Louisiana’s subtropical climate, forested and vegetation-rich topography and position within the corridor of a major North American migratory flyway make the state a haven for a huge variety of birds and travelers who want to see them in their natural habitat.
For the serious Louisiana birdwatcher, this article has downloadable brochures on four major birding trails spanning the state: The America’s Wetland Birding Trail (115 bird watching sites through 22 Louisiana parishes); the Mississippi River Birding Trail (30 sites in 13 parishes); the Red River Birding Trail (82 sites in 18 parishes); and the Zachary Taylor Parkway Birding Trail (27 sites in 10 parishes. The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area has even more detailed information, via a Louisiana birding book published by the American Birding Association.
But for people like me, the relative birding novice (okay, the complete novice) who is already prone to delve into Louisiana’s scenic, rural areas, here is a crash course on some cool off-the-beaten-path places to go and the feathery fauna one may encounter.
Sportsman’s Paradise: Red River National Wildlife Refuge, Bossier City. A seven-mile trail system provides access to what is said to be a critical stopover point for more than 200 species of migratory songbirds and shorebirds, plus wintering grounds for waterfowl and wading birds. Be sure to check out the visitor center, which houses frequent interpretive programs.
Honorable Mention: Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Tallulah. This hardwood bottomland is said to rival any inland Louisiana location for birding. Common species include wood duck, wild turkey and numerous warbler species. Be sure to check out an extremely informative display on ivory billed woodpeckers in the refuge’s visitor center.
Crossroads: Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management Area, Harrisonburg. This management area which is unusually hilly compared to Louisiana’s typical topography has a waterfall that doubles as a nesting spot for Louisiana waterthrush. Surrounding forests are home to several warblers and flycatchers.
Honorable Mention: Kisatchie National Forest’s Longleaf Trail, Cloutierville. A Scenic Byway through Louisiana’s six-district national forest, Kisatchie’s primary bird draw is the red-cockaded woodpecker, plus dozens of breeding, wintering and resident species including broad-winged hawk, eastern towhee, flycatcher and waterthrush.
Cajun Country: Pintail Wildlife Drive, Cameron. Located inside the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, this loop hosts ducks, geese and numerous other waterfowl by the thousands during winter months. Year-round regulars include the roseate spoonbill, white-faced ibis, American avocet, black-necked stilt, green heron, killdeer, great blue heron, gallinule, neotropic cormorant, tricolored heron and snowy egret. Thanks to boardwalks, the area is easily accessible and tripod friendly.
Honorable Mention: Atchafalaya Basin West Containment Levee, Charenton. This site in St. Mary Parish near the Attakapas Island Wildlife Management Area is home to bald eagle, osprey and other raptors from late fall to early spring.
Plantation Country: Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area, St. Francisville. It is no wonder noted naturalist and author/painter of Birds of America, John James Audubon, at one time resided in this region of Louisiana. The management area is a hardwood forest where various woodpeckers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, wood storks and herons dwell among steep slopes, bluffs and creek bottoms.
Honorable Mention: Louisiana State University Campus Lakes, Baton Rouge. It is said that the lakes on and just off LSU’s main campus are home to nearly 200 bird species including egrets, herons and ibises. Mass sightings of American white pelicans during cooler months are known to clog traffic on lake-adjacent roads, as passers-by slow down to admire the flocks.
Greater New Orleans: City Park, New Orleans. The sixth largest urban park in the U.S., City Park’s 1,500 acres of hedges, fields and live oaks are home to migrant flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, wood-warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings and orioles during fall and spring.
Honorable Mention: La. Hwy. 1 from Port Fourchon to Grand Isle. This beach corridor on the Gulf of Mexico coast and adjacent inland waters is great for sighting gulls, tern, pelicans and other seabirds.