Georgia's Colonial Coast Birding Trail

Coastal Georgia is steeped in human and natural history. Since the first human inhabitants colonized the coast, man and the abundant natural resources found here have been inexorably linked. A visit to one or more sites along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail will provide you with the opportunity to see and enjoy the beauty of a kaleidoscope of birds and glimpse the fascinating history of this land and its residents.

More than 300 species of birds (75 percent of the total species of birds seen in Georgia) have been spotted at the 18 sites along the birding trail. Don't expect to see most of these birds on a single visit. The birds you see will depend greatly on when and where you visit. Some birds can be seen throughout the year. Others are migratory and travel long distances from their breeding grounds to wintering areas.

If you want to see migrants, you need look for them during those times of the year when they visit Georgia. You will also find a wide variety of habitats along the trail. Shorelines, salt marshes, old rice fields, woodlands, tidal rivers, freshwater wetlands and other habitats host their own fascinating bird communities.

Each site along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail is unique. Many sites offer visitors the opportunity to watch birds and visit 18th and 19th Century historic places. Other sites are located on lands and waters that were once part of early plantations dedicated to growing rice, indigo and cotton. So whether you want to see a bald eagle soaring over a coastal river, an endangered wood stork feeding its gawky young, sanderlings chasing the waves on a sandy beach, or a great egret standing motionless in a placid pond, the Colonial Coast Birding Trail has something for you.

The numbers of birds found along the trail change with the rising and falling of the tides and with the passage of the seasons. Consequently, each visit offers the chance to experience a new wildlife adventure. Spend some time along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail and learn why the Creek Indians called the Georgia coast The Enchanted Land.



Ansley Hodges M.A.R.S.H. Project (Altamaha Wildlife Management Area)

This viewing area is situated on the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area where an impoundment was constructed as part of Ducks Unlimited's M.A.R.S.H. (Matching Aid to Restore States' Habitat) program. The impoundment is located on the remains of an old rice plantation. Many of the rice fields are managed to benefit waterfowl and other wildlife species.

Types of Birds: Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl, raptors

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (fall and winter), raptors (fall and winter)

Specialties: Wood stork, swallow-tailed kite, bald eagle, king rail, painted bunting, mottled duck, wood duck, white ibis, glossy ibis

Tips: Look for common snipe feeding in exposed muddy areas. In summer, look for wood ducks. In fall and winter, black ducks, pintails, green-winged teal, northern shovelers and other waterfowl can be seen in the impoundment. Look for rails darting through the vegetation in the impoundment. Bald eagles can be spotted in winter and spring.


Crooked River State Park

This 500-acre state park is located on the banks of Crooked River. The area is blanketed with several habitats including pine flatwoods, salt marsh and maritime forest.

Types of Birds: Birds of prey, shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Birds of prey (all), shorebirds (fall and winter), songbirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: Osprey, bald eagle, wood stork, painted bunting

Tips: Look for warblers during spring and fall migration. Look for nesting osprey in spring and summer. Look for migrating shorebirds in early to mid-summer. Watch for mergansers and other ducks in Crooked River. Listen and watch for painted buntings in spring and summer.


Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore is a beautiful, largely undeveloped 36,000-acre barrier island. Access is by ferry or private boat. Extensive salt marshes border the island to the west, and 16 miles of pristine, white-sand beaches border Cumberland on the east. The island hosts an amazing variety of wildlife and plant communities. A total of 322 species of birds have been seen on the island.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, gull-like birds

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (spring and fall), shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter), gull-like birds (all)

Specialties: Peregrine falcon, painted bunting, red knot, black skimmer, warblers

Tips: Look for peregrine falcons during fall migration. Painted buntings are common in summer. Shorebirds are best seen in summer, winter and spring. Warblers can be seen during fall and spring migrations. Piping plovers may be spotted on the beach in winter. Bring along food, beverages, sunscreen, rain gear and other necessities because the island has no stores. Private boaters may dock at Sea Camp or Plum Orchard. Overnight boaters must anchor offshore.


Fort McAllister State Park

Fort McAllister saw considerable Civil War action during General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. Located on the banks of the Ogeechee River, the site contains a mix of saltmarsh and forested habitats.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: Painted bunting, wood duck, northern harrier, bald eagle, osprey

Tips: Painted buntings are most often seen in late spring through summer along the causeway. Look for migrating warblers during spring and fall migrations. Bald eagles are most often seen during the winter. Ospreys are most often seen in spring and summer. Look for northern harriers winging low over the marsh in winter.


Fort Morris State Historic Site

Originally a Guale Indian village, Fort Morris has a fascinating history. The site became the seaport town of Sunbury (one of several "dead towns" in Georgia) before becoming Fort Morris in 1776. The fort helped protect Georgia's coast during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The site is approximately 70 acres in size and is composed primarily of salt marsh and forested upland.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, wading birds

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), wading birds (all)

Specialties: Yellow-throated warbler, marsh wren, clapper rail, painted bunting

Tips: The best times to view painted buntings are in spring and summer. The woodlands found on the site are havens for warblers during spring and fall migrations. Look and listen for marsh wrens and clapper rails in the salt marshes throughout the year, however, the birds are most vocal in spring and summer.


Fort Pulaski National Monument

Located at the mouth of the Savannah River, this 5,600-acre national monument consists of McQueen's Island, Cockspur Island and the adjacent salt marsh. These diverse habitats are home to 200 species of birds.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Times: Songbirds (all), shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: Painted bunting

Tips: Look for painted buntings from spring through summer along the edges of woodlands on Cockspur Island. This is an excellent place to spot migratory songbirds in spring and late summer through fall. Clapper rails, seaside sparrows and marsh wrens can be seen and/or heard in the marshes around the fort throughout the year. Shorebirds can best be seen along the shoreline at low tide.


St. Simons Island: Gould's Inlet & East Beach

East Beach, which includes Gould's Inlet, is a residential area of St. Simons Island. The area includes some county-owned lands.

Types of Birds: Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Birds of prey (all), shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: American oystercatcher, black skimmer, painted bunting, bald eagle, least tern, northern gannet

Tips: The best time to see birds in this area is around high tide, especially in the afternoon. The best place to park is in the Coast Guard parking area. Look for painted buntings in spring and summer in the upland habitats. Look for laughing gulls, black skimmers, royal and caspian terns on the beach. In winter, look for common and red-throated loons, scoters, scaup and other waterbirds in the ocean. Look for northern gannets out over the ocean in winter. Look for warblers during spring and fall migration.


Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is located on an abandoned World War II Army airfield. There are more than 2,700 acres of saltwater marsh, freshwater impoundments, mixed deciduous forests and open fields. These habitats support an amazing array of birds. Types of Birds: Songbirds, birds of prey, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), birds of prey (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (all)

Specialties: Wood stork, white ibis, painted bunting

Tips: The best time to view nesting wood storks, great egrets, snowy egrets, black-crowned night herons, anhingas and other waders is May and June. One of the best places in Georgia to view nesting wading birds, Harris Neck provides the only man-made nesting structures for wood storks. Nesting wading birds are best viewed with a spotting scope. Look for painted buntings in late spring through summer.


Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site

From l800 to 1915 this site was a thriving rice plantation. Today the 1,268-acre historic site is a mix of saltmarsh, pasture and flatwoods.

Types of Birds: Birds of prey, songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Birds of prey (winter), songbirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: Wood stork, bald eagle, osprey, glossy ibis, painted bunting, yellow-throated warbler, sharp-tailed sparrow, northern parula.=

Tips: Ospreys are most common spring to summer. Look for warblers during spring and fall migrations. Northern parulas and yellow-throated warblers can be found in spring and summer. Clapper rails and marsh wrens can be seen and/or heard in the marshes throughout the year.


Jekyll Island: Causeway

The Jekyll Island Causeway cuts across the marshes of Glynn County, made famous by the poet Sidney Lanier. These rich salt marshes are home to an amazing array of birds and other wildlife. Two different sites along the causeway are identified as being great places to watch birds.

Types of Birds: Shorebirds, wading birds, birds of prey, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), birds of prey (all) waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: Osprey, bald eagle, clapper rail, northern harrier, roseate spoonbill, red knot, black-necked stilt, white ibis, wood stork

Tips: Shorebirds are best seen at low tide from mid-summer through spring. Look for nesting ospreys in spring and summer. Listen for clapper rails and marsh wrens in the salt marshes. Watch for northern harriers flying low over the marsh in winter. Look for roseate spoonbills in summer.


Jekyll Island: North End Beach

This site is situated at the northern end of Jekyll Island at the mouth of St. Simons Sound. Although the beach is more limited than at the south end, the mix of beach, forest and saltwater habitats provides excellent birding opportunities.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, gull-like birds

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter), gull-like birds (all)

Specialties: Least tern, red-throated loon, scoters, American oystercatcher, black skimmer

Tips: Warblers are best seen during spring and fall migration. Thousands of scoters and scaup raft just offshore in winter. Look for ospreys throughout the year. Look for common and red-throated loons fishing off the beach. Walking southward along the beach is sometimes difficult at high tide.


Jekyll Island: South End Beach

This birding site is located on the beach at the southern tip of Jekyll Island.

Types of Birds: Shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, gull-like birds

Best Birding Seasons: Shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter), gull-like birds (all)

Specialties: Black skimmer, American oystercatcher, marbled goodwit, jaegers, south polar skua, northern gannet, piping plover, glaucous gull

Tips: Look for shorebirds around high tide from mid-summer through spring. Carefully examine gulls; rare gull species are sometimes found here. Don't disturb resting birds, give them a wide berth. Look for scoters, loons, mergansers, buffleheads and other waterfowl swimming offshore.


Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

This 396,000-acre area is the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States. The refuge is a vast peat bog containing 70 islands. The swamps, forests, "prairie wetlands" and waterways provide habitat for more than 234 species of birds.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, waterfowl, birds of prey, wading birds

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), waterfowl (winter), birds of prey (all), wading birds (all)

Specialties: Sandhill crane, red-cockaded woodpecker, prothonotary warbler, northern parula, Bachman's sparrow

Tips: Take the Swamp Walk, a 3/4-mile boardwalk that leads to a 30-foot tall observation tower overlooking a wetland prairie. This is a great spot to view wading birds, waterfowl and alligators. Winter is the best time to view sandhill cranes. Spring is an ideal time to spot endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers along Swamp Island Drive. Look for these birds bringing food to their young housed in cavities dug in live pine trees.


J.F. Gregory Park

This unique park is operated by the City of Richmond Hill. The area is dominated by a 300-acre rice field that predates the Civil War. A three-mile walking trail runs along the top of a dike that encompasses the field, which today is a wooded wetland.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)

Specialties: Prothonotary warbler, wood duck, barred owl

Tips: Look for warblers during spring and fall migrations. Prothonotary warblers are best seen from April to June.


Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum & Nature Center

This site contains remnants of an extensive canal system that linked the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers during the 1800s. Today the area is a recreational facility that highlights the natural history of this rich floodplain forest while preserving the historic relics associated with a once-thriving artery of commerce.

Types of Birds: Birds of prey, songbirds, wading birds

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), birds of prey (all), wading birds (all)

Specialties: Prothonotary warbler, northern parula, Swainson's warbler, wood duck, Mississippi kite, swallow-tailed kite

Tips: Look for beautiful prothonotary warblers and secretive Swainson's warblers in spring and summer. Look for warblers during spring and fall migrations. Watch the skies during spring and summer for Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites.


Skidaway Island State Park

This state park is an island separated from the Atlantic Ocean by salt marsh and Wassaw Island. Skidaway Island State Park is characterized by tidal estuaries, salt marshes, salt flats, tidal rivers and mature maritime forests.

Types of Birds: Songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl

Best Birding Seasons: Songbirds (all), shorebirds (all), wading birds (all), waterfowl (winter)Specialties: Osprey, painted bunting, pileated woodpecker, bald eagle

Tips: Warbler watching can be spectacular during spring and fall migrations. Look for nesting osprey in spring and summer. Listen and look for marsh wrens and clapper rails in salt marshes. Look for painted buntings during the spring and summer.


Tybee Island: North Beach

Tybee Island is the northernmost barrier island on the Georgia coast. This popular vacation destination offers great birding opportunities. One of the best birding spots is located along the beach at the north end of the island.

Types of Birds: Shorebirds, gull-like birds

Best Birding Seasons: Shorebirds (fall, winter, spring), gull-like birds (all)

Specialties: Purple sandpiper, piping plover, northern gannets

Tips: This is the best place in Georgia to find purple sandpipers. Look for these birds in winter along the rocks and near the beach at high tide. Look for northern gannets, gulls and terns flying just offshore. Sandpipers, gulls and terns gather in flocks along the beach at high tide. Please do not disturb resting or nesting birds.

A visit to one or more sites along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail will provide you with the opportunity to see and enjoy the beauty of a kaleidoscope of birds and glimpse the fascinating history of this land and its residents.

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