My 10 Best Bird Watching Spots in Arkansas You Should Try

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Arkansas is a south-central state that is landlocked. It is an important site for birds and has a range of habitats available. I wrote this blog to help you learn the best birding spots in Arkansas so you can plan a successful bird watching trip to the state. 

The best bird watching spots in Arkansas include those with a diversity of habitats such as Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge and Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. Other good spots include the Pine-Bluestem Road Tour, Lake Dardenalle, and Millwood Lake.

Table giving the most interesting birds you can see at each of my top 10 birding spots in Arkansas:

Holla Bend National Wildlife RefugeBell’s Vireo and Kentucky Warbler
Petit Jean State Park and Mount Magazine State ParkGreater Roadrunner and Yellow-throated Vireo
Millwood LakeAmerican White Pelican and Bald Eagle
Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road TourRed-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow
Lake Dardenalle State Park and ReservoirRing-billed Gull and Lesser Scaup
Bald Knob National Wildlife RefugeCinnamon Teal and Fulvous Whistling Duck
Lake Fayetteville and Woolsey Wet Prairie SanctuaryLeast Bittern and Surf Scoter
Wapanocca National Wildlife RefugeWood Duck and Red-headed Woodpecker.
Charlie Craig State Fish HatcheryWilson’s Plover and Hudsonian Godwit
Frog Bayou National Wildlife Management AreaBlack-bellied Whistling Duck and White Ibis
Best Places to Bird Watch in Arkansas

Read further to learn more about the best bird watching places you should plan a trip to in Arkansas. 

Best Bird Watching Spots in Arkansas
Best Bird Watching Spots in Arkansas

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 Arkansas

There are a range of habitats in Arkansas, including mountains, forests, lowlands, and wetlands, surrounding the Mississippi River.

1. Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge

Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge is situated along the Arkansas River. There are wetlands, grasslands, fields, and woodlands in the refuge, which attract a variety of birds including waterfowl and passerines.

There are hiking trails you can walk on while scanning the surrounding area for birds. At least 270 species of birds have been recorded in this refuge. Songbird migration is a highlight during spring, when you can expect to encounter several species of warblers and other songbirds.

Such specialties as Bell’s Vireos, Kentucky Warblers, and Painted Buntings can be seen in the refuge. Winter is also a great time to visit Holla Bend because you are likely to see:

  • Trumpeter Swans,
  • Canada Geese,
  • and other waterfowl species. 

Both Short-eared and Long-eared Owls have been spotted before in the refuge. The Long-eared Owls occur in the cedar trees, while you can look for the Short-eared Owls in the grassland. These are two species seen here during the wintertime.

2. Petit Jean State Park and Mount Magazine State Park

These parks are both situated along the Arkansas River. There are several trails you can take in Petit Jean State Park, and it is scenically breathtaking as it has gorges and waterfalls. This park is 3,471 acres in size and is where you can spot Greater Roadrunners and Brown-throated Nuthatches.

It is also a good place to watch for warblers, vireos, and tanagers, which move through the state during Spring migration each year. Mount Magazine State Park is also good for spring migrants.

Species of birds you can likely see during spring at Mount Magazine include:

  • Ovenbirds,
  • Wood Thrushes,
  • Hooded Warblers,
  • Yellow-throated Vireos,
  • and Scarlet Tanagers.

Townsend’s Solitaire and Rufous-crowned Sparrows are specialties that have been seen in this area before. The Solitaires have been seen here in winter because this is a high-elevation area, which this species prefers.

3. Millwood Lake

Millwood Lake is a terrific place for birders visiting Arkansas for the first time. It is a good spot to see a variety of waterfowl. It is a good idea if you have a spotting scope to bring that with you on your trip to help you identify birds that may be far away.

This lake is a reservoir located in the southwestern part of Arkansas. It is known for birds like the American White Pelican and Bald Eagle.

The eagles do nest in the area regularly in trees on the edge of the reservoir.  You can also find grebes, loons, and various ducks such as:

  • Mallards,
  • Buffleheads,
  • and Ring-necked Ducks. 

People have also spotted Bonaparte’s Gull and Forster’s Tern over the water. A good spot to see these gulls is near the spillway of the dam, but you can also simply scan the open waters and see if they are flying in the area.

A couple of rare species have even been seen over the lake, including Jaegers and Magnificent Frigatebirds, so you never know what you may see here.

There is also a state park here with a campground, which is another popular spot for bird watching. There is a printable bird species checklist for Millwood Lake, which you can use to help you during your visit to the area.

4. Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road Tour

The Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road Tour is a great way to explore the wildlife (including birds) of the Ouachita National Forest.

The tour takes you through areas where you can see stands of pine trees and grassy areas. These are all good places to see a variety of bird species.

A bird you definitely want to look for in the pine woods here is the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

These birds like open mature pine woodlands. Another bird that is sought after by many birders is the Bachman’s Sparrow, a species seen in the general area in spring and summer. 

The area is also good for spotting an assortment of songbirds, including:

  • Summer and Scarlet Tanagers,
  • Wood Thrushes,
  • Pine Warblers,
  • Kentucky Warblers,
  • and Prairie Warblers.

Greater Roadrunners are also recorded often along the tour.

Woods should be scanned for raptors like the Broad-winged Hawks. Northern Bobwhites may be tricky to see since they are ground-nesting species, but they could be spotted in grassy areas.

TOP TIP: Understanding bird behavior is challenging. To learn more about why birds behave the way they do, take a look at this article about why they rub their beaks, and this one about how they care for one another when injured.

5. Lake Dardenalle State Park and Reservoir

It is a good idea to go to the visitor center when you arrive at the park to get more information, including a map of the area. 

Various gulls can be seen here, including, for instance:

  • Ring-billed Gulls,
  • Black-backed Gulls,
  • and California Gulls.

Rarer species, such as Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes, have been found here on occasion as well.

The area also attracts various waterfowl. You should keep an eye out for the following species on the open water:

  • Canvasback,
  • Lesser Scaup,
  • Bufflehead,
  • Common Goldeneye,
  • Ring-necked Duck,
  • and Ruddy Duck.

Rare birds like White-winged Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks have shown up in the area in the past. 

6. Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is comprised of wetlands, bottomland hardwood forests, agricultural areas, and open fields. The area was an agricultural region before being converted into and declared a wildlife refuge.

At least 295 species of birds have been recorded here. A checklist is available to use if you are planning a visit. The waterfowl are best seen in winter in the area.

Wetland areas provide a habitat for an abundance of waterfowl including:

  • Fulvous Whistling Ducks,
  • Cinnamon Teal,
  • Gadwall,
  • Wood Duck,
  • Northern Shoveler,
  • Mallard,
  • Greater Scaup,
  • Lesser Scaup,
  • American Wigeon,
  • and Blue-winged Teal. 

In the marshy vegetation of the refuge, one can find:

  • Yellow Rails,
  • Sora,
  • King Rails,
  • and Virginia Rails.

Keep in mind that some of the rails are very elusive and may be more difficult to spot than gallinules. Gallinules have been seen here as well.

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

7. Lake Fayetteville and Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary

Lake Fayetteville is known for its rarities. It attracts birds such as Long-tailed Ducks and Surf Scoters, species not easily seen elsewhere. Common Loons can also be seen on the open water here.

The park also has other species, such as Ovenbirds, Prothonotary Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Yellow-throated Vireos.

There is also a nice walking trail of 5.5 miles that follows the edge of the lake. There is an auto route as well, so you can simply drive around the lake while bird watching if you prefer.

The Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary is a 46-acre region situated a few miles southwest of Lake Fayetteville. It is a good place to see birds of the tallgrass prairie and marshland. You can find it here:

  • Sora,
  • Lapland Longspurs,
  • Short-eared Owls,
  • Sedge Wrens, Least
  • Bitterns,
  • and American Bitterns

8. Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge

Wapanocca is a 5,600-acre area that includes open water, wetlands of bald-cypress, and hardwood forests. This is a great birding hot spot with 280 species recorded so far.

There are many bird species you can see in this refuge, including:

  • a range of waterfowl,
  • passerines,
  • shorebirds,
  • and raptors.

Wood Ducks and Bald Eagles nest in the refuge, and Golden Eagles are sometimes spotted flying overhead. You are guaranteed to spot Wood Ducks here because they are very abundant in the refuge.

Rare species of diving ducks, including the Black Scoter and Surf Scoter, have also been recorded on the open water in the refuge in the past.

The refuge is also a great place to see woodpeckers like the Red-bellied Woodpecker and Red-headed Woodpecker.

TIP: Choosing the right bird feeder is crucial when you want to attract birds on your backyard. There are a lot of options on how and where to place a bird feeder. Check out my picks on different bird feeders below (Amazon links):
Free-standing Bird Feeder
Hanging Bird Feeder
Bird Feeder with Camera

9. Charlie Craig State Fish Hatchery

The Charlie Craig State Fish Hatchery is a popular hot spot for bird watchers in Arkansas. At least 250 bird species have been recorded in this area. There are several flat shallow ponds with muddy edges, which are attractive to various bird species as feeding sites.

Several shorebirds (at least 38 species) can be observed and recorded here in May. Species to look out for include the following:

  • Ruff,
  • American Avocet,
  • Willet,
  • Wilson’s Plover,
  • Upland Sandpiper,
  • Hudsonian Godwit,
  • Wilson’s Phalarope,
  • Marbled Godwit,
  • and White-rumped Sandpiper.

Other birds found in bushes near the water include Harris’s Sparrows, Great-tailed Grackles, and Marsh Wrens. Rails and Sora have been recorded in the marshy regions here.

You can also find other bird species here, such as:

  • Western Kingbird,
  • Loggerhead Shrike,
  • Clay-colored Sparrow,
  • Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow,
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird,
  • and Say’s Phoebe. 

10. Frog Bayou National Wildlife Management Area

This area was established in 2005 and is only 812 acres in size, yet is worth a trip for birders since at least 180 species have been recorded here already. 

This is a good spot to see shorebirds, waders, and waterfowl. It is a nice place to see Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. You can also find White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, and marsh-loving species like Least Bittern.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Arkansas

There are always lots of birds to see in Arkansas, regardless of when you plan to visit. However, some species of birds may be most abundant or only occur in the state during particular seasons. 

Indigo BuntingSummer and Spring
Dark-eyed JuncoWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Arkansas

The Arkansas State Bird

Northern Mockingbird - The Arkansas State Bird
Northern Mockingbird – The Arkansas State Bird

The Arkansas State Bird is the Northern Mockingbird. This is a common bird found in many gardens and woodlands. These are clever mimics that can copy any sound they hear.

The mockingbirds are also fearless and very aggressive around their nests. They are related to Brown Thrashers (being in the same family, Mimidae), which also are aggressive when nesting.

Mockingbirds are mainly insectivorous species that feed on insects and other invertebrates but will also eat berries when in season. They tend to focus their diet on fruit more in winter when fewer insects are around.

Bird Watching Laws in Arkansas

All state parks in Arkansas are considered bird sanctuaries where birds are protected. You are not permitted to catch, transport, or harm any wild bird. You are also not allowed to disturb the birds when they are breeding, so you must not interfere with eggs, nests, or chicks.

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.


Arkansas has a lot to offer because of the range of habitats that are present. There are forests, wetlands, reservoirs, grasslands, pine woodlands, and mountainous areas.

You can also see many species during spring and fall migration as they move through the state. With a list of 400 birds recorded here, you can expect to add many species to your life list, making this a definite state you should bird watch.

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.

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