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. There are several units of the Refuge that offer great birding on foot or on bicycle, but a good way to start your visit is by touring the Wildlife Drive, which offers good access to a variety of habitats by car. However, to prevent disturbance to wintering waterfowl, the Upland Unit portion of the Wildlife Drive is closed to all entry from November to March.
The Wildlife Drive is reached from AL 285, just beyond Lakepoint State Park. The unpaved 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 American Goldfinches, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets in colder months. Eastern Bluebirds, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-tailed Hawks, and all of the common local 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 overgrown in spring and summer, but is worth a short hike for woodland passerines. This is one of the better locations for migrant-spotting on the refuge.
Return to the southbound road and continue to follow to the unpaved loop road. The field to the left is used by Northern Bobwhites and Wild Turkeys. Scan the field for Northern 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 American Goldfinches, Blue-headed Vireos, Gray Catbirds, and Palm and Orange-crowned Warblers. Follow the loop road back past the entrance area to the left and the maintenance buildings on the right. As you pass through a stand of mixed woods, check the creek for Louisiana Waterthrushes in season. Turn left at the next fork and scan the fields. You can find Eastern Kingbirds, Indigo Buntings, Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Grosbeaks, and Northern Bobwhites in the warm months. Look for a variety of sparrows as well as American Kestrels, Northern 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 that is well worth visiting. The flooded fields here are rich with waterfowl in winter. Dabbling ducks abound here: Northern Pintails, American 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 Wilson’s Snipes in winter, and almost any sandpiper or plover in migration. Continue along the unpaved roads 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 Hawks, (April to September), as well as Sharp-shinned Hawks (mostly winter), and Red-shouldered, and Cooper’s hawks (year round). 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.
For the best chance of seeing large numbers of waterfowl during the winter months, the Kennedy Unit is recommended, although access is limited to walking and biking, and the Unit is closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the waterfowl hunting season. To reach the Kennedy Unit, 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. An unpaved road atop a levee travels almost 2.5 miles to its end overlooking a marsh on the south side of the road and the open waters of the lake to the north. A hike or bike trip to the end of the road and back is well worth it, but it can include exposure to sun, wind, sudden rains, and mosquitos, so be prepared.
The trees bordering the entrance to the Kennedy Unit are home to nesting Red-shouldered Hawks, Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Orchard Orioles, Eastern Wood Pewees, and more. On the right (south) side of the elevated 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.You may also hike or bike in the Houston Unit.
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.