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Wintering Bald Eagles Part of
Year-round Birding in Arkansas

By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

The sight of majestic bald eagles found in winter on Arkansas's larger lakes and rivers -- the state's most publicized avian attraction -- represents only a small, albeit spectacular, part of the year-round opportunities for watching birds in The Natural State.

In all, 388 bird species have been recorded in the state, including 313 that have been observed regularly enough that the Arkansas Audubon Society's most recent field list of birds provides detailed information on their occurrence.

USFW Photo

Of the remaining species, 68, including seashore, pelagic and western birds that have strayed from their normal ranges, have been seen rarely in the state and, in many cases, only once. Seven of the recorded species are now extinct or extirpated from their range in Arkansas.

In addition to the bald eagles, winter brings to Arkansas a variety of other raptors, interesting sparrows and an assortment of loons, grebes, ducks, geese and gulls. Major concentrations of waterfowl occur in eastern Arkansas, which lies along the Mississippi River Flyway.

The first returning summer resident birds and migrants (birds passing through on their way to breeding or wintering grounds) are usually seen from early to mid-March, but the spring migration generally peaks the first week in May. That's when the majority of the 36 wood warblers recorded in the state are likely to be present, along with grosbeaks, tanagers, orioles, thrushes and buntings.

Migrating northward through the state in early spring are shorebirds, particularly sandpipers and plovers, which can be seen in muddy fields along roadsides and in drained ponds at state fish hatcheries. Shorebirds also migrate southward through Arkansas each fall.

Summer brings the opportunity to seek out the state's breeding birds, including the rare red-cockaded woodpecker. Additional breeders of interest are the colorful painted bunting, the hooded merganser and heron and egret species.

Summer resident warblers include prothonotary, blue-winged, Northern parula, yellow, chestnut-sided, black-throated green, yellow-throated, prairie, cerulean, black-and-white, worm-eating, Kentucky, hooded, common yellowthroat, yellow-breasted chat, American redstart and Louisiana waterthrush.

Though the southward migration in late summer and fall generally yields fewer species than the spring migration, it is the time of year when such post-breeding wanderers as roseate spoonbills, wood storks and grove-billed ani are most likely to stray into the southern reaches of the state.

Arkansas has available for birding enthusiasts vast amounts of public lands with generally open access, including the Ouachita, Ozark and St. Francis National Forests and numerous state wildlife management areas. Arkansans and state visitors seeking somewhat more targeted birding opportunities can avail themselves of such sites as state parks, national wildlife refuges, National Park Service lands and state fish hatcheries.

In addition to popular eagle-watching events held each winter, various Arkansas state parks host other events of interest to birders during the remaining seasons. Information on such events can be found on the Internet at

Details about Arkansas's state parks, including camping and lodging facilities, can be found on-line at and in the State Parks Guide, which is included in the free Arkansas Vacation Planning Kit. The kit, which also contains an Arkansas highway map, a Tour Guide and Calendar of Events, may be requested on-line at or by phoning toll-free 1-800-NATURAL.

Millwood and Lake Chicot State Parks and their surrounding areas are particularly popular among veteran Arkansas birders. The Lake Millwood area has produced sightings of more than 300 bird species and, like Lake Chicot and vicinity, is a good spot for winter waterfowl and for seeking out post-breeding wanderers. Hundreds of herons and egrets are seen most years at late summer roosts on Lake Chicot.

One of Arkansas's most recent birding developments of note is the rufous-crowned sparrows' extension of their range westward into Arkansas. The birds have taken up residence at Mount Magazine and Mount Nebo State Parks.

Other parks noteworthy for the variety of birds found on their waters and hiking trails include Pinnacle Mountain, DeGray Lake Resort, Village Creek and Devil's Den. Trail guides and park bird lists can be requested at the parks' visitor centers.

Federally owned sites of interest to Arkansas birders include the Holla Bend, Big Lake, Wappanocca, Felsenthal and White River National Wildlife Refuges, the Buffalo National River and the Arkansas Post National Memorial. Each provides varied habitats making for good birding throughout the year. Felsenthal is home to the state's largest population of the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Visitor centers at the federal sites can generally provide a map and bird checklist. Brief site descriptions and bird lists for the refuges and the river can be viewed on-line .

State fish hatcheries of interest to birders for waterfowl and migrating shorebirds include the Centerton hatchery near Bentonville, the Hulsey hatchery near Hot Springs and the Hogan hatchery near Lonoke. Hatchery personnel can direct birders to drained ponds for observing shorebirds.

To obtain a copy of the Arkansas Audubon Society's current field list for the state, send 20 cents plus a long, self-addressed stamped envelope to Max Parker at 2426 South Main, Malvern AR 72104 or Roberta Crabtree at 2036 Topf Road, North Little Rock AR 72116. The list may be viewed on-line at

To learn about rare species recently spotted in the state, phone the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas hotline at (501) 753-5853.

"A Birder's Guide to Arkansas," written by Little Rock resident Mel White and published by the American Birding Association, provides a detailed look at 59 of the state's best sites for birding. Included are detailed directions, maps, best times to visit and what species can be expected. The book, which also gives tips on where to find selected species, can be purchased in local bookstores and state park visitor centers.
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