Ranging from vast cave systems to rolling hills via roiling river, cypress swamp and peaceful forest, the “Bluegrass State” can also boast of good bird watching opportunities, whether one’s checklist is heavy on neotropical migrants or resident woodpeckers. Laced with streams, well-endowed with expansive lakes and edged by major waterways, Kentucky is a fine place to couple birding with boating, though for those land lubbers there is no shortage of places to scope from terra firma
Best known for what lies beneath, Mammoth Cave National Park offers nonetheless some good birding above ground. For a change in perspective, try riverside cliffs in Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge or a rocky perch in Red River Gorge, then tackle one of the state’s wildlife viewing trails like Pennyrile, which includes a stop at Pennyrile Forest. Particularly popular come summer months is the Land Between the Lakes, a lake-framed region in western Kentucky also known for its raptors and big bison. Keep an eye out for Kentucky specialties like the Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe and bright Prairie Warbler as you bird your way across the state.
Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge:
This 500-acre wildlife refuge ranges from riverside cliffs to woodland ponds, modest peaks and peaceful ridges, linked by five maintained wildlife trails. A Bird Blind offers views of seasonally stocked feeders, where year-round residents like the Downy Woodpecker and Northern Cardinal mingle with migratory birds stopping over in spring and fall.
Mammoth Cave National Park:
While bird life within the world’s longest known cave system might be limited, the hilly habitat above plays host to a good range of feathered creatures, from tanagers and Wild Turkeys to Bald Eagles and Blue Jays. Keep an eye out for year-round residents like hawks and woodpeckers.
Red River Gorge:
Sandstone cliffs and natural arches shaped by the Red River set the scene at this popular rock climbing and hiking destination. Birders to this listed “Globally Important Bird Area” will be treated to Wild Turkey, Osprey, resident songbirds and migrant warblers in season, as well as stunning landscapes.
There are a number of designated wildlife & birding trails in Kentucky like this 75-mile loop route that starts in Princeton. Stops include the Jones-Keeney Wildlife Management Area, home to warblers and Scarlet Tanagers, and Pennyrile Forest, which shelters Acadian Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos.
Land Between the Lakes:
Framed by Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, this stretch of western Kentucky is noted both for its water and its wildlife. Observant birders may catch a glimpse of bison and elk between Bald Eagle, Osprey and Blue Heron sightings. In season, watch also for migratory neotropicals such as hummingbirds and tanagers.