Alabama Birding Trails

Alabama Birding Trails Logo Alabama Birding Trails are a series of birding-related sites covering all areas of the state that offer visitors opportunities to view resident and migratory birds. The Trails are grouped into eight regions that range from mountains to beaches to woodlands. The entire system is managed by a consortium of state and private organizations. Major funding for the system is provided by the Alabama Tourism Department, project management is overseen by the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, and environmental management is overseen by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Additional federal, state, and local agencies and organizations provide assistance as needed.

Alabama is one of the most biologically diverse states in the United States, with more 33 million acres of freshwater surface area, a varied topography, and a mild climate. These features result in a wide and diverse array of year-round birds in the state. But it is also attractive to migrating bird species. Alabama is also located on the migration route known as the Mississippi Flyway, used each spring and fall by birds traveling between winter habitats in southern states and Central and South America and summer breeding grounds in Canada and the United States. The route is attractive to birds because there is ample food and water along its length and no mountain ranges to cause additional effort in their travels.

Alabama Coastal Birding Trail Sign The Alabama Birding Trails began, in 2001, as the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail (ACBT), the very first site in what would become a statewide system. In April of that year, local bird watchers, local conservation groups, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau joined together to dedicate the ACBT. Bob Reid, of the Alabama Ornithological Society, along with John Porter, of the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary, led the organizing efforts to form the trail, using the popular Great Texas Coastal Birding Trails in Texas as a model. Its popularity inspired other areas of the state to establish trails of their own.

In 2009, members of the Birmingham Audubon Society (now Alabama Audubon), the state chapter of the national birding enthusiasts’ and bird conservation organization, coordinated with the Alabama Tourism Department to develop a birding trail in north Alabama. Volunteers scouted numerous sites along the proposed trail and then expanded their scouting efforts to sites that would eventually become part of the Wiregrass Birding Trail and the West Alabama Birding Trail. The popularity of these sites sparked the development of the additional regional trails.

Banding Birds at Fort Morgan That same year, the Birmingham Audubon Society, working with the Alabama Tourism Department and the Alabama Department of Conservation, began developing a birding trail across North Alabama as well. Volunteers again scouted sites and chose the ones with the best birding opportunities. In late 2009, the project was expanded to include the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail. The Piney Woods Birding Trail and the Black Belt Trail soon followed, with the Black Belt Trail temporarily transformed into a more expansive heritage trail. Planning for the Appalachian Birding Trail, the West Alabama Birding Trail, and the Wiregrass Birding Trail began in 2010. Late that year, the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development was tasked with managing the project by the Alabama Tourism Department. Trails were dedicated over the next two years, after sites were reviewed by a team of volunteer naturalists and bird watchers. The project leaders created a website to assist the general public in finding and using these various trails, and their enthusiastic users have developed a loyal and expanding presence on social media, connecting trail users with each other to provide tips, share photos, and offer bird identification.

The Trails

The Coastal Birding Trail (CBT) is comprised of 50 sites Baldwin County and Mobile County. In addition to boardwalks and hiking trails, the CBT also offers visitors six driving loops with stopoffs along each route. Ecological habitats include beaches, marshes, open fields, and swamps. Sites on the trail include USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Bellingrath Gardens, Fort Morgan, and Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary.

Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge The Wiregrass Birding Trail features 21 sites in ten counties in Alabama’s southeastern corner, known as the Wiregrass for the native grass species found in the region. Stops on the trail include Florala City Wetland Park in Covington County, Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge in Barbour County, and Geneva State Forest in Geneva County.

The Piney Woods Trail encompasses 22 sites in five counties in the southwestern part of the state and ranges in habitat from locks and dams, public fishing lakes, and a canoe trail as well as one of the most significant places in state history, the site of the very first territorial capital. Sites include Old St. Stephens Historical Park in Washington County, Haines Island Park in Monroe County, and Turtle Point Environmental Science Center in Escambia County.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker The West Alabama Trail comprises 28 sites in nine counties in the west-central and northwestern section of the state. Habitats range from forests and riverine environments to prehistoric and historical sites. They include Moundville Archaeological Park in Hale County, the University of Alabama Arboretum, Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County, and, notably, the site of a protected colony of red-cockaded woodpeckers in the Oakmulgee Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest in Bibb and Hale Counties.

The Black Belt Trail stretches across the center of the state and encompasses 32 sites in 11 counties. Habitats in this region, named for its rich black soil, range from heavily populated urban areas to historic sites to deep pine forests. Notable sites include Selma‘s Live Oak Cemetery in Dallas County, the Montgomery Zoo in Montgomery County, Perry Lakes Park in Perry County, and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Choctaw County.

The Piedmont Plateau Trail consists of 40 sites in nine counties in the east-central section of the state in a range of woodland, wetland, and open habitats. They encompass an institute of higher education, Central Alabama Community College and Alabama’s highest point, Mount Cheaha, as well as a historic park that preserves Alabama’s colonial history, Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson. Sites include Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Tallapoosa County, Auburn University‘s Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve in Lee County, and Alligator Creek Park in Chambers County.

Heron v. Egret at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge The Appalachian Highlands Trail consists of 40 sites in nine counties in the northeastern corner of the state. Habitats range from open fields to open water to forested mountains as well as several urban and surburban environments. Some of the notable stops on the trail are Aldridge Gardens in Jefferson County, Cherokee Rock Village in Cherokee County, and Shoal Creek Park in Shelby County.

The North Alabama Trail stretches across the entire north quarter of the state along its border with Tennessee and the Tennessee River. It encompasses 50 sites in 12 counties ranging from huge areas of open water in the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Morgan County to the grasslands of Alabama A&M University‘s Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station in Madison County. Other notable sites include DeSoto State Park in DeKalb County, Hurricane Creek Park in Cullman County, and Lake Guntersville State Park in Marshall County.

Further Reading

  • Haggerty, Thomas M., et al. “Birds.” In Alabama Wildlife, Volume 1, edited by Ralph E. Mirarchi. 4 vols. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004.

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