Franklin Co. State Airport IBA

Franklin Co. State Airport IBA

Swanton, Vermont 05488

Official Website
Franklin County State Airport (Audubon IBA) webpage

Tips for Birding

An airport might not be the first place one would think of for birding. After all, birds and planes don’t really sound like a great mix. But it turns out that Vermont’s State airports are important areas for grassland birds because of the large fields that are maintained around the runways for safety. To further benefit the grassland birds, the state has established a protocol for delayed mowing of most areas around the airports until after August 1, when fledglings have left their nests. As a benefit to the airport, the longer grass discourages the presence of “nuisance” birds (mostly gulls) that are a safety concern for small planes.

The airport is entirely fenced in and access inside the fence is generally not allowed. However, a gravel road just outside the south and west sides of the fence provides viewing access to all the species mentioned above. June and July are the best months for these sparrows. In June they sing more frequently, and in July you can challenge yourself with the identification of juveniles. The sparrows can usually be found perching on the fence and on tall weeds. Horned Larks are often on the runway and other paved areas, requiring a spotting scope for best viewing.

Directions: From Interstate 89, take Exit 21 and go east on Route 78 for about 1.1 miles. Turn left at the sign for the airport. Drive north toward the airport and turn left onto the gravel road just before the fence. It’s best to park just off the paved road and walk the gravel road. Also check the field to the south, since Grasshopper Sparrows can be found here, too.

Birds of Interest

Franklin County State Airport near Swanton is notable for its population of Grasshopper Sparrows – one of only a few breeding sites for this bird in Vermont. In fact, the airport is designated as an Important Birding Area (IBA) because of the Grasshopper Sparrows and other grassland species, including Vesper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and Horned Larks. American Kestrels can be seen regularly there, and Upland Sandpipers have been seen or heard on occasion, though no nesting evidence has been observed for these rare shorebirds.

About this Location

Franklin County Airport is a single-runway airport in the northwest corner of Vermont. The area around the runway provides extensive grassland habitat. The soil is sandy and dry resulting in a patchy distribution of vegetation. Annual mowing has kept trees and shrubs from becoming established. The airport is also bordered to the south by a private airport and to the southeast by the Franklin County Fairgrounds which are also maintained as grassland. As a result, Franklin County Airport is part of a significantly larger grassland complex.

Franklin County Airport is owned by the state and managed by the Department of Transportation. Maintenance of the airfield in a grassland state provides important habitat for an array of grassland species. However early mowing negatively affects reproductive success. Audubon has successfully worked with the state to delay mowing until after the breeding period. Grassland birds are regularly monitored at this site through annual surveys. Threats include changes in the timing of mowing and development of airport facilities (i.e. hangers, aprons).


  • Roadside viewing

  • Restrooms on site

  • Wheelchair accessible trail

  • Entrance fee

Content from Franklin County State Airport (Audubon IBA) webpage and Ken Copenhaver, Green Mountain Audubon

Last updated October 16, 2023