Studying Birmingham’s beloved urban turtles

Birmingham turtles
Stripe-necked musk turtle from a tributary of the Cahaba. Photo courtesy of the Urban Turtle Project.

Citizen scientists are convening throughout Birmingham this weekend to study the Magic City’s urban turtle population.

Led by Birmingham Audubon’s Andy Coleman, the Urban Turtle Project is a new conservation project that is surveying the area’s turtle populations that inhabit the urban waterways of the Birmingham metro area.

Photo for the Urban Turtle Project Facebook page.

According to Coleman, turtles are long-lived species, thus, can serve as indicator species of the environment. The Urban Turtle Project will document populations and examine various aspects of their ecology. The work this weekend, will help build a long-term dataset to begin asking some critical conservation questions regarding our impacted streams and rivers.

Adult male (top) and female (bottom) Alabama Map Turtles from the Cahaba. This species show an incredible degree of sexual dimorphism. Photo courtesy of the Urban Turtle Project.

Birmingham has about 10 turtle species. Statewide, Alabama ranks first nationally with the number of different  kinds of turtles.  Presently 27 freshwater turtle species live reside in Alabama, which represents 57% of  the turtle species in North America.

Want to watch the Urban Turtle Project in action?

For several weeks, citizen scientists have been trained how to conduct the research that will be occurring this weekend.  Even if you did not get an opportunity to go through the training, observers are welcome at two sites the volunteers will be surveying the turtles.

Here are the dates, locations and times.

May 19, 10:00am – Meet at the  parking lot of Union State Bank along Greenway Trail in Homewood. They will be sampling Shades Creek in Mountain Brook and Homewood.

May 20, 10:30am – Meet at Cahaba River Park in Mountain Brook.

The results

On May 22, 7:00am at Samford University’s College of Health Sciences Rm 1222, the public is invited to Samford to hear the recap of the weekend and see some of the turtles.

A great weekend for turtle-lovers, hope to see you out on the stream banks or at Samford Tuesday night! To keep up with all the turtle research, follow the Urban Turtle Project on Facebook.


  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.