Birding in the Smokies

A Natural Outdoor Adventure!

Once you get settled in your Carr’s motel room or cottage, take your family on a treasure-hunt-style adventure of bird identification in the Smokies! The 800-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to nearly a quarter of a million different bird species, making it a prime destination for serious birders from all four corners of the globe. Amateurs and pros alike can enjoy hiking some of the park’s diverse trails, logbook and binoculars in hand. Get ready to learn, discover and soak in the beauty and serenity of this gorgeous park.

Birdwatching in the Smoky Mountains

Downy Woodpecker
@Bob Mullen

The most diverse population of birds is found in the lower elevations of the park. There are many family-friendly hiking trails that would allow for endless birding joy. Grab your gear and head onto Schoolhouse Gap trail, located between Townsend, Tennessee and the beautiful Cades Cove region of the park (just head toward Cades Cove and look for the trail sign). Take it slow on this easy hike, which features wildflowers in spring. You’re sure to see or hear a bird on your list! Huskey Gap Trail is another do-able, family friendly adventure that would put you in touch with some of the park’s feathered residents. Keep your eyes and ears wide open! Access this trail outside the Sugarlands Visitor Center. You’ll pass through remnants of old homesteads and, if you come in spring, enjoy a wide variety of mountain wildflowers.
Birds commonly sighted in the southern hardwood regions of the lower elevations of the park include: the Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, Eastern Screech Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Wood Thrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-and-White-Warbler, Yellow-rumped-Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Yellow-throated-Vireo, Louisiana Water Thrush and many, many more.

Birdwatching in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Eastern Bluebird

Park in the Cades Cove parking lot and walk or bike the scenic loop. On the way, look for the following interesting birds to be found in the less-common open fields of the Great Smoky Mountains: wild turkey, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, the gorgeous, bright blue and orange Eastern Bluebird and other field-loving species like Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird and Orchard Oriole. Differing seasons offer glimpses at different species, so be sure to bring your favorite Birds of Tennessee guidebook.

For the more adventurous, there are wonderful hikes to be enjoyed in the higher elevations of the National Park, where an entirely different spate of wild bird species thrives. The climate in these regions is similar to parts of Canada. Up in that rarefied air, hikes can yield both beautiful views as well as interesting bird-watching! Some popular hikes include Mt. LeConte by way of Alum Cave Trail, the Andrews Bald area by way of the Forney Ridge Trail (accessed in the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, this trail takes you through a spruce forest) and Chimney Tops.

The forests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are alive with the music of birds. Visit Macaulay Library to learn the sounds of the birds you’ll be listening for.  Happy birding!

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