The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect spot to observe wildlife. The National park is famous for it’s Black Bears and elk. Less often discussed is another really great activity to enjoy in the Smokies; bird-watching. The park is home to hundreds of avian species and bird-watchers from all over the world come to the Gatlinburg area to see them in their natural habitat. If you are a birder, or if your best vacation involves bird calls and binoculars, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge may be the perfect trip for you!
Perfect environment for birds
Expert and amateur bird-watchers alike love to visit Gatlinburg. The town sits right at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The Smoky Mountains are covered in thick, dense forests with steep slopes. Between each mountain peak you’ll find deep valleys and even areas of gently sloping plains. There are over 130 species of trees in the area. You’ll find yellow buckeye, basswood, yellow-poplar, mountain, eastern hemlock, white ash, and sugar maple. Because of this unique environment, with peaks, valleys, mountain streams, and thick forests, there are over 240 species of birds in the Gatlinburg area.
Make a plan for your bird watching trip
If you decide to plan a trip to Gatlinburg to observe the birds in the area, you’ll need to bring a few items, so make sure to bring your binoculars, a good field guide and a camera to take some great pictures. The most important thing to remember is that patience is a virtue when you’re bird watching. The birds that live in town are not shy and might even come right up to you, but not the ones up in the national park. They are abundant, but also like to hide. You may want to bring a comfy camp chair, and plenty of snacks and water. If you’re able to sit quietly for just a little while, you’re sure to see lots of bird species that call the mountains home.
The best places to go
Lots of people stick to the hiking trails to get the best chance of seeing their favorite bird species. The plants and flowers that grow during the springtime make Grotto Falls a popular trail for avian enthusiasts. You’ll see streams and waterfalls on this trail so be on the lookout for any water loving birds like the Wood Duck, or the Gadwall Duck. If you see any blackberry thickets, lookout for the Chestnut-Sided Warblers. They LOVE blackberry thickets and are pretty common on this trail.
Another favorite trail among bird watchers is the Huskey Gap Trail. The trail is filled with shrubs and trees and smaller birds find them the perfect spot for nesting. Be on the lookout for small species like Field Sparrows, American Goldfinches and Carolina Wrens. This trail is beautiful and even though it is a moderate hike, it is well worth it to see the incredible wildlife.
The Mount LeConte Trail is a pretty strenuous journey, but it’s also one of the best trails to observe feathered friends. This hiking trail leads to the third highest peak in all of the Smoky Mountains. At the highest elevations, you’ll find spruce fir forests that are similar to the boreal forests in Canada. Up here you’ll find the southern most breeding grounds of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and Canada Warblers. It’s a difficult hike, but if you’re up for it and take your time, you’ll see some incredible species to check off your list.
Best times to see (and hear) the most species
The Park is home to 240 species like we said earlier, but not all species are in the park year round. Most birds migrate. Depending on the season, you may encounter more or less species in the park. If you love songbirds, late March to late April will be peak bird watching season for you. Toward the end of April many song bird species will be in peak singing and nesting season. There are always birds in the area though. As the southern migrators leave the winter visitors start to arrive. Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak, Swamp Sparrow, are all common during the winter months.
More Places to Visit
If you really love hands on encounters with more exotic species, you may want to visit Parrot Mountain and Garden of Eden in Pigeon Forge. Parrot Mountain is open from March through December. They have dozens of tropical species that are housed in beautiful cottages surrounded by gardens. You’ll see Lorikeets, Macaws, Toucans and Magpies. Their birds love to show off and put on a show all day long. They even have hands on experiences where you can feed and touch the beautiful birds who love to show off for a treat.
If you are more of a porch bound bird watcher, and don’t like to venture out, you can always grab your binoculars and watch the birds from the deck of your private mountain cabin. Try checking out our cabins Star Dancer and Cloud Dancer. The beautiful private decks of these cabins look out over the National Park and we frequently see local birds perched on the railings. It’s the perfect opportunity to grab your field guide and camera and snap a picture. You never know what kind of avian visitors you might see.