Where might you go in Atlanta to find a cedar waxwing? What about an indigo bunting, a tufted titmouse, or an osprey?
If you’re not an amateur ornithologist, you might not even recognize these exotic-sounding names. But if you’re a birder, you know these refer to winged creatures that live in wild, wooded places. So why would someone be looking for them in in a city of five million people known for Coca-Cola, sports, and traffic jams?
The truth is, the bulk of metro Atlanta is hidden under a vast canopy of oak, tulip, pine, pecan, maple, hickory, and sycamore trees. In fact, a large part of Atlanta is actually a forest. And it’s home to more than 100 species of birds, according to the results of Atlanta’s 2017 Christmas Bird Count. At any time of year, on any hike in the Atlanta area, you can be sure of some remarkable bird sightings, even if they’re views of familiar birds too often taken for granted.
Two hiking areas in Atlanta, Kennesaw Mountain and Cochran Shoals in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, are Important Bird Areas or IBAs. These are places that provide habitat considered key to the feeding and breeding of one or more species of birds, and are part of a worldwide initiative striving to ensure the survival of bird populations. Not all greenspaces in Atlanta are year-round homes for all species, but function as important migration sites for some birds as they move north to south and back again in the spring.
So where would you find a cedar waxwing in Atlanta? Check out Blue Heron Nature Preserve in winter and spring for the best chances of spotting one. The rest of the year you can expect to see belted kingfisher, Canada goose, great blue heron, mallard duck, and red-headed woodpecker.
How about an osprey? Head for Constitution Lakes Park in the fall, which is also a good time to see a great egret. In summer, look for green heron and yellow-crowned night heron.
For an indigo bunting, visit Sweetwater Creek State Park in springtime, when you are also likely to see great crested flycatcher and yellow-breasted chat.
Heritage Park is home to the tufted titmouse all year long. You may also spot brown-headed nuthatch, cardinal, robin, and Carolina chickadee.
Reynolds Nature Preserve is home to pileated woodpeckers, American goldfinch, barred owl, and white-breasted nuthatch all year long.
The next question may be, where do I find all these places? Once I find them, how do I get into the woods to see the birds?
Fortunately Atlanta author and outdoor educator Jonah McDonald’s guide, Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests: Intown and Out describes 60 day hikes in and around the metro area. In writing the book, he collaborated with the Atlanta Audubon Society to include information on the best places to see specific birds in a particular season. Hike distances range from less than a mile to more than 12 miles, with maps, complete driving distances, GPS coordinates, and even public transport information.
This summer, enjoy the cool greenspaces of Atlanta, and see how many birds you can spot. Don’t forget your binoculars!
Pam Higgenbotham: tufted titmouse
Jim Wilson: pileated woodpecker, cedar waxwing, osprey