Lake Purdy is a 990-acre reservoir on the Little Cahaba River which provides drinking water for the City of Birmingham. Surrounded by protected woodlands, the lake and its environs have become one of those rare birding destinations that is always interesting – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Begin your visit with a stop on Highway 119 just before the Cox’s Creek bridge, and scan the shallow water, mudflats and grassy fields on the south side of the road, created where Cox’s Creek spreads out just before it empties into the lake. This area may present any of several different habitats depending on water levels and season. When the water level is quite high – most often in winter – look for ducks and geese. Wood Ducks are permanent residents here. You can see Canada Geese throughout the year, along with Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. Almost any of the “puddle ducks” can be found here, as well as Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Hooded Mergansers. Bald Eagles and Osprey are sometimes seen perched in the snags to the south of the bridge.
When the water level is lower, primarily in spring and late summer and fall, shorebirds work the mudflats. Almost any sandpiper or plover may be seen here on a given day. In late summer, the long-legged waders appear in reliable numbers. This fascinating part of the Lake Purdy ecosystem has hosted almost all the herons, egrets, and ibises at one time or another, and rarities sighted here include Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills. Check the grassy shoreline for Wild Turkeys. A flock of turkeys waters here most early mornings and late afternoons, and Belted Kingfishers are almost always present. Swallows (mostly Barn and Rough-winged) and Purple Martins fly their sorties over the lake and often perch on wires just north of the bridge. Check the small trees lining the hill near Highway 119. They can be filled with birds – excellent for American Goldfinches, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and more.
The wooded area northeast of the bridge is productive for songbirds, though it is now thickly overgrown – to the point that entry is difficult and open sightlines are hard to come by.
Continuing on Highway 119, drive east 1.7 miles and turn left to the Fishing Center. There are boats for rent here, as well as restrooms and limited provisions. To the north is a rather panoramic view of the main body of Lake Purdy. If there are ducks, gulls, terns, Bald Eagles, or Osprey around, this is the place to begin looking. Walk around to the west (left as you face the lake) and you will see the entry point for a trail. Follow this trail behind Bold Springs Church (excellent for a wide variety of songbirds, woodpeckers, and birds of prey), then through the woods north of the Cox’s Creek bridge. You will find outstanding woodland birding along this trail, and should not miss it during migration. This section, like so much of the land around Lake Purdy, boasts a broad variety of plants that provide fruits, seeds, nuts, and berries for birds.
Returning to Highway 119, turn left and continue .8 mile, and turn left on Grant’s Mill Rd. There is a pull-out area as you approach the Grant’s Mill bridge. From this spot, look for shorebirds and wading birds on any exposed mudflats along the shoreline. Eastern Kingbirds and other flycatchers work the trees along the road in the warmer months, and the hardwood forest is rich with Wood Thrushes, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, and the full complement of Woodpeckers.
GPS: 33.447485 -86.655436
3780 Boat Launch Road
Birmingham, AL 35242
From I-459 south of Birmingham (Jefferson County), take exit 19 and travel southeast on US 280 (vast numbers of restaurants, service stations, lodging, shopping along Highway 280) for 4.3 miles. Turn left (east) on Highway 119 and follow 1.9 miles to the concrete bridge over the Cox’s Creek portion of Lake Purdy.