spring. Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons hunt ducks and shorebirds. Recent rarities: Cinnamon Teal, Painted Bunting, Western Tanager.
When to go
Spring and fall for waders, ducks, songbirds, hawks, and shorebirds. Late summer for Caspian and Black Terns and a spectacular number of herons and egrets. In the cold months, resident owls and woodpeckers and wintering sparrows; ducks and herons use the open water for as long as it stays unfrozen.
Interactive educational displays, bird sightings book, gift shop, and restrooms in the Cusano Environmental Education Center. Boardwalks, observation platform, blinds, and informational signs dispersed throughout the refuge. Bird walks scheduled most Saturdays and Sundays.
National wildlife refuge. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Cusano Center open every day except federal holidays 8:30-4.
A spotting scope can be useful for viewing ducks, shorebirds, and waders.