My 14 Best Bird Watching Spots in Alabama You Should Try


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Alabama is excellent for bird watching, boasting an impressive 449 species. The bird species richness is because the state has a range of suitable habitats available. Alabama is also on the Mississippi flyway, and many migrating species pass through the state in spring and fall. It can be a challenge knowing the best spots for bird watching so to help you, I have compiled a list of my best bird watching spots in Alabama.

The best bird watching spots in Alabama are in the southeast at Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, at lakes at Guntersville and Coleman, and in the Conecuh and Bankhead forests. The best place to see migrating songbirds is Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary, and to see waterfowl is Gulf State Park.

A table gives the most exciting birds you can see at my top 14 birding spots in Alabama.

PARKINTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE
Dauphin Island Bird SanctuaryRed-eyed Vireo and Bay-breasted Warbler
Choctaw National Wildlife RefugeBald Eagle and Wood Duck
Cheaha State ParkBlue-throated Vireo and Wood Thrush
Eufaula National Wildlife RefugeRedheaded Woodpecker and Rusty Blackbird
Lake Point State ParkSwainson’s Warbler and Eastern Bluebird
Gulf State Park Education and Fishing PierCommon Loon and Bonaparte’s Gull
Lake PurdyHooded Merganser and Lesser Scaup
Grand Bay Savanah Nature PreserveYellow Rail and Henslow’s Sparrow
Conecuh National Wildlife ForestRed-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow
Wheeler National Wildlife RefugeWhooping Crane and Sandhill Crane
Little River Canyon National PreservePrairie Warbler and Golden Eagle
Coleman Lake Recreation AreaWhite-breasted Nuthatch and Red Crossbill
Guntersville Lake and State ParkOsprey and Bald Eagle
Bankhead National ForestScarlet Tanager and Cerulean Warbler

Read further to learn my choices for the best bird watching spots in Alabama and what types of birds you can find in these spots.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Alabama
Best Bird Watching Spots in Alabama

TIP: If you are interested in checking 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 Alabama

Alabama is a state found east of the state of Mississippi. There are a diversity of habitats found in Alabama, which support a large number of birds and other wildlife. Several birding trails have been designated to provide access and bird watching opportunities for the public.

  1. Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary

Dauphin Island has a record of 420 species of birds and is my number-one spot for bird watching in Alabama. The sanctuary consists of pine forests, oak groves, and lakes. There are trails you can walk on and bird watch from. It is also one of the designated Alabama birding trails.

Several birds first make landfall during migration in the forests of this sanctuary. Birds you can spot at Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary include Pine Warbler and Palm Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Bay-breasted Warbler, Sooty Tern, and Ruddy Turnstone, to name a few.

  1. Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is near the Mississippi state border and includes part of the Tombigbee River. This refuge is 4200 acres in size; it was initially formed to conserve waterfowl. There are, thus, many artificial nest boxes that Wood Ducks breed in every year.

There are grasslands, hardwood forests, and the river, which provide habitats for various bird species. Osprey, Bald Eagles, and many passerine bird species occur in the refuge. 

  1. Cheaha State Park

This state park is located in the Talladega National Forest. This forested region provides excellent habitat for many birds, such as the Blue-headed Vireo, Worm-eating Warblers, Scarlet Tanager, and Wood Thrush. 

Several spots along the road allow you to pull off to bird watch. There are also two streams in the park where you can stop and look for birds typically found in this habitat, such as Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes.

Bald Rock Trail within the park is the best place to walk along to find birds during spring and fall migration.

  1. Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge

Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is 11,184 acres in size and is located in southeastern Alabama. It comprises several habitats, including wetlands, grasslands, crops, forested areas, and open water areas. Several waterfowl are found in the refuge in winter.

 Birds such as Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, and Green-winged Teal can be found here. There are also records of Redheaded Woodpeckers nesting in the refuge. You can also spot Le Conte’s Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds here. 

  1. Lake Point State Park

You can visit this park as part of your trip to the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, as they are next to each other.

Lake Point has campsites, cabins, and cottages where you can stay overnight. This is a significant benefit for birders who may want to bird watch at first light. 

The park is actually on the edge of Lake Eufaula. Lake Point has Bald Eagles and is known as a good nesting spot for Swainson’s Warblers, which are uncommon in Alabama. You can also find bluebirds, juncos, and more.

  1. Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier

This is a great place to visit at the end of fall and winter. This is because you can get good views of waterfowl at this time from the pier and state park pavilion. People have seen Common Loon, Surf Scoter, and Bonaparte’s Gull from these lookout points. 

It is also helpful to walk along the beach to see if you can spot any shorebirds on the edge of the waters. There is a campground and a lodge where you can stay overnight in the park.

  1. Lake Purdy

This lake is on the Little Cahaba River and provides excellent habitat for many birds; in fact, 126 species have been recorded in the area. There are also wooded areas and grassland surrounding the lake, which can be productive for bird watchers.

 In winter, you can see the most waterfowl and the lake is fuller at this time. When the water levels drop in summer, you can scan the mudflats for shorebirds. 

Hooded Merganser and Lesser Scaup are often in the lake on the open water. For the mudflats, you should look out for Spotted Sandpipers and other shorebirds in summer. There is a checklist for birds seen from the boat ramp at Lake Purdy, which you can use.

  1. Grand Bay Savannah Nature Preserve

The habitats in this preserve include pine savannah and marshland. The area is an excellent place to visit to look for the elusive Yellow Rail. You can also find Black Rail and Henslow’s Sparrow in the preserve. 

The preserve has a boardwalk you can walk along; this will take you through the savannah and to a marsh area where you can search for more birds.

  1. Conecuh National Wildlife Forest 

This forest covers 83,000 acres and is an important area for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, an endangered species. It also is a suitable habitat for Bachman’s Sparrows, which you can see here.

There are forested areas of pine, oak, and hickory trees, lakes, and swamps providing habitat for water-loving birds.

There are also trails and trail maps available that you can pick up at the ranger station. This forest is an excellent spot for a bird watcher and is the southernmost forest in the state of Alabama.

  1. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

I like visiting Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge because they have spotting scopes in the visitor center.

You can use these to look for waterbirds and other important species like the endangered Whooping Crane. Sandhill Cranes are also often found in the refuge. There is a crane festival every year in January.

The refuge is located along the Tennessee River and is 35,000 acres in size. A large number of wetlands in the refuge means it is a terrific place in winter to see several ducks, teal, and geese. Winter is the optimal time to see the most waterfowl in the refuge.

  1. Little River Canyon National Preserve

Little River Canyon Preserve is an excellent place for bird watching. There are rocky outcrops, waterfalls, and forested hills. Scenically it is a beautiful place, but it also has many species of birds.

This area has a scenic drive you can take with numerous pull-off spots. You can pull over at several places and bird watch. 

It is an excellent place to spot Prairie Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat. Look out for Golden Eagles and other raptors like Peregrine Falcons. Turkey Vultures are commonly seen soaring overhead as well.

  1. Coleman Lake Recreation Area

This area is in the Talladega forest, located 75 miles north of Birmingham. The picnic area and campsite are both excellent for bird watching.

You can see many birds, including Red-cockaded Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Red Crossbill. Several warblers breed in this area, including Hooded Warbler and the Black-throated Green Warbler.

Coleman Lake Recreation Area has many trails you can walk on while looking for birds. There are many native plants and grasses, mature forests, pine forests, burnt areas, and the lake. The variety of habitats means that many birds call this area home and can be viewed here.

  1. Guntersville Lake and State Park

This is in the northeastern part of Alabama. The lake is on the Tennessee River and is renowned for having nesting Bald Eagles and Osprey.

There are also campgrounds and lodges so you can stay overnight in the park. This is useful if you want to search for owls and go bird watching early and late in the day.

  1. Bankhead National Forest

This forest covers 180,000 acres, including longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, oak-hickory woodland, and wetlands. This is an excellent spot for bird watching due to the area’s range of habitats and water bodies. There is even a waterfall and river in the forest.

You can find Cerulean Warblers here, and tanagers nest here. Bankhead National Forest is definitely one of my preferred places to bird watch and see the gorgeous Scarlet Tanager and Summer Tanager.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Alabama

Alabama is great for all-year-round bird watching. There are peak numbers of particular birds at certain times of the year. The best time of the year to see Whooping Cranes is December to January.

Passerines that migrate through are more easily identified in spring (April into early May) when the males have breeding colors. Some of these birds may remain in the state in summer, but there are peak numbers in migration.

TYPES OF BIRDSSEASON
Warblers, vireos, and tanagersSpring to Summer
Ducks, teal, and geeseWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Alabama

The Alabama State Bird

Northern Flicker: The State Bird of Alabama
Northern Flicker: The State Bird of Alabama

The Northern Flicker is the state bird of Alabama. The yellow-shafted tail feathers of the flickers found in Alabama gave rise to the term “yellowhammer” for this bird. The state is often still referred to as the yellowhammer state as a result.

The Northern Flicker is a type of woodpecker that is easy to recognize with its spotted breast and bright coloring under the wings and tail. There is a red-shafted form of the flicker, but those birds are not found in Alabama and occur in the western part of North America.

Bird Watching Laws in Alabama

Nongame birds are protected unless on the exclusion list. You cannot possess or sell these wild birds or any part of these birds. This protection excludes the following: Crows, House Sparrows, Pigeons, Eurasian Collared Doves, and Starlings.

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.

Bird Watching Ethics

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.

Conclusion

Alabama is fantastic for birdlife. As a bird watcher, you can choose many habitats to look for birds in. The many forests, marshes, lakes, rivers, and Gulf of Mexico shore provide ample places to look for birds.

I would suggest adding Alabama to your list of must-visit places if you are bird watching in the U.S.

TIP: If you are interested in checking 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.

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