For a glimpse of Southern culture and a good selection of bird types, put Georgia in your scope, a state with surprising habitat variety and an impressive seasonal birding checklist. Barrier islands just off the coast host several hundred different species during spring and fall transatlantic migration, while inland woods and protected swamp make a bird watching tour round the state notable for its breadth.
On the coast, hot spots include places like undeveloped Little St. Simons Island, a superb place to spot migrant birds without the crowds. More accessible, but also more developed, are Cumberland and Jekyll Islands , which in turn offer fascinating contrast to the wet wilds of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, part of Okefenokee Swamp. A stone’s throw from big city Atlanta enjoy the outdoors and more migratory species in places like Cochran Shoals on the and Chattahoochee River or wandering trails lacing Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Finally, leave time for a trip to Georgia’s highest point, the top of Brasstown Bald, where patient birders might be treated to a glimpse of bird species not found anywhere else in the state.
A listed Important Bird Area (IBA), this barrier island is a popular migratory bird spot over in spring and fall, when Yellow-breasted Chats and Painted Buntings mingle with year-round residents like Northern Cardinals and Gray Catbirds. Herons, cormorants, gulls and Wood Storks are also regularly sighted between the beaches and ponds.
As many as 355 transatlantic migratory birds stop in at Cumberland Island over the course of a year, from forest dwellers to raptors and shorebirds. Watch for threatened and endangered birds like the American Oystercatcher and Wilson’s Plover, scope for stork rookeries on freshwater ponds and keep an eye out for Golden Eagles circling the shore as you explore 50 miles of hiking trails.
Chattahoochee River NRA, Cochran Shoals and Sope Creek:
Within easy reach of Atlanta, this popular riverside recreation area is also a good place to spot birds, many of which use the Chattahoochee as a migratory route in spring and fall. Visit close to sun-up for the best chance at sighting migrating species, woodpeckers and waterbirds, penetrating good birding units like Cochran Shoals on maintained trails.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park:
This mountain is arguably the top pick in the Atlanta area for bird watching, an important stopover for migratory birds and frequented by raptors in the fall. Watch the trees lining the road for the likes of Northern Cardinals, Summer Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos and tapping woodpeckers.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge:
Located in Southeast Georgia, this refuge encompasses a 402,000 acre stretch of the Okefenokee Swamp (which extends into northern Florida). The best way to see elegant Sandhill Cranes wading in the shallows or catch a Red-cockaded Woodpecker at work in the trees while avoiding alligators is in a boat. Guided tours are available, but there are also wilderness water trails open to the canoeing public.
Little St. Simons:
Development has yet to touch this small, private barrier island off the Georgia coast, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular with bird watchers. A good selection of migratory birds stop off here in spring and fall, but there are also a number of nesting species that call in at this 10,000-acre island. Between pond, woods and open beach watch for Kingfishers, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Warblers and more. Naturalist-led guided tours are available.
Georgia’s highest point is the top of Brasstown Bald, a 4,784 foot peak that hardly counts as lofty but does nonetheless attract some higher elevation birds. Watch for the Common Raven and Canada Warbler here and between Neel’s Gap and Lake Winfield Scott, where one might also spot the Scarlet Tanager, Winter Wren, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.