As the fifth most biodiverse state in the nation, Alabama has more than its share of wonderful places to go birding. Thanks primarily to longtime member, volunteer, and master birder Greg Harber, we have assembled the following list of sites to get you started. As always, it is essential that birders respect the property rights of land owners when visiting these and all other Alabama birding sites—most are public, but some are not. Through even a single careless act, an inconsiderate birder can spoil the fun for everyone! We also strongly suggest that you get hold of a detailed state atlas—perhaps DeLorme’s Alabama Atlas & Gazeteer or National Geographic’s Alabama Recreation Atlas—when exploring some of these sites for the first time.
Birmingham Zoo and Birmingham Botanical Gardens (33.488070, -86.776413)—Located on Lane Park near Mountain Brook Village, and easily accessible from US 280 at the Hollywood Boulevard exit, both the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens offer excellent birding opportunities, especially during migration. At the Zoo, be sure to walk the road back to the director’s house. The “zoo doo” pile can be a magnet for flies, drawing in birds as a result! Walk the uphill portions of the Gardens at the property’s northern boundary, and through the bog and wildflower gardens. At both sites, be sure to look for warblers, tanagers, vireos, grosbeaks, and assorted birds of prey.
Robert Jemison Park (33.479671, -86.759656)—This Mountain Brook city park is located a short distance from the Gardens. Located along Mountain Brook Parkway just east of the Brookwood Village Mall, this park offers a long walking trail along the banks of Shades Creek. It is a popular spot for joggers and power walkers, so expect company! Early morning is the best time to see the birds, which include many of the same species found at the Zoo and the Gardens.
Irondale Furnace (33.506858, -86.726481)—This park is located in the Cherokee Bend neighborhood of Mountain Brook, along the banks of Shades Creek. A small waterway, bordered by willow trees and various shrubs, flows along the northern edge of the park, adjacent to the trail leading from Stone River Road. For such a small park, Irondale Furance is a surprisingly good location to see a variety of warbler species and hawks. To reach the park, turn off of Old Leeds Road, on the eastern side of the Mountain Brook Golf Course, onto Old Leeds Lane. Follow Old Leeds Lane to the four-way stop at Stone River Road, then turn left and park on the wide shoulder on the right. The trail is ahead on the left.
East Lake Park (33.570531, -86.725462)—This popular Birmingham city park is located in the northeastern part of the city, near the I-59/1st Avenue North interchange. The best parking opportunities are in the lot opposite the police station on 84th Street, although there is also a lot on the north side of the lake at 81st Street. An exercise track encircles the lake and offers easy viewing opportunities. Although the park has more than its fair share of “domestic fowl”—Muscovy Ducks and Mallard X Muscovy hybrids abound—the summer months provide great opportunities for Wood Ducks, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, and both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. (For many years now, the island in the middle of the lake has been the city’s largest Black-crowned rookery—look to trees on the eastern side for nests and young.)
The fields near Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (also known as Zion Prairie)—The mowed fields surrounding BHM are fairly reliable locations for Eastern Meadowlarks, Loggerhead Shrikes, Killdeer, and American Kestrels. Bobolinks are also possible during migration, but only if the grass has gotten long. Keep an eye out for hawks, too! Follow the signs from I-59/20, or take 81st Street from East Lake Park. Perhaps the easiest viewing place for parking/safety reasons is the intersection of 68th street and 52nd Avenue (northeastern end of the main runway). While there, be sure to scan the ditches for assorted sparrow species.
Ruffner Mountain Nature Center (33.558681, -86.707241)—Located on both the north and south slopes of Ruffner Mountain, this large (nearly one-thousand acres!) green space is worth a visit, especially after visiting East Lake Park. The trail that begins just past the picnic pavilion winds past an old cistern, the only reliable water source on the north side of the mountain and your best bet for seeing migratory birds. Head south on Oporto-Madrid from 1st Avenue N, then turn left at the sign for Ruffner at Rugby Avenue.
Lake Purdy (33.467194, -86.641852)—Located east of US 280 on AL 119, this large lake offers good opportunities for waders and shorebirds, especially when the water level is down. Birds of prey are reliable, too. Turkeys are possible throughout the year, and late summer offers opportunities for unusual post-breeding birds.
Oak Mountain State Park (33.324872, -86.758293)—The fishing lakes at the “far end” of the park offer the best chances for viewing birds away from the crowds. Scan the shrubs on the dike/dam and the trees near the picnic area. Winter will usually bring some interesting waterfowl. The trail leading away from the R/C track (accessible from the main park road) leads to a small spillway and lake. Check this area in the spring.
Limestone Park (33.184700, -86.766275)—This Alabaster City Park is quickly becoming a favorite of many local birders. There is a tremendous wetland area at the park that hosts interesting local breeders like Anhingas (!), as well as several species of egrets and herons. To reach the site take the I-65 exit # 238 (Alabaster-US 31), and drive south on US 31 approximately 4 miles to the park, on the right immediately south of the trailer park adjacent to the Saginaw Pipe Plant. Please do not interfere with any model airplane hobbyists at the park—their club leases part of the park, and they have the right of way.