As the spring heats up, birding season is taking flight. This hot hobby couldn't be easier: All you need are a pair of comfortable walking shoes, a hat and maybe a pair of binoculars.
With over 430 bird species and hundreds of designated viewing areas, Alabama is an ideal destination for observing feathered friends in their pristine natural habitats. It's also a critically important state for vulnerable bird species, including the Whooping Crane, one of the most endangered birds in the United States; the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker; and the Bald Eagle, which has made its way back from the endangered list and can be found thriving along the state's many waterways.
Visit Alabama this summer
Alabama is showcasing its dazzling avian array with "The Year of Alabama Birding," a tourism celebration for every level of birding enthusiast — even if you don't know your Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher from your Swallow-Tailed Kite. A section of the state's new Vacation Guide is dedicated to birding, including a guide to the top trails, highlighted events, and the most accessible spots for those with special needs. Each of Alabama's eight Welcome Centers offer recordings of local bird songs to help you learn to identify various species across the state's 280 birding sites.
Some of the world's most arrestingly colorful bird species can be found across 67 counties here, from little jewel-colored Painted and Indigo Buntings, to the sunny yellow Orchard Oriole and Prairie Warbler, to scarlet-hued Summer Tanagers and Northern Cardinals.
Where to go and how meet other birders in Alabama
The state's eight trail systems, each within a different geographic region, offer access to a fascinating diversity of avian species. The mountains and gorges of the Appalachian Highlands are where you'll find a variety of raptors including eagles, hawks, and owls. The shorelines along the Piedmont Plateau are ideal for spotting elegant wading birds like herons, egrets, and osprey. Sandhill Cranes and a variety of woodpeckers are populous in the swamps, forests, and wildflower fields of North Alabama.
Festivals throughout the year offer occasions for birders to get together. Make your plans now for early August's two-day Black Belt Birding Festival, featuring field trips and special events, or the four-day Alabama Coastal Birdfest in October, where you can visit some of the state's best birding locales including Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. And in January, the two-day Festival of Cranes at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge honors the migration of over 14,000 Sandhill Cranes who spend the season here.
The state has assembled a wealth of recommendations for birdwatching excursions. A field checklist from Alabama Ornithological Society is available to help keep track of every bird you've seen. Birding apps are handy on the go for identifying birds: The state's experts recommend Merlin, a robust database that can help you name a bird via your photograph of it or by using the sounds around you; eBird Mobile, which lets you submit lists of birds to the world's largest birdwatching database; or the Audubon Bird Guide, a handy e-catalog of the over 800 types of birds in North America.
When you're back home from your birding adventures, make sure to share your best photos on Instagram with #AlabamaBirding.