Birdwatching in the Smoky Mountains
There are many different places to go birdwatching in the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg area. Whether you're an avid birder or just starting out, the mountains provide an ideal habitat for many different bird species. Here you'll find wide open skies, rivers, lakes, ponds, forests, wide open fields, and brushy areas, making the Smoky Mountains one of the best places to birdwatch.
What to Bring
If you're new to birding, here are some things to remember before you leave for your trip. Make sure to confirm that the trails are open and accessible to the public and stop by one of the park buildings to get a trail map.
Here are a few things to bring along with you:
- A field guide to birds of Tennessee
- Outdoor essentials like bugspray and hiking boots
When to Bird
Where you look depends on the season and what type of bird you're aiming to see. As a general rule, early in the morning is the best time for a birding excursion. This is when birds are the most active, especially during spring and fall migration.
If you're trying to catch a migration, especially for species like warblers, you'll want to head out just before sunrise on a clear, warm morning. A cold snap or an overnight storm during migratory season causes the traveling birds to shelter in the trees. When the sun comes up, you'll be able to view hundreds of birds!
The best seasons to go birding are generally spring and autumn as many are in breeding season or on their way to a warmer place to spend the winter. There are some species like owls that are most active in January, but generally in both hot and cold weather, birds keep hunkered down during most of the day to preserve their energy.
Where to Bird
If you're looking to see geese, ducks, or other water birds and waterfowl, you'll want to head out to one of the lakes or ponds located in the Smoky Mountains. These include Chilhowee Lake, Fontana Lake, Hazel Creek, and even locations like Whiteoak Sinks can provide good birding opportunities.
For songbirds like warblers, sparrows, kinglets, orioles, you'll be able to get a great view from the trails running through the deciduous forests in the Smoky Mountains. These are the best spots to go for an early morning birding session during the spring and fall migrations. Many of these forests provide a varied habitat of brushy cover that songbirds love!
The best place to view birds of prey is from open spaces like the grassy fields in Cades Cove. Look up and you might see a hawk circling overhead in search of its next meal.
Birds of the Smoky Mountains
There are about 60 species that can be found living in the National Park throughout the year. There are also around 120 species that come to the area that migrate to warmer areas to raise their young. Some of these seasonal birds come from as close as Florida to as far as South America to display their beautiful colors and songs.
Here are just some of common birds you can see both all year and seasonally. You can also find a more complete list on the national park service website that you can print out and take along with you to keep track of what you see.
- Eastern Bluebird
- American Redstart
- Yellow-Throated Warbler
- Chestnut-Sided Warbler
- Yellow-Throated Vireo
- Golden-Crowned Kinglet
- Downy Woodpecker
- Great Blue Heron
- Green Heron
- Belted Kingfisher
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Broad-Winged Hawk
- Eastern Screech Owl
- Ruffed Grouse
- Wild Turkey
A Birding Trip to the Smoky Mountains
Birding is a fun hobby for all ages that brings people from all over to the Smoky Mountain area. Whether you're a novice or you've been birding for years, this is a fun activity for all experience levels. There's also plenty to do in the Gatlinburg area when you're not out in the field, making the Smoky Mountains a great option for your upcoming trip.
Many of our cabins in the Smoky Mountains boast beautiful views of the woods and mountains that are host to dozens of bird species as well. Here you can look forward to birding from the comfort of your porch. Browse our Smoky Mountain cabins to start planning your trip today!
Written by Clare Wiker