Hawks In Georgia: 8 Hotspots on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail & Beyond

hawks in georgia

The best time for spotting hawks in Georgia is during their migration. There are fewer hawk species year-round compared to the more northern states but the state is on their migratory route.

Bird watching in Georgia is characterized by two main landscape features; the Appalachian Mountains in the north and the many nature reserves along the coast in the south.

For hawk lovers this means twice the opportunity. This combination gives you access to hawk species that prefer the colder climate of high altitude as well as hawks that linger around bodies of water.

Birding in Georgia is also one of the more accessible options in the US. There are both hiking trails and driving tours so that everyone can enjoy wildlife in Georgia.

Read on for our top picks of the best bird watching hotspots in Georgia and which hawk species you might see there.

Hawks in Georgia: 8 Fantastic Bird Watching Hotspots

1. Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge

piedmont national wildlife refuge

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge is on the migratory route of many raptors making their way to and from South America. The park management is dedicated to keeping the area a safe place for them to rest and hunt for prey.

Habitat

This refuge is located on the hills of lower Georgia Piedmont. The hilly area is covered by both pine trees and hardwoods.

Within the park, you can visit Allison Lake, a popular hotspot for wading birds and water birds. Since there is still plenty of vegetation around this area is also frequented by hawk species that eat amphibians and fish.

Location & Accessibility

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge is not very near any large towns. The closest towns are Forsyth and Macon.

When driving from either Forsyth or Macon, look for signs indicating Allison Lake. The refuge’s visitor centre is on Allison Lake Road where most trail heads start.

The Allison Lake observation platform is wheelchair accessible. The alternative trails going through the hills are better suited to those fit enough to walk.

Best Place for Spotting: Sharp-Shinned Hawk

sharp-shinned hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawks prefer the secluded forest of mountainous areas. Hike up to the ridges of Piedmont NWR to see them flying over.

You can recognize them by their steely gray top feathers and pale bellies with reddish streaks on their chest. Remember that they are small hawks, smaller than a crow.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Osprey
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier

2. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

okefenokee national wildlife refuge

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect example of how nature thrives when protected from human interference. It is the home of many endangered plants and animals, particularly amphibians.

Habitat

Okenofenokee NWR is a classic swamp area. Most of the area remains undeveloped making it rife with all kinds of wildlife, including black bears.

The swamp itself sits on a plateau and is the headwaters for two rivers: St. Mary’s and Suwannee. The lower levels are forested including cypresses, blackgum and bay forest.

Location & Accessibility

The swamp area is so big that each entrance opens up to a different wildlife experience. The main entrance gets you to the watersports area and where several of the hiking trails start. You will see a sign for Suwannee Canal Recreation Area off highway 121/123.

Besides the hiking trails from the main entrance, we recommend parking at the west entrance; Stephen C. Foster State Park. The park is open for camping and wildlife boating tours.

Best Place for Spotting: Red-Tailed Hawk

how big is a red tailed hawk

This large buteo prefers hunting over open fields so you have a better chance of spotting Red-Tailed Hawks at the plateau. Although there are both light and dark morphs, they are easily recognized by their rusty red tails.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Osprey

3. Brasstown Bald

brasstown bald

Brasstown Bald Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

Brasstown Bald is the tallest peak of the Appalachian Mountains within the state of Georgia. At an elevation of nearly 5000 feet, this is the ideal climate for northern Hawk species escaping the extremely cold weather up north.

Habitat

The habitat of Brasstown Bald is often described as a cloud forest. This means there are trees as far as the eyes can see. The most common trees are yellow birch, maple, beech and oaks.

On the lower altitudes there are vast fields of wildflowers. They thrive in the wet conditions of the high altitude.

Location & Accessibility

The climate of Brasstown Bald makes it a harsh environment. Embarking on the trail to the summit is far from a leisurely walk. However, there is a shuttle service that goes up part of the way.

If you are up for a challenge, you can park you car at the Brasstown Bald Visitor Center & Viewing Platform. The closest Georgia towns are Blairsville, Young Harris and Hiawassee.

Best Place for Spotting: Broad-Winged Hawk

broad-winged hawk

The Broad-Winged Hawk makes its home in deep forests and mountains. The only exception is during fall migration when they fly in large groups near coastal areas.

Georgia offers them both.

Their most defining feature is the black and white bars on their very broad wings.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk

4. Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

harris neck national wildlife refuge

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

Harris Neck is the connection between Blackbear Island and Wolf Island. It is part of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex which serves as a winter home for northern wildlife.

Habitat

Harris Neck has a interesting mix of ecosystems including forested wetlands, salt marshes, open fields, maritime forests and both hardwood and pinewood forests. The combination of both open and forested areas makes it an ideal migratory stop for many raptor species.

The most unique ecosystem in this area is the marsh hammocks. These are more secluded areas preferred by wading birds during nesting season.

Location & Accessibility

Harris Neck is kept as natural as possible. This means that the trails are not as tidy as some other wildlife areas. Always be mindful of your surroundings as there is a good chance of snakes, alligators and other amphibians nearby.

You can reach the NWR from the I-95. Head for Darien/Brunswick on highway 17 which takes you to Harris Neck Road. The visitor center is directly on this road.

Best Place for Spotting: Northern Harrier

northern harrier

The Northern Harrier migrates south to escape the heavy snow of the north. They prefer wintering in wide open spaces such as marshes and fields.

Males and females look different. Females look like the adolescenets – mostly brown but with brown streaking on their paler belly and chest and black bands on the tail. Males have gray top feathers, a paler underside and black tips on their wings.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Osprey
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk

5. Jekyll Island

jekyll island

Jekyll Island Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

Jekyll Island is part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. It features a bird sanctuary and there is also a hotspot for vultures where the old amphitheater used to stand.

Habitat

Even though it sits right on the coast, Jekyll Island is full of oak trees. The tallest trees are oaks and the lower levels include palmetto and scrub oak.

The scrubs are rife with birds and a popular spot for visitors. The west is characterized by a salt marsh.

Location & Accessibility

Jekyll Island is accessible for anyone, full of flat trails and boardwalks. It is so easy to walk through that it has become a popular picnic spot.

You can drive to Jekyll Island via the Georgia interstates. Certain parts of the island have restricted access so plan your trip ahead of time.

Best Place for Spotting: Red-Shouldered Hawk

red-shouldered hawk

The Red-Shouldered Hawk may look like a Broad-Winged hawk from below but their top sides are clearly different. Their black and white flecked wings are a beautiful contrast with their reddish-brown bodies.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Osprey
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk

6. Altamaha Wildlife Management Area

altamaha wildlife management area

Altamaha Wildlife Management Area Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

The Altamaha Wildlife Management Area is also part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. This particular stretch of the trail is situated on an old rice plantation and is now populated by waterfowl.

Habitat

This is another great example of the beauty of nature when protected by man. Large parts of this swampy area is only accessible by boat.

The swamp shores feature plenty of trees including bald cypress, pine savannas and other hardwoods. However water is king in this area with tidal creeks and old diked rice fields.

Location & Accessibility

One of the reasons Altamaha WMA is so pristine is that it is not the easiest place to get to. As mentioned, some parts are only accessible by boat. The regions you can drive to are Champney Island and Butler Island.

The closest town to Altamaha Wildlife Management Area is Darien. From highway 17 it is just over 3 miles to the observation tower of Champney Island.

Best Place for Spotting: Cooper’s Hawk

coopers hawk

This area is dominated by wading birds but during the fall migration you have the chance of spotting Cooper’s Hawk. Cooper’s Hawk are often confused for Sharp-Shinned Hawks because of their similar color pattern.

The first difference is their size as Cooper’s Hawks are much larger. They also have a larger boxier head and sometimes raise their head feathers in aggression.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Osprey
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Red-Tailed Hawk

7. Tybee Island & Little Tybee Island

tybee island bird watching

Tybee Island Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

We are sticking to the Colonial Coast Birding Trail with Tybee island. Although there are plenty of wading and shore birds, you have the best chance of spotting a hawk on the lesser developed Little Tybee Island.

Habitat

Like many of the best birding spots along the Georgia coast, the Tybee Islands ecosystems are mostly salt marsh. There are also a few estuaries going inland.

Along the coast you can expect untouched beaches and natural dunes. Vegetation is limited.

Location & Accessibility

Tybee Island is at the northern tip of the Georgia barrier island series. The larger island is a short drive from Savannah via the I-16.

Little Tybee Island is only accessible by boat but there are plenty of rentals and charters. There are no accommodations on the island but if you are feeling adventurous you can camp there.

Best Place for Spotting: Osprey

osprey

Osprey are the most common hawk near bodies of water so it is no surprise that you might see them on Little Tybee. Osprey stand out from other hawks by their striking heads.

Their head is a striking white with the back feather slightly rising up. A brown stripe goes through their orangey eyes, matching the rest of their top side feathers.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk

8. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield

kennesaw mountain national battlefield park

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Website | Wikipedia Page | Google Maps Location

Although Georgia features many top birding spots where nature is left untouched, this is an example of nature and human development being at odds. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield still has national park status but developers in the area are keen to gain access.

Habitat

Kennesaw Mountain is at the southern tip of the Appalachian mountains. Most of the vegetation is deciduous forest with corridors of open scrubland.

Location & Accessibility

For a more urban experience, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield is the place to go birding. It is a short drive from Georgia’s state capital, Atlanta.

Most of the trails are paved and range from easy to moderate. There are plenty of trails to choose from and there is also a guided bird watching tour.

Best Place for Spotting: Red-Tailed Hawk

This is one of the most common hawk species in the US because they are so adaptive. Although they prefer wide open landscapes, they don’t shy away from high altitude forests or even areas with a lot humans.

Since Kennesaw Mountain is so close to the city, it is no surprise you find them here.

Other Species Spotted Here
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Broad-Winged Hawk
  • Northern Harrier

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