Whether you’re a serious or beginner birder, you’ll get caught up in the excitement of birding on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Gulf Shores and Foley are a popular home base for those who like to get out, explore, and see a wide variety of bird species year round.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a paradise not only for birders but for visitors with many different outdoor interests. The Coastal Birding Trail features six birding loops in Baldwin and Mobile counties totaling over 200 miles. Each loop covers different ecological regions representative of the northern Gulf Coast and enables birders to experience different assemblages of bird species within each region.
The beauty of the Alabama Gulf Coast is no secret. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the natural elements Alabama’s beaches offer. However, humans aren’t the only ones who love to explore the Gulf Coast as you can find plenty of stunning coastal birds here. When you’re on the hunt for the perfect piece of paradise to watch these beautiful birds, consider these 15 places perfect for birders.
Fishing and Education Pier
For those looking to watch seabirds, Gulf State Park’s Fishing and Education Pier is the place for you. Located on the Gulf of Mexico in Gulf Shores, this pier offers a prime viewing spot for gulls and terns as well as ruddy turnstone, sanderlings, and herons. For $2, guests can walk along the pier and enjoy the incredible view. You may also spot a variety of sea life as the pier is a popular fishing spot.
Gulf State Park
There is something for everyone at Gulf State Park. The beach pavilion provides picnic tables as an escape from the beach, the nature center is a great place for the kids to learn, the swimming pool provides refreshment for guests, and the Lake Shelby day use area offers kayaking and canoeing. For a change of pace while visiting check out the fishing and education pier, miles of biking on the Backcountry trail, beautiful flowers in the butterfly garden, and additional education at the interpretive center.
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Gulf State Park offers a diversity of habitat for residential and migrating birds. Osprey, herons, rails, owls, woodpeckers and much more frequent the Park. Look up in the sky for a nesting bald eagles souring above. When storms occur in the Gulf of Mexico, the wind pushes a water column of the open ocean to the shoreline, look for rarities such as Magnificent Frigatebirds and Northern Gannets.
Meaher State Park
The Mobile Delta wetlands in Spanish Fort are where you’ll discover Meaher State Park. This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of the Mobile Delta and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors.
There are two nature trails with a lovely view of the Mobile Delta. Birders can expect to see herons, red-tailed hawks, egrets, and even bald eagles. It’s a great place to bring the kids and get them hooked on birding.
Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T” for your fishing pleasure. Access to the pier is included in the park admission fee. Enjoy a self-guided walk on two nature trails including a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.
5 Rivers Delta Resource Center
5 Rivers Delta Resource Center’s name recognizes the five rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta which include the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley Rivers (from west to east) that flow into Mobile Bay. The Center itself sits on the banks of one of the canals of this vast delta. These drainages encompass over 250,000 acres of meandering waterways, floodplain forests, and extensive wetlands. The center features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, Delta boat tours, canoe and kayak rentals, hiking trails, and picnic areas.
The decks of the Delta Hall and the perimeter trail around the facility provide excellent vantage points to observe birds of the surrounding marsh and waterways. In spring and summer, look for Brown Pelican, Osprey, King Rail, Marsh Wren, and several species of herons and egrets. Occasionally, Least Bittern and Purple Gallinule may be encountered along the margins of the emergent marsh. Painted Bunting may also be possible in the thickets near the buildings. Check here for migrants in spring and fall.
Battleship Park is a military history park and museum on the western shore of Mobile Bay. Battleship Park presents the birder with a diversity of habitat to explore and a great variety of birds to observe. Pinto Pass and the mudflats of Mobile Bay filled with waterfowl in winter and shorebirds during migration, short grass lawns for dowitchers and Black-bellied Plover, salt water marsh with herons and egrets. During low tide this area is filled with herons, egrets, and occasionally ibis, especially in late summer. Black-necked Stilt may be around any time of the year and in summer, Gull-billed Tern is present.
Mobile Bay Mudflats
The Mobile Bay Mudflats are a good place to look for herons, egrets, and Boat-tailed Grackles any time of year. An assortment of sandpipers and plovers are regular during spring and fall migration. During high tide in winter, American Coot and waterfowl are regular. Mudflats or mud flats, also known as tidal flats, are coastal wetlands that form when mud is deposited by tides or rivers. They are found in sheltered areas such as bays, bayous, lagoons, and estuaries. The best viewing at the Mobile Bay Mudflats is during low tide when the mudflats are exposed.
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Wade Ward Nature Park
Wade Ward Nature Park is a 12 acre natural area, a rarity in the midst of such a vibrant resort city (Gulf Shores). It offers the birder scenic boardwalks overlooking canals and coastal salt marsh. It features a pavilion, benches, and scenic boardwalks. The Nature Park provides ideal habitat for bitterns and rails. Even in close proximity to the downtown commercial bustle, wildlife such otters, pelicans, and the occasional alligator can be seen hunting and fishing in its shallow water and wetlands.
Wade Ward Nature Park is located just two blocks north of Gulf Place, the main public beach. It is a public pedestrian access to a pocket of natural wetlands and waterways found in between the beach condominiums and commercial buildings in Gulf Shores.
From a comfortably dry, elevated boardwalk, you may enjoy beautiful views of the wetlands that connect Little Lagoon and Lake Shelby. Wildlife such otters, pelicans, and the occasional alligator can be seen hunting and fishing in its shallow water and wetlands.
Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
In nearby Fairhope, the Weeks Bay Estuarine Research Reserve public research and education facility includes some 9,000 acres of protected habitats bordering Weeks Bay and Fish and Magnolia Rivers. Complete with an interpretive center, indoor displays, live animals, and forested boardwalk nature trails, the Reserve is part of a national network of coastal reserves established as living laboratories for long-term research projects. Well-known for birdwatching, Weeks Bay also participates in the Alabama Coastal BirdFest held each year during early fall (September 27-30, 2023). This event is a great way to see and learn about the area’s birds and their habitats and no previous birding experience is required.
Alabama Coastal BirdFest takes attendees into the Mobile Delta, to the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary, historic Fort Morgan, and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, among other locations. The four-day event also includes workshops on subjects such as hummingbirds, the basics of birding, monarch butterflies, and, new this year, workshops on how to use common birding apps, such as eBird and Merlin Bird ID, and understanding bird box design for specific species.
Fairhope Municipal Pier and Beach
Fairhope Municipal Pier is a good location for winter ducks, loons, gulls, and terns. Check the pilings in all seasons for loafing gulls, terns, and pelicans. A scan or walk along the beach can yield wading birds, peeps, and other shorebirds. Designed for both strolling and fishing, the pier features benches, covered areas, restrooms, a marina, and a restaurant. There is no cost to walk but a saltwater license is required for fishing.
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The park is home to a lovely rose garden and fountain, plus picnic tables, pavilion, duck pond, tree trail, and a large sandy beach. Non-residents are charged park admission during the summer season. In addition to the waterfront park, numerous bluff top parks extend along the bay front.
Graham Creek Nature Preserve
Home to boundless plant and wildlife species, the 500-acre Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley offers many recreational opportunities and educational programs. Pine savanna habitat features wild flowers and pitcher plants. See endangered plants up close while exploring 10 miles of trail, two handicap-accessible boardwalks, a kayak launch, and four disc golf courses.
Graham Creek also offers other leisure activities such as an archery park made for all sizes and a playground with an outdoor classroom perfect for kids. There are many pet-friendly areas. Enjoy the interpretive center and don’t miss the chance for birdwatching. Bring your gear and hit the water from the kayak launch. The preserve also hosts events throughout the year including Feathered Friends Day and eco-educational activities.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge encompasses some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat. The name Bon Secour comes from the French meaning safe harbor, very appropriate considering the sanctuary for native flora and fauna the refuge provides.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge consists of approximately 7,000 acres of coastal lands ranging from constantly changing beach dunes to rolling pine-oak woodlands. There is something for everyone at the refuge from a quiet stroll among the dunes to world-class birding opportunities and trail.
Bon Secour represents an important stopover and staging habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds during the fall and spring migration along the Alabama coastline. Migratory birds utilize this area for resting and building fat reserves critical to successful migration.
The Jeff Friend Trail is a one-mile loop to Little Lagoon. Habitats along the trail include maritime forest, freshwater marsh, and open water along the north shore of Little Lagoon. A small observation deck, accessible to those with disabilities, midway down the trail at Little Lagoon provides a great place to set up a spotting scope and scan the water.
In winter, look for Bufflehead, Common Loon, and Horned Grebe. And, in spring, Osprey, Sandwich Tern, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow are regularly seen. Expect to see Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanager, and Northern Parula during the summer. Chuck-will’s-widow and Great Horned Owl are commonly heard at dusk and dawn.
Fort Morgan is a Third System masonry fort built between 1819 and 1833. The fort was named after Revolutionary War Hero Daniel Morgan. Standing guard where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, the fort played a significant role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. Used intermittently through the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II, the site showcases the evolution of seacoast fortifications and adaptations.
During spring and fall migration, dozens of migrant species flock to Fort Morgan on their journeys to escape the cold. One of Fort Morgan’s best spots to view birds is the Stables located near the eastern sea wall. Here you’ll find a variety of passerine migrants enjoying the comfortable coastal weather. During spring and fall, The Audubon Birding Society hosts a banding station event that visitors are welcome to attend.
Lillian Swamp Forever Wild Tract
Lillian Swamp encompasses nearly 3,000 acres managed for conservation by the ADCNR State Lands Division and hosts a variety of habitats representative of the lower Coastal Plain. At any time of year, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, and other resident species are common in the piney uplands and adjacent thickets.
In spring and fall, varying assemblages of migrants can be seen depending on weather conditions. Continuing north on the road, the piney uplands transition to forested swamplands and open pitcher plant bogs. These areas are good for wintering sparrows, migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, and an assortment of waders. Recent notable winter sightings include Rusty Blackbird, a species of high conservation concern. Osprey and Bald Eagle are seen regularly year around particularly along the Perdido River to the east.
Bayfront Park on Dauphin Island has many species of local and migratory birds that visit in the spring and fall to take advantage of its fresh water and to shelter themselves among the trees and reeds. Brown Pelicans are ever-present soaring on the wind-wave formed as bay breezes blow up against and over dense stands of pines. Gulls, terns, and Double-crested Cormorants roost on the pilings.
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From the parking area, walk the boardwalk to an inland marsh. Look closely for Least Bittern and Clapper Rail. During fall and winter, Virginia Rail and Sora are regular but secretive. Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and Boat-tailed Grackle are also common.
Audubon Bird Sanctuary
This lush sanctuary on Dauphin Island consists of approximately 164 acres of maritime forest, marshes, dunes, a lake, swamp, and beach. Multiple walking trails, some handicapped accessible, allow the avid birder miles of habitat for spotting neo-tropical migrants in the spring and fall as well as native species all year long.
Dauphin Island has been named one of the top four locations in North America for viewing spring migrations and the sanctuary has gained it recognition from the National Audubon Society as “globally important.”
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.
—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays