Red-shouldered Hawk (Photo by Majoros/Wikimedia)

Ten Bird Watching Hotspots in Georgia

Georgia is blessed with many wonderful places to see lots of different birds. Here are a few of the best, but for more details or more choices check a bird-finding guide such as Birding Georgia.

Brasstown Bald

Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s tallest mountain and has a good paved access road and visitor’s center just a few miles east of Blairsville off GA 180 Spur. The best time to visit is late spring or summer, and species to look for here include ruffed grouse, common raven, veery, Canada warbler, and rose-breasted grosbeak. Drive to the parking lot and walk the edges of the lot or the trails up to the visitor center. If you have more time, try the many trails away from the parking lot, which also offer good birding.

Burrell’s Ford

Burrell’s Ford is a bridge over the Chattooga River in Rabun County in the farthest northeast corner of the state, but this seven-mile dirt road offers great birding. Drive or walk along Forest Road 646 from GA 28 and look and listen for breeding species like whip-poor-will, Swainson’s and worm-eating warblers, or ovenbirds in summer. Also breeding here in small numbers are red-breasted nuthatches, and they can be found year-round. In winter you might get lucky and find common raven or (if you are really lucky) red crossbills.

Kennesaw Mountain

Kennesaw Mountain is a National Battlefield Park just northeast of Atlanta off I-75 and is Georgia’s single best location for migrating landbirds. During peak migration in late April and most of September 15 to 20 warbler species are not uncommon in a day. Vireos, thrushes, and tanagers can be seen here as well. Most bird watchers walk up the paved road to the top or drive to the top and walk there. The migration seasons run from mid-April to mid-May (spring) and mid-August to mid-October (fall). There are also several guided walks here each season.

E.L. Huie Land Application Facility

E.L. Huie Land Application Facility is a series of wastewater treatment ponds and a nearby wetland center just south of Atlanta off US 41 in Jonesboro. The ponds are great for ducks in winter or shorebirds during migration, and the wetland center is good year-round for warblers in spring and fall and sparrows in winter. There are scheduled guided walks are offered.

Piedmont NWR

Piedmont NWR is about 20 miles east of I-75 in Forsyth, just north of Macon. This refuge is best known for resident red-cockaded woodpeckers and Bachman’s sparrows, both of which are most easily seen in spring and early summer. There are miles of dirt roads through loblolly pine forest to explore, as well as several lakes and other habitats. In summer many notable species found here include Acadian flycatchers and prairie, hooded, and Kentucky warblers. In winter many sparrow species can be observed in the fields, and a few ducks can be found in the lakes.

Phinizy Swamp Nature Park

Phinizy Swamp Nature Park is located right near the Augusta airport and has hundreds of acres of wastewater treatment impoundments and an education center. This spot offers superb birding year round, with many guided bird walks offered. In winter the spotlight is on ducks and in summer birds to look for include common moorhen, purple gallinule, and least bittern. In late summer and early fall there are lots of waders here, such as the great egret and little blue heron. Several rail species winter here, including Virginia, king, and sora.

Bradley Unit of the Eufaula NWR

Bradley Unit of the Eufaula NWR is located on the Chattahoochee River just north of Georgetown at Lake Walter F George. The several impoundments in the Bradley Unit have many species of waterfowl (including greater white-fronted geese) and sparrows (including the hard-to-find Le Conte’s) around them in winter, and they host many species of breeding waterbirds in summer. Spring and fall are good for landbirds in the woods and shorebirds in the flooded fields and impoundment edges also. Anhingas can be found here all year.

Harris Neck NWR

Harris Neck NWR is just east of I-95 about 30 miles south of Savannah, and is another superb year-round birding site. It offers many impoundments and a driving tour loop with other great habitats. This site is home to the largest colony of wood storks in Georgia, and they and many other ducks and waders can be found in the impoundments here (storks and purple gallinule in summer, ducks in winter, and waders all year). Many bird species can be observed in the scrubby fields of this former military field, including large numbers of painted buntings in summer. The auto tour goes through some great maritime forest with a variety of breeding species in summer and landbird migrants in spring and fall.

Altamaha WMA

Altamaha WMA is just south of Darien, and just east of I-95. This is one of the best birding sites in Georgia, year-round. There are many impoundments here, managed primarily for waterfowl in winter, but good for many species of waders and other waterbirds. Species to watch for are all the herons and egrets, glossy ibis, and common moorhen. Ducks to look for in winter include both blue and green-winged teal, northern shoveler, and mottled duck. Summer species include least bittern, purple gallinule, and painted bunting.

St. Simons Island

St. Simons Island is immediately east of Brunswick, and has great beaches for birding all year long. Gould’s Inlet on the southeast corner of the island has the best beach viewing in Georgia for shorebirds, gulls, and terns, and is best at a high or falling tide. Toward low tide this is a good spot for reddish egret. In summer look for Wilson’s plover and least tern, and in winter look for many shorebirds, including piping plover and marbled godwit. During migration this is a good place to see red knot and whimbrel.

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island is the next island south from St. Simons, and also offers not only excellent beaches (especially the southern tip) but some good forest habitat and a good spot for winter ducks on the northern tip (for greater scaup and black scoter). There are small picnic areas and parks all over this island, and all of them can be good during spring and fall migration. The beaches are good birding all year long as well. The scrub area and beach at the southern tip may be the best single birding spot in Georgia. While driving the causeway onto the island stop at the visitor center to scan the mudflat behind the center at low tide, another good shorebird spot.

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