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  • Writer's pictureRobert Currer

Occoquan is for the Birds

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Visitors to Historic Occoquan love to walk along the river. The lazy curve of it and the luscious banks are innately calming in a way that practically calls to anyone who spends the day in town. But if you walk down to the river and only snap a couple quick photos on your phone, you’re missing out on one of the most unique experiences in the area: the birds.


The Occoquan Bay area is home to over 200 different species of birds. These include whimsically named avians like the Ash-Throated Flycatcher and the Tufted Titmouse to more household names like the Bald Eagle and the Osprey.

Many of these birds, such as the Bald Eagle, are permanent residents of the area, meaning they weather both winter and summer in Occoquan. So no matter when you visit, spotting a Bald Eagle soaring along the water or a Great Blue Heron stalking fish along the shore is a common experience.

In fact, if you ever treat yourself to a paddle board or kayak cruise down the river, you'll spot resident eagle nests all year long. Bald Eagle nests are the easiest to spot in the trees along the water as they build the largest nests of any bird in North America.

But some birds are migratory, only visiting in the summer or winter. The most recognizable of the summer residents is the Osprey. These majestic creatures are still endangered in many states throughout the U.S. But they are a common sighting during the spring and summer as the bay area is home to several stable breeding pairs.

During the winter months, Occoquan is treated to visits from the Cooper's Hawk (aka the Chicken Hawk). This bird of prey is considered by many to be one of the most acrobatic birds on earth. While it spends much of its year up north, it winters in the Occoquan area.

The Occoquan habitat is vital to the health of avian populations throughout Northern Virginia. As such, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has declared the entire town a bird sanctuary.


The best thing about birdwatching in Occoquan is you don't have to be a hard-core birder to enjoy the hobby. In fact, you can start bird watching right away with just a little help.


There are more than 800 species of birds in the U.S. And many of them have names that most people have never heard of. But that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to get started identifying birds in the wild.

There are four key things to look for when identifying birds: size & shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. Most quality bird identification guides organize their listings with those four key characteristics in mind. Even better, there are some free apps out there that make this even more accessible.


You don't need a lot of fancy stuff to start birdwatching - or birding, as you'll start calling it soon enough. But there are a couple items that make it a lot simpler.

Binoculars. Not every bird you spot will be close enough to see in detail with the naked eye. A good pair of binoculars can make all the difference between a frustrating experience and an incredible one. There are a lot of options out there. But the Audubon Society recommends a power of 8x42 for your first pair as these will be light, effective, and inexpensive.

The eBird App. The eBird app is a free birding app designed and managed by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It allows you to easily record the birds you've seen. And it even presents you with a curated list of potential birds based on your geographic location.

And if you really want to supercharge your birding, download their companion app, Merlin. Merlin allows you to quickly identify birds by answering four questions about your sighting and then matching your bird to their library of photos. Alternatively, the app lets you upload your own image or audio recording of the bird and identifies it.

EBird and Merlin are 100% free and have no in-app advertisements. Plus, using these apps supports field research. The Cornell Lab uses the data collected to monitor avian populations.


So what if birdwatching is for you but not for the rest of your friends or family? Do you have to decide between enjoying your hobby and spending time with the people you love? Not when you visit Historic Occoquan.

The town is best known for its cozy atmosphere, unique boutiques, and delectable craft restaurants. And all of these shops are either on the water or very near it. So no matter where you are in town, you can spot one of the hundreds of bird species that visit each year.

With so many convenient restaurants on the water, you might decide to camp out on a deck and enjoy birding with a glass of wine. That's the beauty of Historic Occoquan. You don't have to choose. You can have it all.

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