North Alabama Birding Sites
North Alabama is blessed with a large number of fantastic birding sites. Many of them have been included in the North Alabama Birding Trail. Listed below are many of the sites that NABS sponsors field trips to plus a few more. This is very much a work in progress right now.
NABT denotes North Alabama Birding Trail Site
Bankhead National Forest is home to some of Alabama’s last great wilderness areas providing extensive forested habitats for migratory and resident birds. Habitats in the national forest range from hemlock-cove hardwoods in lush canyons to fire maintained pine and oak woodlands.
The dam area is excellent for raptors. There are always bald eagles around, including a pair that have been nesting near the dam for several years. The “hawk farm” (so called because of all the unusual raptors that have been found there over the years) is private property and ordinarily closed to the public but permission is granted to bird there during the Christmas Count and on NABS trips. Observers usually get good looks at several species, including both types of vultures, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Kestrels and Harriers, and sometimes an Osprey or Short-eared Owl. The unusual species that have been seen irregularly over the years include Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Rough-legged Hawk, and Golden Eagle. Songbird variety is also very good in this area.
The south side of Guntersville Dam features a marsh where Red-headed Woodpeckers and Red-shouldered Hawks can be found. Hundreds of gulls winter here and the electrical towers usually contain an assortment of Bald Eagles and Black and Turkey Vultures.
The Guntersville Waterfront is an excellent place to look for wintering waterfowl and gulls. Thousands of Ducks, Loons, Grebes and Coots can be found here each winter. Rarities including Long-tailed Duck, Western Grebe, Pacific Loon and Glaucus, California, Iceland and Lesser Black-backed Gull have been found here in recent years.
The J.D and Annie Hays Nature Preserve consists of 538 acres donated to the City of Huntsville in 1999 by Ann Hays. This tract of wilderness along the Flint River has been virtually untouched for over 100 years.
Indian Creek Greenway
The Indian Creek Greenway is a pleasant place to bird, with opportunities to get good looks at migrants. This can be a good location to find Mourning Warblers. This species is a secretive late spring migrant through this area that is rarely seen. Wilson’s, Magnolia and Canada Warblers, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-crowned Night Heron and a variety of other species have been encountered here in recent years.
The grasslands of Key Cave attract Bobolinks, Dickcissels and Grasshopper Sparrows as well as more common grassland species such as Eastern Meadowlark and Bobwhite. In winter, dozens of Harriers can be found here and it is a regular wintering ground for Short-eared Owls.
The shallow ponds and “sinks” in the Leighton area are a prime destination for those interested in shorebirds during migration. The abundant mud lures a wide variety of waders of all kinds including Wood Storks, White Ibis, and many species of Sandpipers and Plovers. Roseate Spoonbill has been found here.
One of the premier birding destinations in north Alabama, Monte Sano State Park has a well-deserved reputation as a migrant trap during both spring and fall migration. On a good day it is possible to see over 20 warbler species here in just a few hours.
The Talladega National Forest is home to one of the few breeding populations of Red Crossbills in Alabama. The endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker also makes its home here and Bachman’s Sparrows occur in winter.
Blackwell Swamp connects to the Rockhouse Buckeye area of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. It is primarily forested bottomland surrounding a shallow lake. It can be very productive for waterfowl and waders including Green Herons, and the flooded timber at the north end provides nesting habitat for Red-headed, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Prothonotary and Kentucky Warblers nest in the swamp, and American Alligators live here too.
The Beaver Dam Peninsula Tower or “Goose Tower” as it is usually called sits in a field and is primarily a fall and winter observation point. During the colder months, hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and Snow and Canada Geese fill the fields, picking at the seeds from last summer’s crop. Quite often, a Greater White-fronted or Ross’ goose can be spotted in the flock. Flocks of American Pipits and Horned Larks also feed in the fields and usually have a few Lapland Longspurs mixed in.
This site provides access to another corner of the fertile Wheeler Reservoir and the Tennessee River. In winter, the open water may contain large numbers of various ducks, Common Loons, and others. At times of low water, the mudflats may be filled with migrant shorebirds and the shallows for wading birds such as Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Black and Forster’s terns are sometimes seen. In recent years, vagrant species such as Pomarine Jaeger, Tundra Swan and Red-necked Grebe have been found here. A large flock of Snow Geese winters here and increasing numbers of American White Pelicans have recently begun wintering here as well.
The Rockhouse area of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge runs along the North side of the Tennessee River and includes views of both the river and of Buckeye Pond. A variety of waterfowl can be found here from late Fall through early Spring. A White-faced Ibis was seen here in the Spring of 2007 and a Ruff was found in the Spring of 2018.
The Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station (WTARS) is a 900-acre farm with lots of open grassland and pasture areas, plus small patches of forest. It is one of the best places in the state to observe open country birds and always makes for a great trip. There are breeding Scissor-tailed Flycatchers here, lots of Grasshopper Sparrows, and Dickcissels, usually Bobolinks and Lark Sparrows, possibly Loggerhead Shrikes, etc.