Once nearly driven to extinction, the Bald Eagle has rebounded to healthy populations and is a winter visitor to North Alabama, with about 100-150 birds in residence each year. Standing up to 42” tall and weighing up to 15 pounds, this large raptor builds massive nests in old growth trees near large bodies of water with healthy fish populations. This makes Lake Guntersville near Guntersville State Park an attractive destination for eagles.
Now in its 35th year, Eagle Awareness Weekends at Guntersville State park offer a whole weekend of eagle watching and information. Starting with a wine tasting reception on Friday evening and then full days on Saturday and Sunday, the Park leads guided tours, kid friendly activities and expert discussions on other iconic local birds. The weekends run through mid-February.
For reservations for the whole weekend or to stay at the Lodge, contact the Park. If you just want to make a daytrip, the weekend sessions are free and open to all, or you can head straight to Towne Creek Fishing Pier or Guntersville Dam for a birding session any day of the week.
Be sure to dress warmly and in layers: the temperature can vary widely this time of year. Bring binoculars to confirm sightings and get a better view. Eagles are shy and are unlikely to get close to humans.
Cranes and More at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge
For bird watching lovers, visiting Sandhill Cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is another winter highlight, and the best place to view the birds is from inside the heated Observation Building with spyglasses provided. You can also see the endangered Whooping Cranes early in the year along with American White Pelicans. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent habitat for many species of native wildlife. A total of 300 species of birds, 47 species of mammals, 75 species of reptiles and amphibians, 115 species of fish, 38 species of freshwater mussels, and 26 species of freshwater snails have been documented on the refuge.
Make sure you follow Joe Hendrickson for some amazing birding photography!
Beaks and Barks at Huntsville Botanical Garden
Pets and young children will more likely appreciate Beaks and Barks at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. From mid-January through February, the Garden offers dog friendly trails for leashed pets and an off-leash zone to work off some canine energy. The Huntsville Botanical Garden is splendid spot to spy out a great diversity of local and winter migrant birds.