My Top 40 Favorite ABA Area Birds

Narrowing down 700+ US species to forty birds was no easy task. However, after much thought, here are my choices (and rational) for my all-time favorite birds.

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#1 Golden-winged Warbler (photographed in St. Joe County, Michigan). Like many birders, I'm a warbler addict. Golden-winged Warbler tops my list for its elegance and relative rarity.
Golden-winged Warbler

#2 Spruce Grouse (photographed in the U.P. of Michigan). Once my most wanted ABA area bird, Spruce Grouse combines beauty and being a challenge to find.
Spruce Grouse

#3 Buff-breasted Sandpiper (photographed in Lake County, Indiana). Birders tend to love shorebirds, and for shear beauty and rarity it is tough to top the "Buffy."
Buff-breasted Sandpiper

#4 Black-legged Kittiwake (photographed in Lake County, Indiana). I've always had a weakness for first cycle Kittiwakes. Their graceful flight and stunning markings easily make it a top five bird on my list.
Black-legged Kittiwake

#5 Bohemian Waxwing (photographed in Berrien County. Michigan). Living in an area where this gorgeous bird is a very rare cold weather visitor, it is always a thrill to find it.
Bohemian Waxwing

#6 Sabine's Gull (photographed in Nome, Alaska). Whether it is a first cycle bird on a Lake Michigan lakewatch or an adult on a Monterey pelagic, the thrill of seeing a Sabine's Gull never gets old.
Sabine's Gull (adult)

#7 Ferruginous Hawk (photographed on the Comanche Grasslands in Colorado). Several striking raptors could have made my top twenty, like Rough-legged Hawk, Gyrfalcon, or Northern Goshawk. However, there is something about Ferruginous Hawk that demands a place of honor.
Ferruginous Hawk

#8 Steller's Eider (photographed at Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska). The seawatch at Gambell remains my favorite birding location and experience. The shear number and variety of migrating seabirds was almost beyond belief. Among this incredible spectacle, one species in particular stood out - Steller's Eider!
Steller's Eider

#9 Swallow-tailed Kite (photographed at Lettuce Lake Park, Florida). Few birds can match the ariel grace of a Swallow-tailed Kite.
Swallow-tailed Kite

#10 Buller's Shearwater (photographed at Monterey Bay, California). Pelagic trips are one of my favorite type of birding despite being prone to seasickness. Seeing shearwaters and other seabirds gliding over the waves has to be experienced first hand. One of the most graceful and beautiful bird in this amazing group is Buller's Shearwater.
Buller's Shearwater

#11 Long-tailed Jaeger (photographed in Nome, Alaska). One of the big surprises of birding in Nome was just how common it was to see breeding Long-tailed Jaegers, even close to town. By the way, any of the three jaegers could easily be on this list.
Long-tailed Jaeger

#12 Northern Hawk Owl (photographed at Sax Zim Bog, Minnesota). Several owls made my top twenty, led off by the sought-after Hawk Owl.
Northern Hawk Owl

#13 Le Conte's Sparrow (photographed in Lake County, Indiana). Compared to species like Long-tailed Jaeger and Hawk Owl, picking a sparrow for this list might seem surprising. However, Le Conte's Sparrow is the total package - hard to find and uniquely beautiful.
Le Conte's Sparrow

#14 Least Bittern (photographed at Green Cay Wetlands, Florida). An encounter with this gorgeous tiny heron when I was a kid contributed to my life-long pursuit of birds.
Least Bittern

#15 Scarlet Tanager (photographed in Porter County, Indiana). If it wasn't such a common bird, this stunner would likely be much higher on my list. I never tire of seeing a male Scarlet Tanager glowing in the forest.
Scarlet Tanager

#16 Red Phalarope (photographed on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska). Despite seeing a number of Red Phalaropes in non-breeding plumage on Lake Michigan, I always wanted to see a breeding-plumed bird. I finally got my chance on a 2016 Alaska trip.
Red Phalarope

#17 Red-breasted Sapsucker (photographed at Crescent Lake, Washington). This bird was a long time nemesis species - it was worth the wait!
Red-breasted Sapsucker

#18 Lewis's Woodpecker (photographed at Oak Creek Wildlife Area, Washington). A beautiful woodpecker that flies like a crow and feeds like a flycatcher just had to be on this list!
Lewis's Woodpecker

#19 Lawrence's Goldfinch (photographed at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, California). This is another very local bird I struggled to find, probably adding to its appeal.
Lawrence's Goldfinch

#20 Blackburnian Warbler (photographed in St. Joe County, Michigan). It is not a rare bird, but it doesn't matter how many Blackburnian Warblers I see - it is always a exciting!
Blackburnian Warbler

#21 Red-legged Kittiwake (photographed on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska). What an absolutely bizarre looking bird! St. Paul is one of the few places in the ABA area to find this nocturnal little gull. Its huge head and oversized eyes in combination with its tiny red legs make it look like a cartoon character!
Red-legged Kittiwake

#22 White-tailed Hawk (photographed in Zapata, Texas). A highlight of any trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley is seeing this gorgeous buteo.
White-tailed Hawk

#23 Snowy Owl (photographed in Porter County, Indiana). Birders never forget when and where they see their first snowy owl!
Snowy Owl

#24 Evening Grosbeak (photographed in Porter County, Indiana). This beautiful finch is a very erratic winter visitor in our area, sometimes arriving in good numbers. However, it is not unusual to go years without seeing one.
Evening Grosbeak

#25 Kumlien's Iceland Gull (photographed in Waukegon, Illinois). Gulls are an acquired taste; they are incredibly variable and a big identification challenge. The Kumlein's form of Iceland gull is not only attractive, but just rare enough in my area to always be appreciated.
Kumlien's Iceland Gull

#26 Great Gray Owl (photographed on Sugar Island, Michigan). I took this shot of my "lifer" Great Gray over 30 years ago with slide film and very primitive photo equipment. If only I had my current digital camera back then!
Great Gray Owl

#27 Nelson's Sparrow (photographed in Lake County, Indiana). The other "orange sparrow" also HAD to be on this list.
Nelson's Sparrow

#28 Varied Bunting (photographed at Madera Canyon, Arizona). This plum-colored little gem is an Arizona specialty.
Varied Bunting

#29 American Avocet (photographed in Lake County, Indiana). If a bird can be "sexy" - American Avocet is it.
American Avocet

#30 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (photographed in Falcon County, Texas). Even though it is a very common bird in some parts of the country, there is no denying its beauty.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

#31 Wood Duck (photographed in St. Joe County, Michigan). This spectacular duck would likely be in the top five if only it wasn't so very common in my area.
Wood Duck

#32 Boreal Owl (photographed at Sax Zim Bog, Minnesota). For a long time this little owl was my most wanted ABA area bird. The pictured bird was first spotted by my wife, Wendy.
Boreal Owl

#33 Blue-headed Vireo (photographed in St. Joe County, Michigan). I've always had an affection for the subtle beauty of this little bird.
Blue-headed Vireo

#34 Harlequin Duck (photographed on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska). Surprisingly abundant on my Alaska trip, this striking duck remains a very sought-after bird in our area.
Harlequin Duck

#35 Green Kingfisher (photographed at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas). Yet another nemesis bird for me, it was a thrill to finally see this tiny kingfisher.
Green Kingfisher

#36 Northern Saw-whet Owl (photographed in Porter County, Indiana). My fifth owl in my top forty, the secretive Saw-whet is always an exciting find.
Northern Saw-whet Owl

#37 Tufted Puffin (photographed at Half Moon Bay, California). All the puffins are striking, but Tufted Puffin is in a league all its own!
Tufted Puffin

#38 Northern Shrike (photographed in Door County, Wisconsin). Northern Shrike is a bad ass - only the size of a Blue Jay, it preys on other birds and rodents, often caching them on thorns or barbed wire!
Northern Shrike

#39 Boreal Chickadee (photographed in Anchorage, Alaska). It is hard to imagine how tiny little birds like a Boreal Chickadee can survive winters in the far north.
Boreal Chickadee

#40 Black-throated Blue Warbler (photographed in Key West Florida). There are probably a dozen warblers that could be on a list of my favorite birds, like Magnolia, Prothonotary or Cape May, so it is only fitting that I start and end my choices with warblers.
Black-throated Blue Warbler