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Arkansas has four seasons. It’s not uncommon for all four seasons to show up in a single week. We may get snow on a Tuesday and reach into the 70s by Thursday, but overall, our winters are mild, and our diverse landscape makes the state a hot spot for birds and birders alike. Geographically, the state is situated to attract birds from both eastern and western locales as they travel along their migration routes. Whether you are an avid birder building a life list or a casual birder just hoping to spot something cool, Arkansas has an excellent reputation amongst our feathered friends.
Birdwatching is a great activity on your own or with a group. It can be enjoyed by young children and the elderly making it an ideal family activity. Birding in Arkansas is inexpensive, and you can birdwatch practically anywhere. Getting started is as simple as walking outside and observing the birds in your area, but most birders want to go a step further by documenting their findings on a life list, researching birds they spot or photographing what they see.
Arkansas boasts an impressive list of nearly 400 species, so you’ve probably already spotted many in your backyard. Here are a few of Arkansas’s most notable birds and a few rare ones that you may be lucky to spot.
Photo provided by Mike Wintroath of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
The mockingbird was declared the state bird of Arkansas in 1929. Known for their extensive library of calls and sounds, mockingbirds can make upwards of 300 different sounds. The birds are regularly spotted throughout the state and frequent parks and backyards.
Although not a rare find, cardinals are one of the most recognizable birds and are frequently spotted throughout Arkansas. The bright red color of the male cardinal is easy to see and helps them to stand out, especially in winter. Learning to spot both male and female cardinals is the perfect introduction for new birders and children.
Arkansas is a year-round home to several species of hawks. Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks are the most common and can easily be spotted on electrical poles, in trees, and especially during winter when the leaves are gone.
For over 30 years, 200 or more swans have been migrating to central Arkansas after a freak winter storm caused a group of swans to veer off their typical path. From November to February each year, the swans return to several ponds in the Heber Springs area to spend the winter. This is believed to be the southernmost location of Trumpeter Swans. Learn more about Arkansas’s Trumpeter Swans.
Once on the brink of extinction, Bald Eagles have made a tremendous comeback in the lower 48 states, especially in parts of Arkansas. Learn more about Top Eagle Watching Areas and Eagle Programs in Arkansas.
Although these birds are not strangers to Arkansas, they were not known to nest in Arkansas until a rookery was discovered in 2020. Both species are known to winter in Arkansas, but an investigation led by Karen Rowe, nongame migratory bird program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, helped to confirm a breeding area located on private land in southern Arkansas. Read more about this fantastic discovery.
There’s always disagreement among the experts when it comes to the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. It’s my favorite bird, and I’m still hoping it will be positively identified in Arkansas. This 20-inch tall bird may or may not exist, but it’s a unique part of Arkansas’s birding story and worth mentioning here. If you are unfamiliar with the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker’s story, you can learn more about it here.
Every corner of the state offers a little different birding experience. The diversity of Arkansas’s land and its location along several migration routes attracts birds to all state regions. A few spots stand out as birding hot spots where you can easily add hundreds of birds to your life list.
Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Located in the southwest corner of the state, Millwood Lake is a great place to spot waterbirds and songbirds and has hosted a variety of rare birds. There are several prime viewing spots around the lake and Millwood State Park, located near the dam.
Best Vantage Point – Beards Bluff, but several prime spots are around the lake.
Species To Look For – Various Songbirds (Spring and Fall Migration), Loons, dabbling and diving ducks, Rock Wrens and Bald Eagles.
Top Tip – Bring binoculars or a spotting scope.
Rare Bird Sightings – Magnificent Frigatebird, Sooty Tern, Roseate Spoonbill, Snow Bunting
This collection of agricultural fields is a great spot for fishing and wildlife viewing in general. The fields are seasonally flooded and drained, and the location of the Refuge along the Mississippi Flyway has made it a prime location for viewing migrating wading birds and shore birds in both the spring and fall.
Popular Nesting Species – Visit wooded areas to find nesting Prothonotary Warbler, Blue Grosbeak and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.
Species to Look For – Herons, egrets, ibises, Peregrine Falcon and a large variety of waterbirds.
Top Tip – In the late summer, you have a good chance of spotting Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill, particularly at dawn before the day’s heat settles in.
Rare Bird Sightings – Cinnamon Teal, Sandhill Crane, Trumpeter Swan, Sabine’s Gull
Built in 1937 through a combined effort of the Jonesboro Young Men’s Civic Club with funding from the Public Works Administration, Craighead Forest Park is a wildlife oasis amid the hustle and bustle of Jonesboro. It’s a prime location for boating, fishing, camping, hiking and birding and more than 210 species have been spotted in the park.
Popular Nesting Species – Wood Duck, Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, Summer Tanager
Species to Look For – Ducks, grebes, Common loon, vireos and warblers
Top Tip – The best chance for spotting birds comes during spring and fall migration, typically in early May and in late September/early October.
Rare Bird Sightings – Connecticut Warbler, Cape May Warbler, White-winged Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Sage Thrasher
Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Holla Bend is a year-round hot spot for birders. The landscape includes river access, bottomland hardwood forest, fields and wetlands, so it regularly attracts a wide variety of bird species. Its central location makes it accessible to Arkansans and visitors from all corners of the state. Over 270 species have been spotted within the refuge.
Popular Nesting Species – Wood Duck, Greater Roadrunner, Painted Bunting, Lark Sparrow
Species to Look For – The area attracts many species of songbirds in the spring. In the winter, you will spot Bald Eagles, Short-eared owls, ducks and geese, American White Pelican and Osprey.
Top Tip – Walk along the old roads that meander through the forest areas and along the levees to spot a wide variety of species.
Rare Bird Sightings – Golden Eagle, Tundra Swan, Sandhill Crane
Although urban sprawl has brought an uptick in development to the area, the location of Lake Fayetteville right in the middle keeps the birds happy. The lake attracts 250 species, including 32 species of waterfowl and a handful of rare birds. It’s a great location for those who don’t wander too far from civilization.
Popular Nesting Species – American Goldfinch, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Louisiana Waterthrush
Species to Look For – Horned Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, American White Pelican
Top Tip – After visiting the lake, head 7 miles to Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary which attracts Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, sparrows, shorebirds and migrating songbirds.
Rare Bird Sightings – Ross’s Goose, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck
Built during WWII as a training facility for the Air Force, the Stuttgart Airport has become a favorite spot amongst birders. The 2680-acre site includes over one thousand acres of farmland and approximately 300 acres of old farmland, now reclaimed grassland filled with purple three-awn grass. This native grass and a reservoir attract several species of prairie birds.
Main Attraction – Birders come from all over the country to look for the Smith’s Longspurs which winter in the grasses along the runways.
Species to Look For – Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl, Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, Sedge Wren, Bell’s Vireo, Le Conte’s Sparrow and Painted Bunting
Rare Bird Sightings – Rough-legged Hawk, Sprague’s Pipit and Henslow’s Sparrow
Top Tip – Stop by the main office to let them know you are birding. The staff will welcome you, provide you with a map, and even update you regarding recent sightings.
Native Birds of Arkansas
Lead Poisoning in Arkansas Birds
Arkansas State Symbols: Mockingbird
Wild Turkey in Arkansas
Raining Ducklings: Arkansas Wood Ducks
8 Winter Birds in Arkansas
Birds in the Winter Garden
Cover photo provided by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Special thanks to Rhett Raibley, an Arkansas native currently working as the Natural Resources Technician for SWCA Environmental Consultants in College Station, Texas, for his assistance with this article.
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