Gulf Coast Birding – The Best Five Birding Sites in Mississippi

Gulf Coast birding hits a high point in Mississippi.

Somewhere around 350 species of birds are known to inhabit or move through the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Not only are the rich coastal environments vital for migratory species as they move north from South America in the spring or return south in the fall but the important Mississippi Flyway stretches up from the Gulf Coast channeling an amazing number of species through the area. Spring and fall migrations see a plethora of species from neotropicals and songbirds to waterfowl soar move through the area.

Species range from the red-cockaded woodpecker to the Surf Scotter to the Mississppi Kite to the brown pelican munching away on coastal fish.  Being that Mississippi is home to forty-nine wildlife management areas, eleven National Wildlife Refuges, six National Forests and five National Parks the southern state is perfect for easy family vacations with a wildlife and outdoor focus.

If you’re heading to the Gulf Coast, consider these top Gulf Coast birding sites in Mississippi.

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Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Encompassing about 18,400 acres in the far southeast of Jackson County near the community of Pecan, this estuary is located where the rivers, streams and creeks of the continent meet the salty water of the sea. Partially protected from the sea by the coastal islands, marshes and wetland, the process of the estuary is tidally-driven creating a diversity of habitats from pine savannas to bays, bayous and maritime forests. The wealth of the environment results in a rich mix of food and nesting opportunities for birds. The Clapper Rail nests here as do Marbled Gotwits and Yellow Rails.  Short-Eared Owls and Bald Eagles are commonly seen in the area. The reserve is part of the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the Grand Bay Savanna Coastal Preserve.

Map and Directions 

Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge

Located in the east-central part of the state near Brooksville , the 48,000-acre Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, is  a stop-over and feeding area for migratory birds. Two-hundred and fifty bird species have been observed in the refuge including bobwhite quail, wild turkey, barred owls, masses of Canada Geese in the fall, Bald Eagles in the winter, Egrets in the summer, cormorants and loads of other wading birds, waterfowl and neotropical migrants. Oh, and of course the woodpecker. The Refuge is managed to improve habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species. Popular birding routes in the refuge include the handicap-accessible Goose Overlook and Morgan Hill Overlook, the Bluff Lake Boardwalk that accesses a cypress island.

Map and directions 

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Yet another wildly diverse habitat ranging from beaches and dunes to freshwater marshes, the national seashore attracts more than 300 species of birds including Pine Warblers, Pie-billed Grebe, Osprey (!), White-winged Scotter, Pelicans and Clapper Rails. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, the seashore is the place to find spotted sandpipers, gulls, terns and other shore birds. The management area includes the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands of Florida and Mississippi.  In the Mississippi District of the seashore are numerous islands accessible only by boat as well has a multitude of bayous, nature trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds. The 4,080 acres Gulf Islands Wilderness at 4,000 acres offers special protection, within the seashore, to parts of the islands of Petit Bois and Horn. Visit the district headquarters and the William M. Colmer Visitor Center in Ocean Springs to get oriented. Nearby is the Davis Bayou Area (the only area of the seashore accessible by car) and the nature trail that takes you through coastal forests and bayous. Camping is available at the Davis area.

Map and directions 

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center 

At the gateway of the “last large, free-flowing river in the lower 48 states” the center serves as a hub of educational opportunities and a demonstration location for conservation activities.  Visitors can experience the unique nature of this free-flowing riparian system and get education on Gulf Coast birding, conservation practices that can be tried at home. Around 200 bird species have been spotted in the area including the threatened Brown Pelican, recently brought back from the edge of extinction, the North American Red Knot – who migrates from the Arctic to the Antarctic each year and the threatened Sanderling, another long-distance migratory.

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is currently working on a fabulous project that will aid both Gulf Coast birding, other wildlife and those who appreciate a functioning ecosystem:

“…with partners across the Mississippi Gulf Coast to revise and improve the Mississippi Coast Birding Trail, originally established in 2003.The project will  include a web-based system that guides bird watchers to the best sites to view the high diversity of birds (389 species) across the six-county coastal region. The structure Audubon is building will ultimately support a statewide system of trails that promote nature-based tourism across the state. The first phase of the project is supported by a grant from BP.” Learn more

Map and directions 

The Beaches of Harrison County

I know, sounds like a soap opera but these areas (Biloxi Beach, Gulfport East Beach, Long Beach, Gulfport West Beach and Pass Christian Beach), designated as Globally Important Bird Areas, are widely considered as models of good habitat conservation.  Supposedly, more Least Terns nest on these beaches than anywhere else in the world!   These beaches have an interesting history in that they aren’t natural. As the Gulf Coast was being highly developed in the years just before and then after World War II, the dredging and the creation of the longest man-made beach in the world created the perfect place for the terns to next.  The nearby Mississippi Sound being ideal for a fish dinner.  The terns are protected by law – once they start nesting they cannot be disturbed.

Map and directions 

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Missippi Gulf Coast Birding Books

Birds and Birding on the Mississippi Coast Gulf Coast Birding   The Best Five Birding Sites in Mississippi

Birding Coastal Mississippi, by Toups, Bird and Peterson 2004

More Mississippi Gulf Coast Birding Resources

Jackson Audubon Society
Clinton, MS

Mississippi Coast Audubon Society
Vancleave, MS

Okatibbee Creek Audubon Society
Meridian, MS 

Oktibbeha Audubon Society
Columbus, MS

Pine Woods Audubon Society
Hattiesburg, MS

Other Globally Important Bird Areas in Mississippi

 

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14 Responses to Gulf Coast Birding – The Best Five Birding Sites in Mississippi

  1. Rachel December 12, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    The challenge of birding has long been one of the rewarding frustrations of my life… my dad got me started young. Couple questions, Jim: 1) are you planning to participate in one of the Christmas Bird Counts for NM? http://netapp.audubon.org/cbc/public/Search.aspx and 2) can you recommend a good pair of binocs?

    • Jim O'Donnell December 12, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      Rachel, I didnt start birding until I was about 30 years old and I’ve never been obsessed with it. I’ll go for periods of intense birding and then do nothing for many months or even a year and then get back into it. As a photographer I LOVE to photograph birds – as you can tell from this post. I got turned on to birding while I was living in Finland. I agree, it can be rewarding and frustrating. I wont be participating in the bird count this year – I’ve simply got too many things going on. But I’ve participated in the past. As for binoculars, I’ve REALLY liked the Audubon series of binoculars. Not only are they good quality but the price is perfect for someone on a strict budget – like me!

  2. Adventure Travel Nick December 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Gulf Islands National Seashore is a great one – especially if you’re able to camp!

  3. martha chambers June 30, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    Someone has placed tents over the individual nests of the Least Terns on the Pass Christian beach. The fledglings have recently departed, but I wonder who did this and for what purpose? Was it a scientific experiment? Was it to protect the eggs and chicks? Do you have any information about this?

    • Jim O'Donnell July 1, 2013 at 7:05 am #

      Martha,

      I really have no idea. Since it is a protected area I’m sure it was part of an experiment or conservation move. It would be interesting to know however.

      Jim

  4. Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve September 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    I just happened upon your blog. Thanks for giving us a shout out. We think we have a very special place here too. Here is a link to our birding guide if you are interested: http://www.dmr.ms.gov/joomla16/index.php/wildlife-a-plants/bird-guide
    Jen B.

  5. Mozart Mark Dedeaux September 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    The Pascagoula River Audubon Center has just finished the online Mississippi Coastal Birding trail, which highlights over 40 trail sites in the lower six counties of Mississippi.
    Check it out and happy birding!
    http://mscoastbirdingtrail.audubon.org/

  6. Julia Shields September 20, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    Great places to visit

  7. Jim O'Donnell September 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Excellent! Thank you for dropping by and for the link!

  8. Jim O'Donnell September 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Julia Shields I'd really like to spend ALOT more time there.

  9. Jim O'Donnell September 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    It is indeed a special place and so you are very welcome and thank YOU!

  10. Martha Chambers January 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    I live in Pass Christian, about a block from the beach and just heard a loud 2-note call coming from a not-too-shy small gray and white bird (seen facing away from me. It looked like it could have been a Carolina chickadee but didn't sound like one. I googled "2-note bird call" and came up with the black-capped chickadee, and the song matched what I heard in my backyard crepe myrtle. Is it possible that a black-capped chickadee could have strayed this far out of its range? Has anyone else seen or heard one on the Coast? Is there a more appropriate blog than this for birders?

  11. Jim O'Donnell January 24, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    Martha, thanks for your comment. There are many, many websites dedicated to detailed locations for birders. This is a travel blog by someone who loves birds – me! This post is intended as a very general overview, not a species ID for the coast.

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