Birding Trails

The Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, near Ashland, Wisconsin, is a major stop in the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail. Adjacent to the Whittlesey Creek National WIldlife Refuge, the site has a popular boardwalk, observation tower, viewing platform, and trail system.
Photo: Wisconsin Dept of Tourism, Dale Thomas


This first-year Altamira Oriole is a "South Texas specialty," a species found nowhere else in the US. Birders visit Santa Ana NWR in search of this essentially Mexican species.
Photo: FWS/John & Karen Hollingsworth

Distributed across North America are a number of innovative birding trails. Some are finished; some are in development; others are in the idea- or planning-phase. These trails, covering tracts of roadway across many miles, offer birders, wildlife-watchers, naturalists, and the general public opportunities to explore diverse habitats near home and in distant places. Birding and nature trails are essentially driving-routes linking premier birding and wildlife-watching locations. They often link National Wildlife Refuges with other prime birding and wildlife-watching areas in a region.

The growth of birding trails combines Americans' love of the automobile with the increasing interest in birds and other wildlife. Like the phenomenon of birding festivals, birding trails will often highlight community involvement and commitment to preserve natural resources based on responsible tourism and bird appreciation.

Formal trails began in Texas in 1996, when the first of three segments of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail opened. Similar trails began appearing across North America. The trails, often marked roadways with site-specific stops, combine regional education, conservation, and ecotourism. Most of these trails also have detailed accompanying maps or booklets, furnishing guidance to the sites and to the birds and other wildlife to be found at each stop.

The Fox Sparrow is a chunky sparrow that nests in the far north and in western mountains. It is often seen scratching on the ground, in leaf litter, with both feet.
Photo: FWS/James C. Leupold

The construction, promotion, and development of birding trails have used various funding sources, often using state, county, and federal transportation dollars (federal roadside enhancement funds, for example, have been important). Sometimes it's a combination of state tourism dollars, state or federal wildlife dollars, community foundations, local business funds, non-profit backing, and individual contributions that combine to make birding trails happen.

For a summary of these trails, from coast to coast, see this page from Bird Watcher's Digest.

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