According to the Alabama Birding Trails project, more than 430 species of birds have been documented in the Yellowhammer State—from the forests of Cheaha State Park to the shores of Dauphin Island.
That makes birdwatching a popular pastime around Alabama; after all, the activity offers a low-effort, high-reward opportunity for getting into nature and spying—or hearing—some of the many feathered friends that call Alabama home (even if only while migrating in spring and fall).
So whether you’re walking the white sands of Dauphin Island or exploring some of the state’s magical national wildlife refuges, here are five top spots for birdwatching in Alabama all year long.
1. Dauphin Island
Dauphin Island is one of Alabama’s most celebrated birding destinations, and for good reason: Every spring and fall, migrating birds, ahem, flock to the island’s white sands, dunes, and swamplands en masse. There’s a good reason for that mass migration: Every spring, northbound birds stop to rest on the island—their first chance to do so after flying hundreds of miles at sea. And then in fall, the island offers the last chance for birds to forage and fatten up before beginning their annual trip south.
Whether walking the trails at Indian Shell Mound Park or birding at Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary, visitors are almost assured of seeing vireos, warblers, gulls, raptors, plovers, pelicans, and dozens of other species. If anything, visitors might be overwhelmed by the island’s natural splendor: According to the Dauphin Island Park & Beach Board, more than 400 species have been spotted on the island.
2. Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge
Sitting on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge has attracted migrating birds for more than five decades. The 11,184-acre refuge was established in 1964 and today boasts a variety of habitats—including wetlands, croplands, fields, prairies, grasslands, and open water—that support nearly 300 species of bird.
Some of the refuge's resident species include the great blue heron (known for its blue and white head), osprey (with a wingspan of up to five feet), and wood duck (which live in wooded swamps and are known for colorful patterns on nearly every feather).
A seven-mile auto tour route winds through the refuge, offering easy access to a wildlife viewing platform and observation tower, as well as a short hiking trail.
3. Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge
Not far from the Mississippi border, Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge has a long history as an important bird habitat. The refuge was established in 1964 to protect wintering waterfowl—and has long been a vital home for colorful wood ducks—up to 200 wood duck broods are produced each year in the refuge's artificial nest boxes.
Today, the 4,200-acre Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge is also home to osprey, wild turkey, bald eagle, wood stork, and several species of warbler. And while birds call Choctaw home all year long, more than 10,000 waterfowl descend on the refuge every winter.
Several hiking trails crisscross the refuge’s hardwood forests and grassy meadows, but Choctaw is best experienced from a kayak or canoe on one of the area’s many sloughs or the Tombigbee River.
4. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge gets its name from the French phrase meaning "safe harbor,” and it's an appropriate designation. The 7,000-acre refuge boasts some of Alabama's only remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat.
The refuge was established in 1980 and, some 40 years later, comprises maritime forests, coastal marshland, coastline, and open waters. With a wide variety of habitat, comes a wide variety of birds. In all, more than 370 species have been documented on the refuge—including the brown pelican, great blue heron, great horned owl, belted kingfisher, and the European starling.
Perhaps the refuge's best-known bird, however, is the snowy plover; the small, pale bird is a year-round resident, distinguished by its black bill and brown or black stripe around the base of its neck. The snowy plover lives on sandy beaches, so its attempts to build nests are commonly (if accidentally) disturbed by humans; as such, sections of coastline may be closed during the snowy plover’s breeding season (between March and September).
5. Cheaha State Park
Cheaha State Park, in the Talladega National Forest, is named for Cheaha Mountain—at 2,410 feet, the highest point in the state. Naturally, the park’s protected forest terrain makes it an ideal, if occasionally overlooked, birding destination.
Whether at an overlook or along one of the park’s many trails, visitors are apt to encounter songbirds and migrating birds all year long. The park is home to wild turkeys, cuckoos, pileated woodpeckers, several varieties of warbler, and—in fall—migrating hawks and other raptors.
More than four miles of hiking trails take hikers to wide-open overlooks like Bald Rock, Rock Garden, and Pulpit Rock—all of which offer panoramic views for enjoying the scenery and spying the park’s feathered residents.
If you are looking for ways to enjoy the outdoors, Alabama’s birds can provide wonderful motivation. Take a short hike or paddle or head out to one of the state’s many refuges like the ones listed above. You won’t be disappointed.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for Matcha in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.