Green heron chicks at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge look skyward for their next meal. Photo by Roy W Lowe / USFWS

Ten Bird Watching Hotspots in Alabama

You can find birds virtually anywhere on the planet. The same statement is true of Alabama, so do not despair if you can’t go to one of these great spots. But if you can find your way to one or more, you will be rewarded handsomely for the trip. We have included the best seasons to see birds at each location, but there are many birds present all year.

1. Dauphin Island  (Spring and fall)

Dauphin Island is the place to be in Alabama in April. Spring and fall migration are fabulous. There are always friendly birders to help you find your way around this beautiful island. Locations include the Shell Mounds, the airport, Cadillac Park, Fort Gaines, and the Audubon Sanctuary. The causeway leading to the island can also be very interesting, especially during low tide, but be sure to get completely off the road before stopping. Don’t go during peak times without a room reservation unless you are staying elsewhere

2. Fort Morgan / Bon Secour NWR (Spring and fall)

Fort Morgan is another excellent place to during migration. There are banding operations in two locations during parts of April and October. There is a modest entrance fee, and an old coastal fort to explore in addition to the birding. Be sure to reserve time to walk around the outside of the fort as the birding can be very good there as well as in the wooded areas. Bon Secour NWR is on the one road leading to Fort Morgan and can be exciting for shorebirds and a few passerine migrants. Some walking is necessary for both of these sites.

3. Choctaw NWR  (Year round)

Choctaw NWR is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. It is located on Choctaw County Road 21, off of US 84. Many warblers, including Swainson’s, are present in season, as are osprey, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite. This refuge is situated on the Tombigbee River, and has a couple of creeks flowing through it as well. The riparian habitat is rich in bird and animal life, including alligators and woodland animals such as deer, beavers and river otters.

4. Eufaula NWR (Year round, fall and winter best)

Eufaula NWR is an excellent place to see marsh and sedge wrens, several sparrows and other passerines, and thousands of ducks, as well as bobcat and alligator. Hunting is allowed, so call ahead during duck season. Some walking is necessary to enjoy the best birding. Lodging is available at nearby Lake Point State Park. This wonderful refuge straddles the Chattahoochee River, and thus part of it is in Georgia. Sandhill cranes are present in the winter, and can be seen flying over the river occasionally.

5. Fort Toulouse (Year round)

Situated near the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, where they form the Alabama River, Fort Toulouse has good year-round birding for passerines, as well as being a very important historical site once occupied by General Andrew Jackson, later President of the United States. The William Bartram nature trail in the park takes you through several different habitats. There are also dirt mounds built by American Indians. There is a modest entrance fee. Watch for nesting birds in spring and early summer.

6. Marion Fisheries (Fall and winter)

The Marion State Fish Hatcheries are located on Perry County Road 175, northeast of Marion, Alabama. They are working hatcheries that are birder friendly, but always check with the office before proceeding onto the property. There are eagles nesting nearby that are drawn to the fish. Wading birds, ducks, and raptors are abundant in season. A spotting scope is quite useful here. The city of Marion is also a beautiful example of the old South meeting the new South, and you should save a little time to tour this gem.

7. Birmingham Botanical Gardens (Spring and fall)

Although not designed for birders, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens have many birds, particularly passerines attracted to the work areas north of the main gardens. The gardens are an oasis that attracts an impressive list of birds. Virtually every warbler currently sighted in Alabama has been recorded here. Admission is free and the gates open at dawn. These gorgeous gardens are one of the most colorful and well-kept gardens in the South. Plan on spending time here with you whole family, if possible, enjoying the entire garden, not just the birds. The excellent Birmingham Zoo is next door.

8. Lake Guntersville (Fall and winter)

At this writing in 2004, the main lodge of Guntersville State Park is closed for renovation, but there are newly renovated cabins and camp sites to rent.  Located on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, the lodge offers a breathtaking view of the lake, birds, and the Alabama landscape. The eagles here are second to none in Alabama. In addition to the birds, there is a golf course and the fishing on Lake Guntersville is fantastic. Deer come to feeders set up in front of the lodge.

9. Wheeler NWR (Winter)

Joe Wheeler NWR has several parts centered about Decatur, Alabama. Winter birding here is excellent, as tens of thousands of ducks and geese and hundreds of sandhill cranes winter here. The duck viewing building near the Visitor’s Center is wired for sound so that you can hear the ducks as you watch them. Be sure to check on the different areas, and don’t make the mistake of going to only the area around the Visitor’s Center. Some parts of the refuge are excellent for driving tours.

10. Pickwick Lake (Winter)

Pickwick Lake is a Tennessee Valley Authority lake on the Tennessee River that extends from the extreme northwest corner of Alabama up into Tennessee. There is no official office for the lake in Alabama. Go to picturesque Waterloo, Alabama, and enjoy the eagles and water birds in winter. General William Tecumseh Sherman had his headquarters here during the Civil War. The entire area around this lake is full of birds and other animal life.  Several parks and pull-offs offer great places to bird. Getting to this lake is half the fun, as the drive to it passes through some unique countryside. The Natchez Trace passes nearby.

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