Louisiana has great touristic appeal when it comes to festivals and culture but the state is also an important birding destination. There are lots of great sites and wildlife refuges where you can admire the numerous populations of birds in Louisiana. The coast offers a great selection of species to watch but you can also adventure in the state’s pinewoods and wetlands to see many important birds in the area. If you want to be prepared in terms of what kind of birds to look for in Louisiana, this article will show you the must-see highlight species.
Before any birding expedition, it’s also essential to pack the right gear for a more enjoyable experience. Here are some notable examples:
- Spotting Scope
For those times when a binocular just can’t provide enough performance and image stability, this Roxant spotting scope represents the best solution. It comes at a highly competitive price while offering excellent weatherproof construction, high-definition optics, and a treasure trove of accessories.
- Waterproof Backpack
Keeping your birding equipment dry and safe can only be done if you invest in a proper waterproof backpack. There are many models on the market that advertise a durable construction yet fail to meet expectations. This fully waterproof heavy-duty backpack from Earth Pak is designed to revolutionize your outdoor adventures so it’s highly recommended.
- Field Guide
Identifying birds when you’re out in the field can be quite difficult, even for experienced hobbyists. It can be particularly challenging when you’re observing flocks with mixed species, or birds with more indistinct features. To avoid any confusion and learn how to differentiate the birds in Louisiana, it’s worth getting this illustrated guide in a practical physical format.
1. Roseate Spoonbill
The marshlands of Louisiana are some of the best places for getting a good look at the roseate spoonbill. The southern parts of the state are populated in the summer by this flamboyant bird. The pastel-pink plumage makes the roseate spoonbill hard to miss or confuse with other wetland birds. It’s also simple to identify if you check for its distinctive spatulate bill and golden eyes. Juveniles are dressed in all-white feathers with only tinges of pale pink on their wings. Aside from exploring the coastal marshes of Louisiana, it’s also worth scanning the skies to spot a roseate spoonbill in flight.
2. Yellow Rail
The yellow rail is not an easy bird to find in North America. Louisiana could be an ideal choice if you hope to observe this small marsh bird. Its specific habitat and striped brownish plumage make it blend so well with its surroundings that it takes considerable effort to see. There’s also the yellow rail’s secretive nature given how it quietly moves around the dense marshy vegetation undetected. Yellow rails are rarely spotted in flight. Spring nights offer the best opportunity to hear this bird’s distinctive insect-like calls. The coastal zone in Louisiana during winter should also be considered to find a yellow rail.
3. Brown Pelican
Brown pelicans are year-round residents in the coastal waters of Louisiana. These seabirds show off an oversized bill and a pale yellow head that contrasts with the brown body. Birders find it quite entertaining to watch this pelican plunge-diving in the water after its fish prey. Although the brown pelican used to be a threatened species, it’s now much more abundant. Louisiana is certainly a hotspot to see brown pelicans in action as they glide low over the water. Sometimes you can recognize the presence of a brown pelican by its huge splash that can resemble a whale’s spout.
4. Northern Parula
Anyone who lives close to the swamp edges of Louisiana is probably familiar with the northern parula’s distinctive song. The bird produces a pleasant twitter in the breeding season that can act as a guide to its location. Northern parulas are small warblers with a blue-gray plumage mixed with yellow hues. They’re quite widespread in the state’s bottomland hardwoods where they prefer the high canopy of oak trees to use for nesting. That means it’s important to grab a solid pair of binoculars to get a solid view of a northern parula.
If you check out the marshes of Louisiana and see a dark bird with its wings outstretched in a regal pose, it’s safe to say that you’re looking at an anhinga. This is a common bird seen in the state’s shallow waters. Anhingas lack waterproof feathers so they can stalk fish underwater more efficiently. The disadvantage is that it has to sit on the edge of the water to get fully dry after each dip. One distinctive feature of this large waterbird is the S-shaped neck. White streaks on the wings create a contrasting effect on the black bodies of males.
6. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Summer birding in Louisiana can provide many great opportunities to see interesting marsh birds. A solid example is the black-bellied whistling-duck that’s widespread throughout the state during the breeding season. The name of this duck comes from its whistlelike call. Flocks of black-bellied whistling-ducks can be very noisy when foraging together in fields. The birds prefer perching close to shallow ponds. You can recognize the species by its long neck and legs as well as the gaudy coloration. Adults show black bellies, chestnut bodies, and a pinkish bill on the gray face.
7. Inca Dove
A recent year-round resident of Louisiana, the Inca dove shows off a scaly gray plumage with some tan underwings flashes. The bird has a fairly long tail that makes it easier to distinguish from a common ground dove that also features much less scaling. Inca doves are often encountered in urban areas, primarily in southwestern parts of Louisiana though it appears they’re expanding their range. The birds are known for producing mournful coos. You can easily spot them perched on low trees or fences but the doves are usually foraging on the ground.
8. Tricolored Heron
A beautiful wading bird, the tricolored heron is another treasured species in Louisiana. Bird lovers everywhere appreciate this heron’s slender and graceful form. True to its name, the bird’s plumage is a blend of three colors: blue, gray, and white. The tricolored heron has a coastal habit so you can discover this bird in colonies living and breeding in swamps in southern Louisiana. After the breeding season is finished, the large majority of the birds will migrate south towards South America. This solitary forager can be usually spotted at the edge of the swamp.
9. Black Skimmer
Black skimmers are graceful fliers with an elegant black-and-white appearance. This coastal waterbird has a year-round presence on Louisiana’s shorelines. It’s one of the three species of skimmers in the world. Birders in Louisiana shouldn’t miss the black skimmer considering its unique feeding style. The bird relies on feeling for fish in the water using the lower mandible but it’s also an aerial forager. You can see a black skimmer feeding at dawn and dusk as those are the times when it’s usually active.
10. Painted Bunting
The painted bunting gets its name from the uniquely colorful look that seems to resemble an artistic painting. The male features a distinctive fusion of colors. It has a purple head, yellow-green back, and red underparts. Female painted buntings, as well as juvenile males, are more subtly dressed in yellow-green plumage. You can encounter this songbird during the breeding season in Louisiana. The stocky bunting is a common sight in the coastal regions of the state. It regularly visits backyard feeders as its diet includes mainly seeds.
11. Gray Catbird
Gray catbirds are related to mockingbirds so you can expect them to have interesting vocal qualities. They produce catty mew calls that make for an unmistakable identification even by amateur birders. The gray catbird is also known for being able to imitate other birds’ species singing. In terms of visual appearance, this bird isn’t particularly impressive with its gray overall body. Some distinctive features include the black cap and chestnut-colored undertail patches. Gray catbirds are fairly widespread in Louisiana, with some populations remaining year-round in the central dense woodland areas of the state.
12. Gull-billed Tern
Here’s a fairly distinctive species of tern that you can watch in Louisiana. This bird is a permanent resident of Louisiana’s coastal waters. The gull-billed tern can stand out among similar species due to some particular features. It has a thicker bill and extends larger wings compared to other terns. This stocky bird also shows a fully black crown during the breeding season. Gull-billed terns don’t feed exclusively on fish so it’s not surprising to find them foraging for insects or crabs.
13. Red-shouldered Hawk
If you’re a birder looking for raptors in Louisiana, you won’t be disappointed. Visit the state’s swamp forests for a chance to spot the red-shouldered hawk. This bird of prey is a year-round resident in Louisiana. Thanks to its distinctive reddish underparts, it’s easy to differentiate it from other hawks. More experienced birders can identify a red-shouldered hawk in flight from a considerable distance by looking for the crescents close to the wingtips. Another good solution to find this hawk is by listening for its characteristic whistle.
14. Hooded Warbler
There’s a reason why summer is usually the best time to go birding. You can encounter lots of interesting birds on their breeding grounds. The hooded warbler is a good example when it comes to Louisiana. It’s widespread throughout the state but it favors shrubby forest understories. True to its name, the male bird shows off a dark hood with some bright yellow patches on its face. Female hooded warblers are also brightly colored even though they lack the distinctive dark hood. The identification of a hooded warbler is also done easily if you notice its white tail feathers.
15. Yellow-crowned Night-heron
Louisiana is an excellent location for seeing herons. Most people focus on slender and graceful species, but the yellow-crowned night-heron is also worth some attention. This is a stocky type of heron with bold markings on its head. The body relies on a fusion of subtle purple and ashy gray tones while the head plumes give it an extra refined air. Yellow-crowned night-herons have numerous populations living along the coastal areas of Louisiana as well as further inland in saltmarshes and open habitats. These birds stalk their favorite crab prey both during the day and night.
16. Brown-headed Nuthatch
Louisiana is one of the few states in the US where birders can admire the brown-headed nuthatch. This tiny songbird is commonly found in mature pine forests. To recognize the nuthatch, you can check for a brown cap and bluish plumage on the back. There’s also the contrasting effect created by the off-white underparts of the bird. One of the simplest ways to find a brown-headed nuthatch is to listen for its distinctive vocalizations with squeaky qualities resembling a rubber duck. There’s a lot of neck-craning involved in getting a good view of the bird as it tends to sit high in the treetops.
17. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
The red-cockaded woodpecker is a very rare species sought by Louisiana birders. It has experienced a sharp decline due to being adapted to longleaf pine stands lost to excessive logging. Outside of wildlife refuges or other preserves, it’s highly unlikely to find a red-cockaded woodpecker. The species is characterized by black-and-white back stripes and small bodies. Males show a red streak in the cheek area that’s extremely subtle. This detail gives the woodpecker its name. Birds tend to stick together in family groups to dig cavities in living trees.
18. Northern Shoveler
One particularly attractive dabbling duck, the northern shoveler shows off a spoon-like bill used to filter out small crustaceans. The male northern shoveler has a very elegant plumage during the breeding season as it features reddish flanks and a green head. These birds can only be spotted during the winter in Louisiana when the ducks show a more subdued version of the breeding plumage. It’s more coarsely marked with brown spots on the body while the head is also darker. Northern shovelers are commonly found in marshes and aren’t as shy compared to other ducks. You can easily get a fairly good view of them.
19. Blue Grosbeak
Blue grosbeaks are flashy buntings that are easy to see in the northern half of Louisiana during summer. These birds boast oversized bills and rusty brown wingbars. Breeding males are more distinctive due to their brilliant blue plumage whereas females show a cinnamon-colored appearance. You can search for a blue grosbeak in shrubby habitats but the bird can still be challenging to spot despite being common and drawing attention with its look. If you want to locate it more effectively, the best solution is to listen for the blue grosbeak’s rich and burry song.
20. Neotropic Cormorant
Another interesting waterbird to look for in Louisiana is the Neotropic cormorant. The species is very similar to the more abundant double-crested cormorant. The key difference to distinguish the two involves the smaller body size and longer tail of the Neotropic cormorant. This bird prefers more sheltered waters so you can find them in coastal regions as well as far inland on lakes and reservoirs. Neotropic cormorants are social birds and flocks of them can be easily recognized when nesting in trees or diving in the water after fish.
21. Common Gallinule
The common gallinule is a boldly marked rail that’s quite easy to recognize just by its loud vocalizations. This waterbird likes marshy habitats. It shows off long yellow-green legs and a dark black body contrasting with the red bill. The head of the bird is also interesting to observe as it features a red shield connected to the bill. Common gallinules can be found year-round in Louisiana. There’s not a lot of effort required to spot them as you just need to rely on the squawks and whinnies of the bird to search for its precise location.
22. Barred Owl
Although Louisiana is famous for its wetland birds, there are some other eye-catching attractions in the state’s forests as well. Birders will be pleased to find a barred owl that resides year-round in big bottomland forests. True to its name, this large owl has a barred appearance on its body. It features a brown and white plumage with buffy underparts. A notable detail is the look of the barred owl’s face. It has a yellow bill and beautiful black eyes. You can usually find the barred owl during the night. Birders imitating its call can have more success in getting a good view of this majestic owl.
23. Ross’s Goose
The winter season in Louisiana can bring various bird visitors to the state’s wetlands. A notable example is the Ross’s Goose. Smaller than a more familiar snow goose, this is a gregarious waterfowl that has seen a considerable increase in its numbers over recent years. You can find reliable populations of this goose in Louisiana once they come south from their Arctic breeding grounds. While the common white morph of the bird isn’t particularly distinctive, the rare blue morph is worth seeking out for its dark sooty appearance.
24. Black-necked Stilt
The black-necked stilt is a particularly elegant shorebird found in Louisiana. It has really long pink legs that reach 12 inches while its black-and-white plumage makes it easily stand out among brownish shorebirds. Black-necked stilts are fairly common in the state. Their range extends beyond coastal marshes to include ricefields. You can often see this bird foraging together with other species that have long legs such as the American avocet shorebird. While the visual appearance of the bird makes it unmistakable, you can also identify the black-necked stilt in flight by its characteristic vocalizations.
25. Crested Caracara
An uncommon sight in Louisiana, the crested caracara is a difficult bird to categorize. It’s considered a tropical falcon even though it looks more like a hawk and its behavior closely resembles vultures. This bird of prey has long legs and a black body overall. Some distinctive characteristics include the orange patch of skin on its face and dark cap. Crested caracaras tend to perch on tall structures and don’t soar high in the sky. This makes it quite easy for birders to spot it in open landscapes. The falcons prefer tall, isolated trees but can be frequently seen on the ground as well.
26. Cerulean Warbler
With a delicate blue-and-white plumage, the cerulean warbler is a beautiful discovery for any birder exploring the forest. This blue songbird can be spotted in Louisiana during its migration period. Keep in mind that only the male has the distinguished sky-blue plumage. Females have a different look as they’re yellowish-green overall with some white patches on the wings and eyebrows. Due to habitat loss, cerulean warblers are quite rare to find nowadays. It doesn’t help that these birds prefer foraging high in the canopy. Grab some performant binoculars to get a proper view of this little bird.
27. Wood Stork
When it comes to wading birds, the wood stork is certainly an impressive sight considering its hefty bill and long legs. This isn’t a particularly common bird in the US but it can be encountered without too many difficulties as long as you check the right environment. Wood storks live in swamps and wetlands. They’re more abundant in Florida but you can occasionally spot this bird in Louisiana as well. It’s quite unmistakable when flocking together with other wading birds thanks to its height and bald, scaly head.
28. Greater White-fronted Goose
After a long migration across North America, the greater white-fronted goose finally arrives in Louisiana in the winter. This stocky goose winters in the state’s wetlands. There are large flocks of this species spreading throughout the state. To identify the greater white-fronted goose, you can look for a brown body overall with black barring on the belly. As the name suggests, adult birds show a characteristic white feathering on the face. The legs of the goose are bright orange. It’s worth noting that greater white-fronted geese aren’t as skittish as other waterfowl.
Another winter visitor in Louisiana, the gadwall duck shouldn’t be missed by birders. It’s a fairly abundant bird but it’s worth checking out considering the understated elegance of its plumage. Males are beautifully patterned with various shades of brown and gray as well as some black patches. Female gadwalls can be confused with female mallards but you can distinguish them from their darker bills. Gadwalls favor marshes with dense aquatic vegetation and can be usually spotted together with other duck species.
30. Yellow-breasted Chat
A neotropical migrant, the yellow-breasted chat is hidden in the dense vegetation along Louisiana’s coastal zone. It features a bright yellow breast with distinctive white face markings. This is a large bird for a warbler and shows a typical olive body color. One of the most interesting aspects of this bird that fascinates birders is the yellow-breasted chat’s song. The male performs it in the breeding season in a very industrious manner. The vocalizations show impressive variety but the bird is quite shy so it’s still a rare sight unless you delve deep into dense thickets.