Birding in Arkansas

Birding in Arkansas
Birding in Arkansas

With its mild climate and variety of habitats, Arkansas is an outstanding destination to watch birds. Below, Dan Scheiman, Bird Conservation Director with Audubon Arkansas, shares his knowledge of the bountiful birding opportunities found across The Natural State. 

Why is Arkansas a particularly good place for birding?

Arkansas has birds to offer that can’t be found in other parts of the nation. Regional specialties such as Smith’s Longspur, Painted Bunting, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker can be seen relatively easily in Arkansas. Arkansas’s location amidst the Southeast, Midwest, and Central Plains states, and its variety of habitats leads to a diversity of birds, over 420 species have been documented.

It is a small state, meaning good birds and birding locations are all within reasonable driving distance.

There are so many great places to bird in Arkansas, and not just public lands like wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges, but just driving along county roads can be productive.

Where are the top birding hot spots a traveler would want to visit here?

The first thing I ask a visiting birder is which species are you looking for? That helps me direct them.

In general, Arkansas has many birding hotspots.

These are my three top picks.

  1. Birders from across the country go to Stuttgart Municipal Airport to see Smith’s Longspurs. It is one of the most reliable locations to see this species in its small winter range. The airport is also home to a variety of prairie birds.
  2. Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge is a hotspot for shorebirds during fall migration, starting in August. Thousands of plovers and sandpipers stop to rest and refuel during their long journey south. Waterfowl and wading birds also mass there. Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill are possible.
  3. Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge is known to wildlife watchers as a place to reliably see multiple Bald Eagles in a day. Birders know it for much more. Golden Eagle, Merlin, and Prairie Falcon have also been seen. Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and even a lone Whooping Crane have appeared in recent years.

When is a good time to spot birds in Arkansas?

Mornings are best for seeing songbirds, especially during hot summer days when birds snooze in the afternoon. However, on freezing cold mornings birds may not become active until temperatures rise later in the day. For watching waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds, time of day doesn’t matter.

What resources do you recommend in terms of a birding field guide?

Many long-time birders started with the Peterson Guide. Arkansas is in the Eastern edition. Now I primarily use the Sibley Guide, which helpfully illustrates every species with the wings spread up and down, revealing field marks not shown in other guides. It also comes in Eastern and Western editions.

David Sibley also wrote a Birding Basics guide, which I highly recommend for learning how to watch birds. There’s no substitute for a human bird guide.

Joining experienced birders in the field is a great way to improve identification skills. 

Why are birds important and how can we all make an impact to help protect them?

Birds are one of the best monitors of environmental change, including climate change. They control pests and pollinate plants. They are an integral part of the food web. They are big business too; bird watchers spend nearly $41 billion annually on trips and equipment, plus all the money spent on feeding birds at home.

Alarming headlines came out last year, we’ve lost 1 in 4 birds since 1970.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by such dire news, which is on top of headlines about insect populations collapsing and climate change. The old environmental adage applies: Think Global, Act Local. Make changes where you have influence, in your own life and community.