As the season begins to change, now is a great time to pack the binoculars and experience the best of Virginia’s aviary wildlife.
If you’re looking to knock out “two birds with one stone,” hop on the Birding and Wildlife Trail. This driving trail, with loops off the main trail, links some of the best wildlife watching areas with walking and biking trails. Extending from the Coastal, Mountain and Piedmont areas, enjoy different species, climates and more.
The Coastal Trail was the first to be developed. It features untouched barrier islands, cypress swamps, great stands of pine forest, and bayside salt marshes. There are 18 trail loops for you to explore. Be on the lookout for birds, butterflies, snakes, turtles, dragonflies, and more. The Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge is the ultimate birding site, with a list that comes close to 300 species! Each fall, like clockwork, the refuge becomes a scene of drama, as millions of songbirds, monarch butterflies and thousands of raptors head south for the winter. Clouds of tree swallows swirl overhead and flame orange and black-winged monarch butterflies float aloft. The protected habitats of the Refuge provides critical stopover areas, where birds and butterflies can rest and feed before resuming their arduous journey. Enjoy the visitor center, complete with a wildlife viewing area, foot trails, observations platforms and a photography blind.
The Virginia Living Museum in Newport News is home to 200 species of wildlife, where its natural habitat attracts warblers, woodland birds, waterfowl, osprey and more. Also on the list? A bald eagle! Check out the butterfly garden, stroll along the boardwalk to view coastal birds and more! This museum boast more than just birding wildlife; make a day of it to enjoy with the family!
Species in the Coastal Area include:
- Wetland birds
- Bald Eagle
The Mountain Phase was the second phase to be developed. It features expansive mountain vistas, endless forest trails, large inland reservoirs and a taste of the western Piedmont. There are 34 loops for you to explore– now don’t forget your binoculars! Fairy Stone State Park offers sightings of ruby-throated hummingbird, woodpeckers, eastern wood-pewee, eastern phoebe, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, blue-gray gnatcatcher as well as wood thrush, gray catbird, brown thrasher, three species of vireo, numerous warbler species, scarlet tanager, eastern towhee and red-winged blackbird. Phew! In the Lower New River Loop, the New River Trail State Park is a 52.5-mile long park that follows the New River from Pulaski to Galax. In this area you can see many tree and bird species: including mourning dove, ruby-throated hummingbird, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, northern flicker, eastern phoebe, blue-gray gnatcatcher, eastern bluebird, American robin and gray catbird. Along the Star City Loop, Mill Mountain Park and Star Trail rises 800 feet above Roanoke. Nature enthusiasts and wildlife-watchers would probably find most interest in hiking the Star Trail. This 1.7-mile trail traverses from the Roanoke River to Roanoke’s highest point- the summit of Mill Mountain. See spring and fall migratory warblers and nesting migrants, such as bay-breasted Blackburnian prairie warblers, wood thrush, ovenbird, black-and-white warbler, white-eyed and red-eyed vireos, and indigo bunting.
Species in the Mountain Area include:
- Ruby-throated hummingbird
- Eastern wood-pewee
- Eastern phoebe
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Carolina wren
- Blue-gray gnatcatcher
- Eastern bluebird
- American robin
- Gray catbird
- AND MORE!
Completing the first statewide birding and wildlife trail in the U.S., the Piedmont Area offers 13 loops. The Piedmont area includes expansive grasslands, large forested tracts, pineland savannahs, several large reservoirs, and an abundance of rich history and culture!
Stop by James River State Park, with numerous trails along the river through a series of extensive wetlands. Search the overgrown meadows for indigo buntings, yellow throats, house wrens, widow skimmer and common whitetail dragonflies. As you wander the trails, be sure to watch overhead for a migrating monarch or a bald eagle, briefly joining the red-shoulder or red-tailed hawks and northern harriers overhead. Walk the Beaver Lake Trail in Pocahontas State Park and catch views of wetland birds during the warmer months and wintering waterfowl, including bufflehead and ring-necked duck and flocks of wild turkey, and year-round owls. Located in the Green Springs Loop is Lake Anna State Park. Here you can see bald eagles cruising the banks and hunting along inaccessible reaches of the lake. In the winter months waterfowl can be seen offshore with flocks of ring-necked duck, redhead and greater and lesser scaups diving; and the occasional flock of tundra swans floats bye. During migration, flocks of warblers can be found along with the titmice and chickadees. Also watch for black-throated green, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, palm, prairie and pine warblers. In winter, an assortment of ducks can be found, in addition to the more regular wood ducks that nest nearby, during migration look for large flocks of American robins and northern cardinals. Other species to look for in the area include hairy woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches.
Species in the Piedmont Area include:
- Bald eagle
- Red-shoulder/red-tailed hawks
- Tundra swans
- Prairie and pine warblers
- American robin
- Northern cardinal
- AND MORE!
And if you’re interested in attracting these mesmerizing creatures to your own back yard, there’s plenty you can do to make that happen! A combination of food, water, structure, freedom from danger, climate change and more are going to draw in the species you’re looking to call the back yard home.
Go beyond bird seed and give birds access to plants that produce both fruits and insects. Not every species eats the same thing, so do your research. Many eat berries, nuts, nectar and the like, and migrate toward their preferred food. Do what ya gotta do to keep ’em around! A happy yard is a happy bird.
Once a bird leaves your back yard for parts unknown, you can’t control what happens along its journey. And make no mistake, migrating is hard work! That’s why the things you do in your back yard and green spaces are so important to birds. Birding has become one of the most popular pastimes and with a little work, you can hang out on the back porch and take in the view from there!
For more information on the birds of Virginia and where to find them, visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries or the State Arboretum of Virginia.