Bird Watching in Georgia
According to a 2006 Fish and Wildlife Service study, bird watching is the nation’s second most popular activity. However, when birding in Georgia, it is important to respect wildlife and their habitats.
Use a Georgia bird checklist, eBird or Birds of Georgia Field Guide by Giff Beaton and Parrish to make your next birding adventure successful.
Jekyll Island is Georgia’s most famous birding spot, with the highest number of species per square mile in the state. The seven-mile-long barrier island used to be the winter vacation destination of wealthy families, including the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. Now it’s a family-friendly resort with luxury hotels, nine golf courses and miles of beach.
The island’s bird richness comes from its marshes that attract waterfowl, mudflats for shorebirds and Atlantic Ocean seabirds, and coastal location in the path of migratory species. Birders can spot American avocet, osprey, clapper rail, white pelican and peregrine falcon here.
A favorite activity is to visit the Jekyll Island Banding Station, operated by a non-scientist carpenter who became a citizen scientist to help save birds from poachers. The station educates beachgoers about shore birds, including their chicks, so that the babies don’t get killed by unknowing people. Lydia Rogers, the volunteer who runs the station, is a neat person – deeply connected to this land and its animals.
A city of stately antebellum mansions and historic squares, Savannah charms visitors year-round. It’s a top destination for history buffs with landmarks that pay tribute to Civil War history and ancient cemeteries that hold the final resting place of enslaved people.
While the town is beautiful year-round, spring through autumn are when things really come to life. Visit during the peak of azalea season to see bright pink blooms fill the streets, or recreate the Forrest Gump bench scene at 30 acres of green space in Forsyth Park.
Birding oppurtunities are abundant in the area, with a number of parks and beaches offering salt marshes and sand dunes, as well as pine forests with Spanish moss. Skidaway Island State Park offers a variety of trails with a wide range of birds, from Pileated Woodpeckers to Clapper Rails. Cumberland Island National Seashore is a great spot to watch Wilson’s Plovers nest in summer, and Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge near Townsend is home to the largest wood stork colony in Georgia, and may even harbor Roseate Spoonbills in late spring.
Ocmulgee National Wildlife Refuge
As the largest state east of the Mississippi River, Georgia covers a wide variety of habitat types. The Ocmulgee River corridor in central Georgia contains centuries-old archaeological and natural treasures. It is home to seven burial and ceremonial mounds that hold the story of the Muscogee Creek Nation, as well as a wealth of other Native American cultural resources.
In addition to its historic and ecological values, this area is also a rich source of outdoor recreation opportunities. Hunting for deer, quail, turkey, rabbit and waterfowl is available at the Ocmulgee National Monument and three state wildlife management areas, as well as on private lands in the area. Fishing for largemouth bass, redear sunfish and channel catfish is available on Bond Swamp, Oaky Woods and Ocmulgee River National Wildlife Refuge, as well as at nearby lakes and rivers.
The Ocmulgee area is also one of the most important breeding and brood-rearing habitats for wood ducks in the state. And hummingbird enthusiasts can find wintering Ruby-throated, Black-chinned and Calliope hummingbirds here.
Almost 11 million visitors come to Lake Lanier, the most popular lake in the Southeast. But the 59-square-mile reservoir has an eerie backstory. It was built atop valley communities that included a cemetery, fueling beliefs the lake is cursed. It’s also one of the deadliest lakes, with more than 200 drowning deaths occurring since 1994.
A 23-year-old man died in a swimming accident on the lake last weekend, adding to the body count. But the Army Corps of Engineers says most of the deaths are due to boating collisions and other accidents, rather than supernatural lore.
For a safer trip, spend the night at one of the campgrounds around the lake. Whether you’re tent camping or RVing, there are plenty of sites with lake views and amenities to enjoy. The area offers fishing, boating, hiking and more. It’s also a great place to spot wildlife, from turtles and water snakes to otter and deer. Lake Lanier’s surrounding towns of Buford and Gainesville have a variety of restaurants, shops and attractions. The city of Atlanta is a short drive away, with its vibrant culture, historic landmarks and culinary scene.