With its vast forests and myriad rivers, lakes, streams, and beaches, Alabama is a haven for hundreds of species of birds, including some that are rare and endangered.
To say that Alabama is a birder’s paradise is an understatement. More than 430 species of birds have been cataloged from Huntsville to Mobile, including everything from bald eagles to brown pelicans to an array of tanagers and everything in between.
More than 10 years ago, the state of Alabama launched a project to spotlight its remarkable number of bird species and attract birders and other tourists who love nature. Initially, the Alabama Birding Trail included two birding "trails," or regions, but it now features eight regions with more than 250 locations to explore.
A Brief History
The Alabama Birding Trail was the brainchild of the Alabama Non-Game Wildlife Program and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). Following examples from other states, the two organizations teamed up to create the North Alabama and Gulf Coast regional areas of the Alabama Birding Trail, with the goal of increasing tourism in the state by attracting wildlife lovers. Within the two regions, bird lovers could drive a circuit and visit areas that were determined to be important for bird nesting and migration.
An Unconventional Trail
The Alabama Birding Trail isn’t a trail in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a series of driving routes that lead you to perfect spots to view any number of bird species endemic to particular regions of the birding trail. Consisting primarily of loop drives, the trail leads you to locations that are plainly marked with birding trail signs, and each sign indicates the region you’re in and the number of the locations you’ll visit on the drive. You can visit the Alabama Birding Trail website to get information on the birds you might see in each region.
While it’s not a traditional walking trail, it isn’t a simple drive-by trail, either. Once you get to a birding site you’ll have a chance to get out of the car and stretch your legs. On some stops you’ll walk down boardwalks through beautiful wetlands to glimpse great blue herons. At stops along the Gulf of Mexico, you can dig your toes into the sandy beaches as you spy three types of sandpipers. Or, you might find yourself at a mountaintop overlook, gazing skyward as a bald eagle soars overhead.
Along the Alabama Trail, you’ll encounter a wide range of viewing areas, from ADA accessible sites to places that can only be reached by canoe or kayak.
One of the original two regions on the Birding Trail, north Alabama is strewn with tupelo swamps and the wide Tennessee River that provides homes for red-bellied woodpeckers, great egrets, and mallard ducks. The other original part of the trail, the Coastal Region, is the smallest in size, covering only two counties (Mobile and Baldwin), but it offers 200 miles of loops that visit Gulf beaches where brown pelicans dive bomb the turquoise waters for the next meal and sandpipers dart along the sugary sand.
Centered around Tuscaloosa is the West Region, with its beautiful pine and hardwood forests where golden-crowned kinglets perch high in their branches. The only way you can find them is to listen for their high, thin call.
The Appalachian Highlands Region is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near Birmingham. Here on the high peaks, red-tail hawks and bald eagles gracefully ride the wind. A little farther south in the "wiregrass" region of southeast Alabama, you’ll visit two longleaf pine national forests where northern bobwhite dart from the underbrush with their distinctive call, and little blue heron stand stoically on the banks of cypress ponds.
The other regions include the rich farm country known as the Black Belt; the Piney Woods Region, where a network of streams and rivers flow endlessly through pine forests southward towards the Gulf; and the Piedmont Plateau that features spectacular Lake Martin.
More Than Bird Watching
Even if you’re not a dedicated birder you can enjoy exploring the Alabama Birding Trail. It’s also the hub of many educational events for the scientific community, students, hobbyists, and the general public. There are a number of special events scheduled throughout the year that provide a chance to learn more about the birds in a specific region and also learn how to attract and protect birds in your own backyard.
One of the most anticipated events of the year is the annual Alabama Coastal Birdfest. This five-day gathering is held the first week of October and features an almost non-stop schedule of lectures, demonstrations, and field trips to many of the sites of the Coastal Region.
Plus, there are field trips and workshops scheduled throughout the year across the state. For more information, visit the Alabama Birding Trail event calendar.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.