The Birmingham Zoo, located within the 200 wooded acres of Lane Park, is one of Alabama’s most-visited tourist locations, as well as being a surprisingly productive place for year round birding. The best birding on the grounds exists outside the Zoo itself – in and around the overflow parking areas and in the picnic grounds. After turning into the Zoo property from Cahaba Road, turn right in .1 mile, then park in the overflow lot to the left. Unless you are visiting on a major holiday, the lot will be almost empty. Survey the woods around the lot. This is an outstanding area for most of the state’s woodpeckers, and there are Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Gray Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, and a seasonal array of sparrows in the dense understory.
The trees overhanging the parking lot and along the main paved road prove their worth as a terrific migrant trap in spring and fall, and they are also very good for feeding flocks from fall through spring. Watch for great numbers of Cedar Waxwings from November through May. Breeding birds include Pine, Black-and-white, Hooded, and Kentucky Warblers. If you can’t spot a Red-eyed Vireo or Blue-gray Gnatcatcher here from April to October, you need new binoculars. White-eyed Vireos are well represented in the tangles, and there are Yellow-throated Vireos in the hardwoods. Cooper’s Hawks routinely dart through the trees in pursuit of songbirds. Summer Tanagers, Eastern Wood Pewees, Wood Thrushes, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers nest here or very nearby, and almost any eastern songbird may appear in migration. This area is particularly good for Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks as those species pass through the area.
Follow the paved road to the picnic area for even more of the aforementioned birds, plus a better chance of seeing Red-headed Woodpeckers; look around the periphery of the large open parking lot to the east for even more. The extensive edge habitat here makes this the best spot for sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and wrens in the cooler months, and Indigo Buntings, Goldfinches, and White-eyed Vireos in the breeding season. This part of the Zoo is free, quiet, compact, and may be easily covered in an hour or two. This is a good place to bird in conjunction with a visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens across the street.
Inside the gates of the zoo, one of the best places to spend time is the Alabama Wilds, where the woodlands attract a great variety of native species. Check out the Alabama Swamp, which brings in a few waders and songbirds to feed, drink, and bathe. The pine-oak woods that ring the developed portion of the zoo are fairly productive for spotting native suburban species. You’ll also find that there are always Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks on the property. Wood Ducks, Great Egrets, and passing ducks and geese also drop in from time to time.
Combined with the Birmingham Botanical Gardens next door, the opportunity for birding in the city limits of Alabama’s largest city is hard to beat.
Directions: The Birmingham Zoo is located at 2630 Cahaba Road in Birmingham, adjacent to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, where Birmingham, Homewood, and Mountain Brook meet. From US 280 south of downtown Birmingham, take the Birmingham Zoo/Birmingham Botanical Gardens exit, which is Cahaba Road. Follow .2 mile, and at the traffic light for the 5-point intersection, take a hard left turn onto Cahaba Road. The entrance to the zoo is ahead on the left in .4 mile. There are restrooms, a gift shop, limited dining, and some vending machines inside the zoo gate. Service stations, restaurants, lodging, and shopping are all available in the surrounding neighborhood.
GPS: 33.489424 -86.778774
2630 Cahaba Road
Birmingham, AL 35223-1106
Amenities: parking, restrooms, picnic, trail
Hours: 9 A.M. – 5P.M.