My 10 Best Bird Watching Spots in Rhode Island You Should Try

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases with no additional costs for you.

Rhode Island is the smallest state, covering only 1,214 square miles. It does have some big cities, but it is still suitable for bird watchers because it has various habitats and a coastline with the Atlantic Ocean. This blog will give you an idea of the best spots for bird watching in this state.

The best bird watching spots in Rhode Island are those with a range of habitats, such as Ninigret and Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuges. Block Island and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuges are great for seeing oceanic birds and shorebirds.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 10 birding spots in Rhode Island:

Norman Bird SanctuaryGreat Horned Owl and Bald Eagle
Trustom Pond National Wildlife RefugePiping Plover and Least Tern
Ninigret National Wildlife RefugeOsprey and American Woodcock
Block Island National Wildlife RefugeBlack Scoter and Common Eider
Sachuest Point National Wildlife RefugeHarlequin Duck and Black-legged Kittiwake
Great Swamp Management AreaRed-shouldered Hawk and Eastern Whip-poor-will
Fisherville Brook Wildlife RefugeNorthern Saw-whet Owl and Broad-winged Hawk
John H. Chafee National Wildlife RefugeAmerican Black Duck and Saltmarsh Sparrow
Florence Sutherland Fort and Richard Knight Fort Wildlife RefugeGreat Blue Heron and Barred Owl
Lincoln Woods State ParkHerring Gull and Peregrine Falcon
Best Places to Bird Watch in Rhode Island

Read further to find extra information and notes on which birds occur at my top spots in Rhode Island.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Rhode Island
Best Bird Watching Spots in Rhode Island

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Rhode Island

There are a couple of excellent birding spots you can visit in Rhode Island. Many of these have a variety of habitats, and some are on the Atlantic coast.

1. Norman Bird Sanctuary

The sanctuary is 325 acres in size and consists of several trails that pass through a range of habitats. The birds’ habitats include marshland, woodlands, fields, rocky bluffs, and ponds. Norman Bird Sanctuary is an excellent spot for birding and spending time in nature.

You can find out more information by visiting the website of the Norman Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary is along the Atlantic Coast and attracts many birds on migration.

The following birds do breed in the sanctuary:

  • Wood Ducks,
  • Green Herons,
  • Black-and-white Warblers,
  • Wild Turkeys,
  • Great Horned Owls,
  • American Redstarts,
  • Baltimore Orioles,
  • and Eastern Towhees. 

In winter, you can likely find Snow Buntings and White-winged Crossbills. In summer, various warblers, vireos, orioles, and grosbeaks can be seen in the woodlands of the refuge.

You should look out for Virginia Rails and Common Gallinules in marshlands and wetlands. Waterfowl you can find in the refuge include:

  • American Black Ducks,
  • Greater Scaups,
  • American Wigeons,
  • Ruddy Ducks,
  • Gadwall,
  • Green-winged Teals,
  • and Blue-winged Teals.

The area often has terns like the Roseate Tern, Royal Tern, and Bonaparte’s Tern. Seven gulls and several different shorebird species have also been recorded here.

An assortment of raptors has been noted in the sanctuary, such as Red-shouldered, Red-winged, Broad-winged, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s. Ospreys and Bald Eagles have been recorded in the area.

2. Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge

This is a 787-acre refuge that includes Tustrom Pond and other habitats such as fields, wetlands, and grasslands. Trustom Pond is a saltwater lagoon that is very good for birds.

This lagoon is separated from Block Island by a barrier beach. This beach is an excellent place to find shorebirds like Piping Plovers. These plovers, along with Least Terns, nest in this area.

You can find swans and geese like Mute Swans, Tundra Swans, and Snow Geese. You may see Eurasian Wigeon, American Wigeon, Gadwalls, Canvasbacks, Northern Shovelers, and Brants on the water. Such waterfowl are more common in winter.

Red-breasted Mergansers and Surf Scoters are also often seen here. Sora and Virginia Rail are species to look for in the marshland. They often skulk among the marshy vegetation.

Small passerines like Black-and-white Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, and Willow Flycatchers can be found. There is an illustrated bird species checklist for the area.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

3. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge has a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, fields, shrubby areas, woodlands, and freshwater ponds. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is an important bird area., with more than 250 bird species recorded.

Various birds are found here, including Osprey, Least Terns, Buffleheads, Belted Kingfishes, and Common Terns. Ospreys do nest in the refuge from April through to September.

Shorebirds like Willets and Piping Plovers occur on the muddy edges of ponds. Green Herons breed in the refuge. The grasslands are a good place to look for American Woodcocks and blackbird species.

Several species of warblers and vireos have been recorded in the shrubs and woodlands. For instance, the following species:

  • Blue-winged Warbler,
  • Yellow Warbler,
  • Black-and-white Warbler,
  • White-eyed Vireo,
  • and Red-eyed Vireo.

American Redstarts, Blue-winged Warblers, Prairie Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings actually breed in the refuge.

4. Block Island National Wildlife Refuge

This is the place to be during fall migration; you can access the island by ferry. Birds flying south for the winter often stop over on this island. Even vagrants like Cave Swallows and Northern Wheatears have been sighted in the refuge.

A bird checklist for the area is available, with at least 309 species recorded. In the ocean, check for Common Eider and Black Scoter. Check for gulls like the Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Shorebirds include Dunlins, Purple Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Red Knots.

Warbler species to look for during migration include some of the following:

  • Blackpoll Warbler,
  • Orange-crowned Warbler,
  • Pine Warbler,
  • Magnolia Warbler,
  • Blackburnian Warbler,
  • Bay-breasted Warbler,
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler,
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler,
  • and Palm Warbler.

Grosbeaks, vireos, and thrushes can also be seen here. The island is definitely a top birding spot for migrating birds.

5. Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is 242 acres on a peninsula east of Newport, Rhode Island. There is a checklist you can use for your visit here.

Winter is an excellent time to visit to see bird species out on the sea, like the Harlequin Duck, Dovekie, Black-legged Kittiwake, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Northern Gannet. Great Cormorants and Razorbills have also been recorded in this area.

On land, you can see Saltmarsh Sparrows in the salt marshes and Purple Sandpipers on the rocky shoreline. Other birds to look for in the refuge include the following:

  • Short-eared Owl,
  • Snowy Owl,
  • Snow Bunting,
  • and Horned Larks.

The Snow Buntings and Snowy Owls you need to look for in winter. You can also look for:

  • Baltimore Orioles,
  • Red-breasted Nuthatches,
  • Red-winged Blackbirds,
  • Hermit Thrushes,
  • Eastern Towhees,
  • and Green-tailed Towhees.

You can find shorebirds like Sanderlings, Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers, and Dunlin. You can find terns like Royal, Least, and Sandwich Terns. Also, look out for the gulls like the Little Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, and Ring-billed Gull, to name a few.

6. Great Swamp Management Area

The Great Swamp Management Area is 3,350 acres and has a trail you can take. The trail is 5 miles and loops through woodlands and wetlands, ending at Worden Pond. At least 200 species of birds have been recorded in this refuge, making it a place you should visit for birds.

Several different species of birds can be found in the area. Birds that are known to breed in the refuge include the following:

  • Wood Duck,
  • Red-shouldered Hawk,
  • American Woodcock,
  • Wild Turkey,
  • and Osprey. 

Other birds that reside here include Black-billed Cuckoos and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. At night, Eastern Whip-poor-wills and Barred Owls can be heard calling.

An assortment of warblers, waterthrushes, and thrushes have been recorded in the area. You can see species like:

  • Northern Waterthrush,
  • Blue-winged Warbler,
  • Wood Thrush,
  • Yellow-throated Vireo,
  • Hermit Thrush,
  • American Redstart,
  • and Pine Warbler.

Also, look for Swamp Sparrows, which nest in the refuge.

TOP TIP: Wild birds have a varied diet. Find out what they eat and how much food they need in this article. Can domestic birds survive in the wild? Find out the facts in this article.

7. Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge

Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge has a range of suitable bird habitats. You can find the following habitats here: ponds, streams, upland beech forests, cedar swamplands, and pine woodlands. 

The refuge is 1,010 acres in size and is located in the town of Fisherville. It is an excellent spot for seeing migrating warblers and other songbirds, but the range of habitats means you can always see a good selection of birds here.

Many birds are found in the refuge, including several woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, raptors, owls, and more. 

Warbler species recorded here include:

  • Magnolia Warbler,
  • Nashville Warbler,
  • American Redstart,
  • Yellow Warbler,
  • Bay-breasted Warbler,
  • Hooded Warbler,
  • and Blackburnian Warbler.

You should look for Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasants, and Wild Turkeys. Grassy areas may have Bobolinks present. Waterfowl on the ponds include species like:

  • Wood Duck,
  • Common Merganser,
  • American Black Duck,
  • Bufflehead,
  • Green-winged Teal,
  • and Mallard.

The area also has Barred Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls present. Several raptors have been seen in the area, including:

  • Cooper’s Hawks,
  • Ospreys,
  • Bald Eagles,
  • and Broad-winged Hawks.

8. John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is on the state’s southern coast and is 317 acres in size. The area has tidal salt marshes, open water, and forests, attracting various bird species.

The refuge includes Pettaquamscutt Cove, which is an essential area for birds. This refuge is well-known for its American Black Duck population but has many other waterfowl and shorebirds.

You can see birds like:

  • Great Egrets,
  • Saltmarsh Sparrows,
  • Osprey,
  • and Black-bellied plovers.

9. Florence Sutherland Fort and Richard Knight Fort Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is in northern Rhode Island and is 235 acres of habitat. It has ponds, wetlands, and forests. There are various trails you can walk on while bird watching. Birds to look for here include a diversity of species. 

You can find species such as:

  • the Great Blue Heron,
  • Barred Owl,
  • Wild Turkey,
  • and Great Horned Owl.

Smaller birds to look for here include Ovenbirds, Yellow Warblers, and Chestnut-sided Warblers.  

TIP: Are you looking for high-quality food for wild birds on your backyard? I recommend using Wagner’s products with the highest quality grains used in blending and made in the USA (Amazon links):
Deluxe Treat Blend Wild Bird Food
Eastern Regional Wild Bird Food
Western Regional Wild Bird Food
Midwest Regional Wild Bird Food
Southern Regional Wild Bird Food

10. Lincoln Woods State Park

This state park is near Providence and has a bird species list of 129 species. It is in the Blackstone Valley region and has a pond and woodlands where you can bird watch.

Some of the species found here include the following:

  • Ring-necked Duck,
  • Wood Duck,
  • American Black Duck,
  • Mute Swan,
  • Great Cormorant,
  • Common Goldeneye,
  • Herring Gull,
  • Great Black-backed Gull,
  • and Red-throated Loon.

You can find bird species in the woodlands, such as:

  • Eastern Phoebe,
  • Black-throated Green Warbler,
  • Palm Warbler,
  • Orchard Oriole,
  • and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Peregrine Falcons and Merlins have also been recorded here.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Rhode Island

Even though Rhode Island is a tiny state, you can still bird watch here at any time of the year. There are, however, certain seasons that may be better for seeing specific types of birds.

Vireos and WarblersSummer
Best Time to Bird Watch in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island State Bird

Rhode Island Red - The Rhode Island State Bird
Rhode Island Red – The Rhode Island State Bird

The Rhode Island State Bird is a form of domestic chicken known as the Rhode Island Red. This type of chicken was first bred in the New England area in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It has a red comb and reddish-brown feathers. The hens lay brown-colored eggs.

Rhode Island is one of only three states where a non-native bird species has been selected and designated as the state bird.

Bird Watching Laws in Rhode Island

Wild birds are protected in Rhode Island; individuals can only get permission and a permit to control a bird if it is causing substantial damage to a crop. Game birds and hunting are also carefully controlled in the state.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Rhode Island is known for being a tiny state in terms of area, but it still has a lot to offer regarding birdlife.

You can find many birds along the Atlantic Coast off Rhode Island, such as Common Eiders and Black Scoters, and you can visit the spots I mentioned above to see a wide variety of other types of birds.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

Recent Posts