By Alli Hill
It takes time, practice, and planning to become a good birdwatcher, especially since they can fly away as quickly as you spot them. The perfect way to enjoy your birdwatching experience is by embarking on a hike through the wilderness. These five best birdwatching hikes in Alabama will give you your best chance of seeing some of the prettiest species in the state.
Home of the annual Festival of the Cranes, Wheeler was established specifically as a haven for migratory birds and other wildlife. Throughout the refuge are habitats conducive to breeding and roosting for sandhill cranes and wintering waterfowl, with over 300 total bird species calling the refuge home at some point. There are five designated nature trails to utilize for prime wildlife viewing: Atkeson Trail, Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk Trail, Dancy Bottom Trail, Flint Creek, or the Wildlife Observation Trail. The National Wildlife Refuge created an amazing bird guide (downloadable via their website) that details the various species along with their commonality during each season. Woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and eastern bluebirds are among the most likely to be spotted here.
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This site has been dubbed as one of the top four places in the country for spring migration viewing. Featuring over 135 acres of salt marshes, forests, dunes, a lake, and a beach, there are 420 bird species that have been sighted within the sanctuary (for comparison, Alabama as a whole plays home to roughly 445 species). Inside the sanctuary, bird viewers can embark on the three-mile trail system that winds through various habitats to give you the chance to see as many birds as possible. Many of the species visit the sanctuary for food and rest during their migration, and has been touted as “globally important” for migration.
Though much of this refuge is only accessible by boat, the various habitats make it an attractive spot for birds. Its more than 4,000 acres feature lakes, sloughs, hardwoods, and moist areas that both birds and other wildlife call home. Be sure to check their website for a trail map. Most commonly used by wintering waterfowl and wood duck for brooding and roosting, the area has also seen its share of wood storks and bald eagles at times. The refuge provides artificial nesting boxes, and has seen upwards of 10,000 waterfowl during the cooler months.
Though smaller compared to the previously mentioned refuges, this 50-acre botanical garden is an enjoyable attraction for birdwatchers. A paved walking path of nearly three-quarters of a mile takes visitors through a mixed hardwood forest, around the gardens, and near small ponds to give them a variety of bird-viewing areas. Spring and fall migration periods are your best chance to spot birds right now, but efforts continue to build its population of wintering birds, too.
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Formerly known as Florala State Park, this beautiful site is situated on Lake Jackson and attracts a myriad of bird species during migratory seasons and winter months. Commonly seen are the northern mockingbird and northern cardinal, as well as thrashers, woodpeckers, orioles, herons, and egrets. Bald eagles have been known to frequent the area, too. The park offers an elevated boardwalk that can take visitors through the canopy over wetlands to spot a variety of bird species.