Commonwealth of Kentucky

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis ©Russ Thompson Website
Birding Kentucky

At first glance, Kentucky appears to merely be a state which hosts some great birds which can be seen elsewhere in the company of more exotic species. Kentucky natives know better; as a Mississippi flyway state in the mid south, our state offers a highly varied list of species from all four compass points. Where else can one find Swainson’s Warblers, Snowy Owls, Prothonotary Warblers, Dicksissels, Bell’s Vireos, Ravens, Thayer’s Gulls, and Greater White-fronted Geese, all within a calendar year. Add the occasional Red-necked grebe, nesting Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and a sporadic Evening Grosbeak invasion, and you begin to see why we don’t mind birding close to home. Every location has its rarities, but ours can (and do) come from anywhere. The species total for the state is currently approaching 350.

Most of Kentucky is very rural, with the Appalachian Mountains in the east; mixed farmland and hardwood forest throughout the central region; and open farmland giving way to river bottoms in the west. Like much of rural America, it is strikingly beautiful. Its residents are generally friendly and hospitable.

A complete list of birding locations can be found at the Kentucky Ornithological Society (KOS) web site, given below. A birder with some time to spend in the state will want to hit four main regions set out in the Top Sites below.

Anyone interested in birding in Kentucky should check the links listed below, especially those for KOS, Birding Pal, and the BirdKY listserve. The latter is a good source of current birding news in the state.

Top Sites
  • Central Region

    The central regions of the state are rich in rural birding habitats. This is the area with the least number of local specialties, but many good species turn here. Spring and fall migrations can be especially fruitful. Check state and national parks. Wintering raptors such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons are regular.
  • Eastern Mountains and Cumberland Plateau

    The eastern mountains and Cumberland Plateau host species found nowhere else in the state. The elevation of this region makes it suitable for many breeding passerines typically found in more northern locations. Specialties of the region include many breeding warblers, ruffed grouse, veery, ravens, and regular saw-whet owls in winter.
  • Northern Kentucky

    Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati draws the best concentrations of winter residents, such as snow buntings, snowy owls (rare but regular); all three species of scoters on the Ohio River, and rough-legged hawks.
  • Western Kentucky

    Western Kentucky includes two man-made lakes, as well as the Mississipi flyway. This region, like the Cumberland plateau, is essential birding. For a state poor in wetlands and open water, these regions provide the majority of waders and waterfowl. Migration periods and winter birding can be excellent, with wintering white pelicans, gulls, and raptors. Breeding Mississippi kites, scissor-tailed flycatchers, black-necked stilts, and least terns make spring and summer trips fruitful.
Contributors
  • Steve Kistler

    Munfordville, Kentucky | kistlers@scrtc.com

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 380

    As of June 2018
Checklist

  • iGoTerra Checklist

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • Kentucky Birds

    (A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species) | By James R Kavanagh & Raymond Leung | Waterford Press | 2000 | Unbound | 12 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 1583551476 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Kentucky Wildlife Encyclopedia

    (An Illustrated Guide to Birds, Fish, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians) | By Scott Shupe | Skyhorse Publishing | 2018 | Hardback | 356 pages, 800 colour photos, 600 b/w distribution maps | ISBN: 9781510728820 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Birds of Kentucky

    By Burt L. Monroe Jr. & William Zimmerman | Indiana University Press | 1994 | Hardcover | 248 pages, 49 colour paintings, map | ISBN: 0253338921 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Useful Information
  • State Bird

    Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Festivals & Bird Fairs
  • Ohio Valley Birding Festival

    Website
    The Ohio Valley Birding Festival is an Evansville Audubon Society event featuring guided spring migratory birdwatching hikes in southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky along with family friendly birding activities at John James Audubon Park in Henderson, Kentucky.
Museums & Universities
  • John James Audubon State Park Museum

    Webpage
    Along the banks of the Ohio River just north of Henderson, KY, John James Audubon State Park houses the world's largest collection of Audubon artifacts and offers exhibits on the artist's life. The museum interprets Audubon’s life through his art and personal memorabilia, framed within a timeline of world events….
Organisations
  • Audubon Society in Kentucky

    Website
    Usual list of local chapters
  • Beckham Bird Club

    Website
    The Beckham Bird Club, Inc. (BBC); in existence for more than sixty years, is a non-profit organization of men, women, and children who are interested in birds, ecology, and nature. It is named for Charles Wickliffe Beckham, the first native Kentuckian to achieve a national reputation as an ornithologist, and was founded in 1935 in Louisville, Kentucky, as the Louisville Chapter of the Kentucky Ornithological Society. Beckham Bird Club members are people who like birds, enjoy watching them, and want to keep in touch with others who also enjoy the sport.
  • Central Kentucky Audubon Society

    Website
    The Central Kentucky Audubon Society is a member of the National Audubon Society and the Kentucky Audubon Council, and serves ten central Kentucky counties in the promotion of conservation education and awareness. (The Chapter originally took the name Buckley Hills Audubon Society)
  • Cumberland Chapter Sierra Club

    Website
    The Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter was formed over 50 years ago to explore, enjoy, and protect Kentucky. We were formed when Kentucky’s Red River Gorge was under threat of being flooded from a dam proposal in the 1960’s. That dam was stopped and thousands of people from around the world come to visit the famous unique geological area that can still be enjoyed to this day.
  • Daviess County Audubon Society

    Website
    Today Daviess County Audubon Society consists of ~100 members: 30 members are active in the organization and the rest are considered subscribers who are interested in the Audubon mission
  • Eastern Kentucky Bird Club

    Webpage
    Eastern Kentucky Bird Club Mission Statement: To provide a forum for Eastern Kentucky bird enthusiasts to become acquainted with one another, and to share information and experience. To promote birding and bird conservation in the Eastern Kentucky area. To organize birding events and educational programs and to provide information on birding opportunities in Eastern Kentucky for anyone interested in birds or birding in the region.
  • Frankfort Audubon Society

    Website
    The Frankfort Audubon Society's purpose is to connect people with nature through birding education and the conservation of wildlife habitat.
  • Henderson Audubon Society

    Information
    732 S Adams St, Henderson, KY 42420, 502-826-4793 - Marsha Sheckels, President
  • Jackson Purchase Audubon Society

    Information
    726 Bellevue Dr, Paducah, KY 42001, 618-564-3367 - Kristi Hanson, President
  • Kentucky Bird Records Committee

    Webpage
    The Kentucky Bird Records Committee (KBRC) maintains the official list of bird species documented as having occurred within the state. The committee receives documentation of bird observations and takes formal votes to determine whether the documentation substantiates the natural occurrence of the species in the wild and within state boundaries. Only rare, out-of-season, or out-of-area species require review by the KBRC.
  • Kentucky Bluebird Society

    Website
    The Kentucky Bluebird Society was organized to foster the return and perpetuation of the Eastern Bluebird and other native cavity nesting birds in Kentucky. To this end, the Kentucky Bluebird Society (KBS) will strive for the best methods to use, conserve and create habitat for the protection of these species…
  • Kentucky Ornithological Society

    Website
    Founded in 1923, the KOS strives to create and increase interest in Kentucky birds, and to support bird conservation. KOS members participate in field trips and bird counts, attend spring and fall meetings, and report sightings online. Members receive the quarterly publication, The Kentucky Warbler.
  • Little River Audubon Society

    Information
    PO Box 352, Hopkinsville, KY 42240 - To promote the enjoyment and protection of birds and wildlife and their habitat through education, advocacy, and field trips
  • Louisville Audubon Society

    Website
    To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity
  • Nature Conservancy in Kentucky

    Information
    The Mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive…
  • Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky

    Website
    Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc. was formed to: Rehabilitate injured raptors, raise orphaned birds of prey, and increase public awareness about the importance of raptors.
Reserves

Abbreviations Key

  • Kentucky State Parks

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Kentucky is home to some of the most beautiful scenery and most interesting historical sites in the country. Our state park system includes 49 parks and one interstate park. Every state park in Kentucky has a web page right here on this site. To find a park you already know about, select it from this list and click go. You can also reach all the parks by clicking on the four sections of the map.
  • NF Daniel Boone

    WebpageSatellite View
    The Daniel Boone National Forest offers birders wonderful opportunities to see most of the birds that nest or winter in Kentucky. Birders from all over the state visit the Daniel Boone National Forest every year to add new species to their life lists or just to enjoy seeing some of the less common birds, such as the cerulean warbler, in areas where they are plentiful. If you are planning to visit the Forest and are interested in finding some good bird watching spots, below are a few hot spots you may want to check out.
  • NPr Beargrass Creek State

    WebpageSatellite View
    One of the great treasures of the Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve is the presence of over 150 different species of birds. Some are residents, some are seasonal visitors, and some stop at the Preserve while migrating. The presence of the wooded area for food and shelter, along with a water source in this particular location makes the Preserve a very attractive stop for migratory birds. This situation is very advantageous for the area's avid birders who want to view a lot of different species birds, and quite a learning tool for the students and adults who are anxious to observe and study more unusual bird species.
  • NPr Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Virginia Creasey Mahan and Howard Mahan cherished wildlife, trees, and the four year-round springs that graced their Hill O’Content Farm, given to them as a wedding present in 1921 by Virginia’s family. Knowing their land was “something special,” they vowed to preserve it for future generations.
  • SP Taylorsville Lake

    InformationSatellite View
    Orchard oriole, indigo buntings, prairie warblers, red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, turkey, vultures and wild turkey.
  • WMA Higginson-Henry

    PDF BrochureSatellite View
    Located 20 miles south of Henderson in Morganfield, KY. The 5,424-acre area provides various birdwatching opportunities. The 82-acre lake and shallow water impoundment areas hold a variety of waterfowl, wading and shorebirds during the fall and winter. The terrestrial habitat encompasses old field to mature hardwood forest and holds a large variety of songbirds throughout the year…
  • WMA Sloughs

    PDF BrochureSatellite View
    One of the National Audubon Society's Important Birding Areas, the Sloughs WMA contains nearly 10,000 acres of wetlands, home to nearly 10,000 geese and 10,000 ducks during the winter. A paradise for hunters, fishermen, campers, hikers and nature lovers…
  • WR Central Kentucky

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge is a 500-acre preserve, located 13 miles from Danville in the Parksville knob land and bordering a stretch of the beautiful North Rolling Fork…
  • WS Buckley

    WebpageSatellite View
    The Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary and Life Adventure Center are dedicated to protect the integrity of the Sanctuary, its birds, wildlife, and habitats by developing strong support, sound management, and excellent educational programming.
Trip Reports


Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

  • 2004 [05 May] - Mark Hows

    Report
    Upon arrival the previous night I rose early and drove to Cades Cove, in the Great Smoky Mountains. Due to a sports injury walking was difficult, so I took the auto tour and did not venture too far from the car. On recommendation by one of the wardens, the pool was visited but a few stops on Sparks Lane, tufted titmice were everywhere, I met another birdwatcher who pointed out some calls of tanagers and vireos but I was unable to find them, chipping sparrows were everywhere. I located an unusual sparrow, a Bachman’s and was confirmed by the other birder a rarity in these parts although he was familiar with them – a real find. Eastern bluebirds and meadow larks were common along Sparks Lane and I located a carolina wren turned onto the main route and pulled in at the vehicle no entry sign. Walked the short distance to the holding pool, there were 4 pairs of wood ducks with ducklings on the pool along with some canada geese, eastern phoebe and great crested flycatchers were flycatching from the fence, and a white tailed deer came close. I drove the rest of the route stopping occasionally to view deer and many common birds like white breasted nuthatch, Dark eyed Juncos, cardinals, pewees, indigo buntings and kingbirds. I stopped near the end of the tour at dusk, watching the deer and a coyote, barred owl and screech owl were calling but to far away and I could not locate hear whip a wills, but lots of fireflys were very conspicuous….
  • 2017 [05 May] - Andres Vasquez - Kentucky-Ohio-Michigan

    PDF Report
    This was the most unpredictable migration season in several decades according to everybody we asked , and it was my feeling as well based on my experience in the past five years. Fortunately , our tour was designed and planned in such a way that we did not have to depend only on unpredictable migration movements but instead we visited breeding areas of most of the warblers , and we managed to see every single species but one of the 38 possible eastern US warblers.
Places to Stay


Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

  • First Farm Inn Kentucky B&B

    Accommodation
    Paddle around the pond. Bring your pole and catch a bass. Watch the birds. Sample a garden-fresh herb…
  • Rabbit Creek B&B

    Accommodation
    Glenda invites you to make some memories sitting in the gazebo listening to the birds or watching the deer traverse our land, sipping a cool glass of wine compliments of the house…
Other Links
  • Birding Locations in Kentucky

    Webpage
    e.g. Kentucky Ridge State Forest in Bell County - Kentucky Ridge State Forest contains Pine Mountain State Park on Pine Mountain and is located on the south side of Pine Mountain and the north side of Log Mountain, encompassing Little Clear Creek Valley. The forest also contains Chenoa Lake, the Division of Forestry's Chenoa Service Center and Bell County Forestry Camp. To get there, take Exit 29 (Corbin - Barbourville) off of Interstate 75, travel south on U.S. 25 E to Pineville. Follow signs to Pine Mountain State Resort Park. The park adjoins Kentucky Ridge Forest on the northeastern portions....
  • Kentucky Birding Trails

    Webpage
    This website features over 37 trails covering over 200 wildlife viewing areas and birdwatching trails across the Commonwealth from the John James Audubon State Park and Land Between the Lakes in far western Kentucky to the Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky.
  • Kentucky Migratory Bird Conservation

    Website
    pdf
  • Peregrines Over Kentucky

    Website
    pdf
Blogs
  • Den Apple - Life, Birding, Photos and Everything

    BLOG
    Now that I'm retired from the IT Dept, I have become a professional volunteer with a bad case of BIADD (Bird Induced Attention Deficit Disorder)!

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