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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Alabama is For the Birds

Celebrate Alabama’s ‘Year of Birding’ in several northern 'Bama hotspots.


In celebration of the Alabama Tourism Department’s Year of Birding, the North Alabama region will be booming with events celebrating the native birds of Alabama and their impact on the region. 


The North Alabama Birding Trail is a collection of 51 sites across 16 counties, as varied as the region itself. From accessible overlooks to the untamed wilderness and from quiet winter nesting areas to dramatic spring migrations, this trail offers a window for viewing the vast diversity that makes birding so outstanding in North Alabama.

 

Two of the trail’s most prolific sites are also the locations of popular annual birding events.

 

Lake Guntersville State Park (1155 Lodge Drive, Guntersville, Ala. 35976; 256-571-5440).

This is a 6,000-acre park located along the shore of Lake Guntersville. In January and February, Lake Guntersville State Park hosts its annual Eagle Awareness Weekends, giving wildlife enthusiasts a chance to learn more about the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. In addition to field trips to view local nesting areas, the weekends include live bird programs and presentations from birding and wildlife experts from throughout the region.


Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (3121 Visitor Center Road, Decatur, Ala. 35603).

This refuge is known as a premier wintering area for migratory birds with its 35,000 acres of wetlands, pine and hardwood uplands, tributaries, swamps, impoundments and agricultural fields. This diversity provides for an amazing variety of birdlife and makes the refuge fertile grounds for enjoying the great activity of bird watching. A heated wildlife observation building, complete with spotting scopes, as well as a photo blind make viewing ducks, geese, raptors and an occasional bald eagle easily accessible for all, from the comfort of a heated building. Whooping Crane Walks are offered at 11 a.m. on Feb. 29, 2024, led by Travis Roddy from the International Crane Foundation.


The refuge also is a stopover for thousands of Sandhill Cranes each January as well as a host of other wintering waterfowl. Come back in January for the annual Festival of the Cranes, a free two-day event that includes workshops, birding walks and presentations.


desoto state park
DeSoto State Park

Other top birding spots in the region, particularly spectacular in spring and fall, include:

 

DeSoto State Park (1299 Blalock Drive N.E., Fort Payne, Ala. 35967; 256-845-0051).

This park sits atop scenic Lookout Mountain and is known for its many rushing waterfalls and fragrant wildflowers. It is spectacular in spring and fall and is said to offer an unequaled display of woodland bird species found in the southeastern United States.

 

Hays Nature Preserve (7153 Highway 431 S. Owens Cross Road, Huntsville, Ala. 35763; 256-532-5326).

Easily accessible from the city of Huntsville, with 10 miles of trails that follow the Flint River and wind through bottomlands and swamps, it is home to great blue and green herons, belted kingfishers, and in winter, Wilson’s snipe. 


Monte Sano State Park (5105 Nolen Ave., Huntsville, Ala. 35801; 256-534-3757).

Along with spectacular views from the ridge of the Cumberland Plateau, this park offers ample birding opportunities. Indigo buntings, great crested flycatchers and red-eyed vireos can be seen along the trails. The Overlook is an excellent site for the fall flight of southbound raptors.

 

As visitors enter the heart of the largest Tupelo swamp in Alabama they will find tufted titmice, red-eyed vireos and warblers. Eastern wood-pewee, great-crested flycatcher, and yellow-billed cuckoo can also be found.

 

Where to stay

From scenic campgrounds to luxury resorts, the lodging options throughout North Alabama are as varied as the landscape. Alabama State Parks in the region offer lodges, cabins and campgrounds. There are dozens of hotels, with options ranging from high-end luxury to scenic seclusion to downtown vibrance.

 

Bird Events and Other Birding Exhibits

Oakville Feather Fest will take place at the Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center (1219 County Road 187, Danville, Ala. 35619) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 9, 2024. This event includes a day filled with educational stations, guided bird walks, raptor shows, guest speakers, food trucks, hands-on crafts for students, and bird art and goods made by local students.


Alabama Audubon is offering an Audubon Outing/A North Alabama Drive on Thursday, March 14, 2024, a self-driving, full-day adventure through the diverse habitats of North Alabama. It begins at the Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge and travels to “the Sinks,” an assortment of flooded ponds and fields in the southern Tennessee River Valley near Leighton, Alabama, and ends at Wheeler Dam. This unique outing will take you through a variety of landscapes in northwestern Alabama, each offering a chance to observe a rich array of bird species and other wildlife. Registration is required.



Bald Eagles are often spotted in North Alabama. According to Outdoor Alabama, bald eagles are found statewide (we've seen them along the Gulf Coast!); however, they are concentrated primarily along rivers and large bodies of water. A January survey of bald eagles in Alabama has averaged about 100-150 birds in recent years. Concentrations occur on Pickwick Lake near Waterloo and Guntersville Lake near Guntersville State Park. For sites around Guntersville, click here


What may be the largest known purple martin colony is located in North Alabama in the town of Rainsville. Johnsons World's Largest Purple Colony is home to 2167 nesting sites with anywhere between 9,792 to 14,688 purple martins according to 2023 estimates.


The Guntersville Museum (1215 Rayburn Ave., Guntersville, Ala. 35976), as part of its natural history collection, showcases a local treasure that fascinated generations of local residents who attended the old City Elementary “Rock School.” In the lobby of that school, and now at the museum, is a display of mostly native birds collected and mounted by the late Bessie Rayburn Samuel in the 1920s.


For the science behind how birds fly, check out the Formed to Fly exhibit at Cook Museum of Natural Science (133 4th Ave. N.E., Decatur, Ala. 35601).


For information on other things to see and do in North Alabama, visit https://www.northalabama.org/things-to-do/.




Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by Cheré Dastugue Coen, who always breaks for birds. She shoots them, but only with a camera.

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Bruce Coen
Bruce Coen
Feb 28

Fantastic story! My love for birds and birding will definitely take me to Alabama!

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