The Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge offers some of the best birding to be found in Alabama. The refuge is a patchwork of open fields, marshes, and impoundments bounded by Lake Eufaula to one side and mixed woodlots on the other. It is divided into three major units: Upland, Kennedy, and Bradley. The Bradley, located across the state line in Georgia, will not be discussed here.
The Upland unit is the one with more or less permanent visitor access. It is accessed from AL 285, just beyond Lakepoint State Park. The dirt entrance road passes by a large open central field with mixed second-growth woods to the right and scattered tall loblolly pines with an early-stage second-growth scrub beneath. This area will yield a good cross-section of the songbirds present on the refuge – from White-eyed Vireos, Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles, and Summer Tanagers in warm months to goldfinches, White-throated Sparrows, juncos, Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets in colder months. Bluebirds, nuthatches, Red-tailed Hawks, and woodpeckers are permanent residents near the entrance. Turn right at the “T.” There is a marked nature trail to the immediate right. It is often tremendously overgrown to the point of being impassable in spring and summer, but is worth a short hike for woodland passerines in this dense woodlot. This is one of the better locations for migrant-spotting on the refuge. Return to the southbound dirt road and follow to the loop. The field to the left is used by Bobwhites and turkeys. Scan the field for Harriers in winter. There are many winter sparrows in the shrubby edge, and Indigo Buntings and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are abundant from April to October. This path is the best at the refuge for spotting a variety of wintering songbirds, including Goldfinches, Blue-headed Vireos, Catbirds, and Palm and Orange-crowned warblers. Follow the dirt road back past the entrance area to the left and the maintenance buildings on the right. Pass through a stand of mixed woods (the creek may have Louisiana Waterthrushes in season) and come to a fork. The left fork loops through fields. You can find Kingbirds, Indigo Buntings, bluebirds, Blue Grosbeaks, and Bobwhites in the warm months, with sparrows and American Kestrels in winter. Look for Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks working the fields in winter. Go back to the fork and go to the right. First stop is the Goose Pen. There is no pen, but there is an impoundment. The flooded fields are rich with waterfowl in winter. Dabbling ducks abound here: pintails,wigeons, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teals, Hooded Mergansers, and Lesser Scaup. You will also find Ring-necked Ducks, a few Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks, and Canada Geese, along with the resident Wood Ducks. White-fronted and Ross’ Geese have been seen here. Look for shorebirds, such as Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and snipes in winter, and almost any sandpiper or plover in migration. Continue along the dirt road(s) as they wind through the fields and light woods. The fields boast tremendous numbers of winter sparrows: Field, Chipping, White-throated, Song, Savannah, Vesper, White-crowned, Swamp (in the wet areas), and the hope of rarities such as Lincoln’s, LeConte’s, and perhaps even a wintering Henslow’s or Grasshopper sparrow. In spring and summer, there are many Prairie Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, and Yellow-breasted Chats in the scrub. Loggerhead Shrikes are common here, and Common Ground Doves are regulars at the edges of the woods. The loop road passes through several areas that are marshy throughout the year. These spots attract wading birds and a broad range of other species that are drawn to the water in dry periods. Look for Broad-winged (April to September), Red-shouldered, and Cooper’s hawks, as well as Sharp-shinned Hawks (mostly winter). Keep an eye out for Kestrels (September through March), as well as the occasional Peregrine Falcon or Merlin (mainly in winter). You may also spot Golden Eagles during the winter. Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Eastern Screech-Owls all nest on the refuge.
Return to US 431. From the intersection of AL 285 and US 431, drive south for 1.4 miles. The first right turn after crossing the water is the entrance road to the Kennedy unit. A clay road atop a levee travels almost 2.5 miles to its end above a marsh on the south side of the road and the open waters of the lake to the north. The trees along the entrance to the Kennedy are home to nesting Red-shouldered Hawks, Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Orchard Orioles, Eastern Wood Pewees, and more. Unfortunately, the road beyond this point is gated and locked. A hike to the end of the road and back is not too difficult in ideal weather, but inadvisable much of the year when the walk can be punishing due to sun, wind, sudden rains, or mosquitos large enough to carry off small children.
The inaccessibility of the Kennedy unit is a shame, as it offers some of the most interesting birding on the refuge. On the right (south) side of the elevated dirt road are marshes, swamps, and hardwood hammocks. They offer habitats for such rare nesting birds as Purple Gallinules, Common Moorhens, Anhingas, King Rails, and Least Bitterns. It’s a superb place to look for Painted Buntings. Nesting waders here include White Ibis, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Green Herons, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons. This is THE place to find American Bitterns in Alabama (fall through spring). Add to this the nesting and wintering songbirds that you’ll see along this track and you have one of the outstanding birding spots in the state.
From the intersection of US 431 and US 82 in Eufaula (all visitor services available), travel north on US 431 N for 7.1 miles. Turn right (east) on AL 285 N at the sign for Lakepoint Street Park and remain on AL 285 N/Lakepoint Drive for 2.3 miles. The refuge’s entrance road is on the right.