Birdwatching in Arkansas

Birdwatching in Arkansas

Some 400 species of Arkansas birds are included in the state's wild menagerie.
If you're a birdwatcher, you're in luck anywhere in Arkansas. The Natural State abounds with feathered friends in every region. That presents some exciting opportunities for birding and wildlife observation within easy reach of every Arkansas community, including the state's largest cities.

The success of habitat preservation efforts in The Natural State is evident in several populations of Arkansas birds, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

Some 400 species of Arkansas birds are included in the state's wild menagerie.

Click here to use a search tool to find birds in Arkansas by species, city, or region.

Year-round Opportunities For Bird Watching Trips
The sight of majestic Bald Eagles found in winter on the state's larger lakes and rivers is Arkansas's most well-known birding attraction. But that attraction represents only a part of the year-round opportunities for watching birds in Arkansas.

At various times of the year, Arkansas birdwatchers could spot rarely seen coastal, oceanic, and western birds straying from their normal ranges. Notable records include California Gull, Broad-billed Hummingbird, and Scott's Oriole. Although six species that once occurred in Arkansas are now extinct or extirpated from the state, hundreds more can be observed throughout the year.

Winter brings a variety of loons, grebes, gulls, ducks, geese, and sparrows to the state. Major waterfowl concentrations occur along the Mississippi River Flyway in eastern Arkansas, including the largest concentrations of wintering Mallards in the country. Short-eared Owl, Harris's Sparrow, Lapland and Smith's Longspur, and Rusty Blackbird are some of the sought-after species that winter here every year.

Spring time is always an exciting time for bird watching trips in Arkansas as hundreds of birds begin their annual migration north along the Mississippi Flyway to their northern breeding grounds. The first returning residents and migrants begin arriving around mid-March and peak the first week in May. During this time shorebirds, more than 35 species of warblers, vireos, orioles, thrushes, and buntings can be seen.

Late spring brings the opportunity to see the breeding birds in Arkansas, which include the colorful Painted Bunting, the elegant Mississippi Kite, and the reclusive Swainson's Warbler. Several species of herons and egrets can be found nesting in colonies called "rookeries." Least Terns (photo below) nest on sandbars of the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Red rivers.

Sandpipers, plovers and other shorebirds migrate north through the state in early spring and southward during late summer. Shorebirds and waders require shallow water and mudflats for resting and refueling during their long migration, they can be seen on wetlands, fallow agricultural fields, and drained fish hatchery ponds throughout the state.

Summer is also an excellent time to find post-breeding wanderers such as Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, White-faced and Glossy Ibis.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch, prefer an open pineland forest, while the Bachman's Sparrow inhabits dry, open pine or oak woods with a scattering of scrub. Small numbers of Henslow's Sparrows may be found in prairies. They winter in the southern half of the state and spend the summer in the northern half. Even smaller numbers of Rufous-crowned Sparrows, living along south-facing bluffs of certain mountains, most notably Mount Magazine, represent the eastern-most populations of this species.

Arkansas has vast amounts of public lands with generally open access that are ideal for bird watching trips. Such as national wildlife refuges, state wildlife management areas, state parks, National Park Service lands, state fish hatcheries, state natural areas, and three national forests.

Federally owned sites of interest to Arkansas birders include the Holla Bend, Big Lake, Wapanocca, Felsenthal, and White River National Wildlife Refuges, Buffalo National River, and Arkansas Post National Memorial. Each location provides varied habitats making for good birding throughout the year. Visitor centers at these locations can generally provide a map and a bird checklist. Brief site descriptions and bird lists for the refuges and the national river are available online.

Millwood, Lake Chicot, and Lake Dardanelle State Parks and their surrounding areas are particularly popular among Arkansas birders. The Millwood Lake area has produced sightings of more than 300 bird species, including such rarities as Parasitic Jaeger, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Sabine's Gull. Hundreds of gulls winter at Lake Dardanelle, rarities seen there include California, Glaucous, and Lesser Black-backed. Black-legged Kittiwake has been recorded at Lake Chicot. For several years, DeGray Lake Resort has been a reliable place to find wintering Pacific Loon.

Other state parks noteworthy for the variety of birds found along their hiking trails include Pinnacle Mountain, Village Creek, and Devil's Den. Trail guides and bird lists can be requested at the parks' visitor centers.

Various Arkansas state parks host popular eagle-watching events each winter and other birding festivals and events of interest to birders during the remaining seasons. Information on such events can be found on the state parks' calendar of events.

State fish hatcheries of interest to birders for waterfowl and migrating shorebirds include the C.B. "Charlie" Craig Fish Hatchery near Centerton and the Andrew H. Hulsey Fish Hatchery near Hot Springs.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, in a partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has produced a Birding and Watchable Wildlife brochure. It includes information on different species of birds in Arkansas, best viewing locations, birding tips, and highlighted destinations for bird watching trips. A list of Arkansas Game and Fish Nature Centers is also included. A copy if the brochure can be picked up at any of the 14 Arkansas Welcome Centers.

The Arkansas Audubon Society maintains a field list for the state, click here to search it by species. Visitors to the website can also submit rare bird sightings.

A Birder's Guide to Arkansas, an American Birding Association publication written by veteran Arkansas birder Mel White, is the best available guide to the top locations for viewing birds in Arkansas. It provides useful summaries of 59 of the state's best sites, including detailed directions, maps, best times to visit and what species to expect on bird watching trips. The book, which also gives tips on where to find selected species of birds in Arkansas, can be purchased in local bookstores and state park visitor centers. (Note: Published in 1995, the guide contains a few instances of outdated information.)

Note: To aid in the protection of the wildlife and birds of Arkansas and to maximize visitors' enjoyment of the state's wild species, click here for an Ethics & Tips section.

Photos & content courtesy: Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
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