Misty mountains fall away to reveal woods and waterfalls, open fields and meandering rivers as one takes in the topographical scope of Southern state, Tennessee. Framed to the east by the and to the west by the mighty Mississippi, Tennessee plays host to good a variety of bird species thanks to its diverse habitats as well as its location on the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways. For bird watching with scenery to match, Tennessee gets a star of approval.
Some of the best birding state-wide is in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where foothills, hardwood forest and mountains shelter species like the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Wildlife refuges close to the Mississippi River are a sea of noisy waterfowl during peak migration periods, but look also around places like Reelfoot Lake for soaring Bald Eagles. Forest interior species make up the bulk of the bird watching in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, while closer to big city, greenways shelter migrant songbirds, which flock to the treetops in late spring and early summer. As you bird your way across the state, watch for local specialties like the Indigo Bunting, Red-bellied Woodpecker and noisy Northern Mockingbird.
Shelby Bottoms Greenway:
At 810 acres, the Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Nature Park would be hard to get lost in but, considering its location in East Nashville, makes for a worthwhile urban bird watching stop. Bird boxes along park trails burgeon with singing Tree Swallows come spring, but there are a further number of migratory bird species that also enjoy a break here seasonally. The Cumberland River Bridge links Shelby Bottoms Greenway to Stone River Greenway.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
With a topographical range that includes foothills, hardwood forest, open fields and the lofty Smoky Mountains, this national park plays host throughout the year to as many as 240 bird species, 60 of which are resident year-round. Watch for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker as well as more common species like the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting and Belted Kingfisher as you bird watch your way through the park’s different habitats.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area:
There have been about 160 recorded bird species in this scenic national recreation area on the Cumberland Plateau between river and sandstone bluffs. Scope mostly for forest interior species like the Hairy or Pileated Woodpecker with an influx of migratory birds late spring and summer.
Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge:
This 25,006-acre refuge is situated in the Lower Mississippi River floodplain but also takes in a large expanse of hardwood forest. Waterfowl migrating down the Mississippi Flyway stop here in the tens of thousands; watch for Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Pintails, Teals, Wigeons and more during peak season.
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge:
Due to its proximity to the the Mississippi River, Reelfoot Lake ranks as an important stopover for migratory birds. This 10,428 acre refuge takes in a northern stretch of lake, a good place to watch for migrating Bald Eagles and waterfowl in season.
An important stopover for migrant songbirds but also readily accessible, Sharp’s Ridge sees a steady stream of Knoxville birders in late April and early May. Mornings are the best time to watch for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, tanagers, thrushes, warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings and more.