Nine Great Birding Rail-Trails to Crow About

Posted 05/15/17 by Suzanne Matyas in America's Trails, Trail Use

Trails are a great place to spy a variety of beautiful birds, including the bald eagle! | Photo courtesy Boyd Dwyer | CC BY-SA 2.0

Soaring overhead and perching in low-lying shrubbery, winged wanderers from near and far are trail lovers too—and we think it’s the perfect time to sing their praises! Not only do their chirpy tunes provide a soundtrack for the great outdoors, birds play an important role in harmonizing nature and enhancing the trail-going experience. So, whether you’re an avian aficionado, ornithologist, fan of fowl or simply a person who enjoys the subtle sight of a feather stretching across the wind, you’ll want to check out these nine great birding trails!

1Withlacoochee State Trail (Florida)

Heron flying at Fort Cooper State Park along Withlacoochee State Trail | Photo by Jerry Gibson

From canoe, kayak or horseback, this Florida trail is an excellent place to catch all types of wildlife in action—including an array of exquisite birds! The 46-mile trail sits between Orlando and Tampa, traveling along the Withlacoochee River, Fort Cooper State Park and the Withlacoochee State Forest and Croom Wildlife Management Area. These points may treat you to views of bald eagles, several types of hawks, Turkeys, Great Blue Herons, owls and several others.

2Eagle Spur Rail-Trail (North Carolina)

Aptly named and in the state known for being first in flight, the Eagle Spur Rail-Trail extends approximately 2.5 miles in the Triangle region of North Carolina. Once part of the rail corridor from Duncan to Durham, the trail today is a popular summer roosting spot for bald eagles. In addition to offering a nice, shady place to watch for our national bird, the path leads to Jordan Lake and to the American Tobacco Trail.

3Indian Head Rail Trail (Maryland)

A native to North America, wild turkeys can be found in forests, grasslands and swamps. | Photo courtesy Paul VanDerf | CC BY 2.0

Whether you prefer to hear a honk-honk or a gobble-gobble, Maryland’s Indian Head Rail-Trail is a great place to listen for both! Users of the paved path will encounter a variety of landscapes—forests, wetlands, farmland and pristine natural space that falls within an Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area—that are perfect for spying the region’s local flock. And with plenty of trailside benches, you can relax as you look out for turkeys, eagles, herons, egrets and lots of other water fowl.

4Kim Williams Nature Trail (Montana)

On this 4-mile Missoula rail-trail, you can honor both your feathery friends and the trail’s namesake, Kim Williams, author and naturalist. Looking up from this “Big Sky” trail, you’ll likely see Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Prairie Falcons, cordilleran Flycatchers and even Nashville warblers. The route follows the Clark Fork River, so be sure to train your eyes on the waterfront, because you might also see Mergansers, Red-winged Blackbirds, ospreys and Great Blue Herons.

American White Pelicans off the Wisconsin shore side of Lake Michigan | Photo by Joshua Mayer | Photo courtesy Joshua Mayer | CC BY-SA 2.0

5Oak Leaf Trail (Wisconsin)

If you’re searching for a multiday birding excursion, this Wisconsin rail-trail is the perfect place to perch. Winding more than 115 miles in and around Milwaukee, this scenic path is part of the county’s Oak Leaf Birding Trail. Presenting you with spectacular views of the Lake Michigan shore, urban areas, rural plains and 250 species of birds during the spring and fall migration periods, the Oak Leaf Trail is a can’t-miss birding destination.

6Georgia Coast Rail-Trail (Georgia)

A peachy keen place to set your eyes and ears on more than 60 species of birds, the Georgia Coast Rail-Trail is a beautiful southern route. Currently 6 miles in length, the trail ultimately has big plans to stretch 68 miles—granting birders, equestrians, walkers and all types of trail lovers with diverse terrain and wildlife. The existing trail is punctuated with community-crafted bird homes and is frequented by hummingbirds, wading birds, purple martins, robins and other beaked locals.

7Historic Battlefield Trail (Texas)

The quick and colorful Green Jay can be found perched in Brownsville, Texas | Photo courtesy dfaulder | CC BY 2.0

If you’re a history and birding buff, then the Historic Battlefield Trail is guaranteed to make your heart flutter. Spanning 8.5 miles from the heart of Brownsville, Texas, to the birthplace of the Mexican-American War, now the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park, you’ll find historical reenactments, restored railroad trestles and a huge range of migratory birds! The path also marks the beginning of the Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which hosts Green Jays, Great Kiskadee, Plain Chachalaca and hundreds more.

8Paulinskill Valley Trail (New Jersey)

Providing a beautiful 27-mile route through rural New Jersey, the Paulinskill Valley Trail allows you to escape the city for some excellent birding all year long. The trail follows its namesake—the Paulins Kill—a Delaware River tributary, and runs mostly through farmland until reaching the forests and wetlands of Paulinskill Wildlife Management Area. Between the seasons, the region offer places to roost, fly and waddle to around 400 difference species of birds, including eagles, other types of raptors, wild turkeys, ducks, finches, larks, woodpeckers and owls!

9Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail (California)

Sooty Shearwaters migrate approximately 40,000 miles each year | Photo by Sophie Webb/NOAA

Even if you were ornithophobic—that is, had a fear of birds—the breathtaking views from California’s Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail would be enough to make you forget your aversion to all avian animals. This 18-mile trail is nestled along the Pacific coast, and it’s a paradise for anyone who loves whipping out their binoculars, bike and bird chart for a charming day by the beach. Popular here, and along the entirety of the state’s central coast, are sea birds, shore birds and even the record-holders for the world’s longest bird migration: Sooty Shearwaters.

Related: California’s Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail

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