Planning on going on a trip to the Smoky Mountains National Park?
Here are 40 bird species you are most likely to see during your visit. They are the most frequently reported by bird enthusiasts visiting the park.
The 40 birds listed here are not difficult to find and observe as they are generally large, fairly common, or rather vocal.
When it comes to the ease of seeing them, these are birds that favor mostly open or semi-open habitats where they can be readily spotted or heard calling.
The mountains and valleys of the Smoky Mountains National Park encompass several elevational gradients and habitats for many Appalachian birds. As many as 240 species have been recorded in the park.
The Smokies are important to resident and migratory birds. As many as 50% of the birds recorded in the park breed here including 21% of species that migrate from the Neotropical Region to breed in the region, including the Smokies.
Finding birds in the park is a matter of covering as many habitats as possible at different elevations. Many species are found throughout the park but some are more specific in their habitat preferences and can mostly be found at high elevations or at the bottom of the valleys.
Most of the birds listed here can readily be found in the Cades Cove Area.
The Smokies is composed of mostly wooded habitats where birds are mostly heard. The purpose of this list is to help with bird identification in the Smoky Mountains.
Species are arranged in descending order from the largest #1 to the smallest #40.
The 40 most popular birds of the Smoky Mountains National Park are as follow:
1. Wild Turkey
Unmistakable. One of the largest North American birds. Males have a bare red and blue head and neck with wrinkled skin. Females do not show much color in the head. Overall dark. Wild Turkeys move about in groups at forest edges and fields usually near the woods. Males engage in courtship display and gobbling in spring and early summer.
2. Red-tailed Hawk
Adult birds have a red-orange tail. Juvenile birds are paler overall and do not have the red-orange tail. The Red-tailed Hawk has a variety of different plumages that can be confusing. It is one of the most common hawks and can often be seen perched atop telephone poles and bare branches.
3. Red-shouldered Hawk
The breast and belly are orange-brown barred with white. The back is wings have a checkerboard pattern in shades of black, gray, and brown. Immature birds are a dull version of the adult with a streaked belly. A hawk usually seen perched still looking down for prey. It has a loud and peculiar voice.
4. Wood Duck
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The male Wood Duck has an ornate plumage. The female is brown with a distinctive eye-ring. The Wood Duck nests in natural cavities and also in nesting boxes placed near water. It is smaller than a Mallard and favors ponds, wetlands, and flooded woods.
5. American Crow
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All black, including bill and legs. Thick neck. In-flight, it shows long wings with rounded tips. Often found in flocks. It favors open and semi-open habitats and seldom enters woodlands.
6. Piliated Woodpecker
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A large, mostly black woodpecker with a patterned black and white neck and head. It has a conspicuous red top of the head and crest. It shows white underwings during its undulating flight. Normally seen perched vertically on trunks and branches. It favors hardwood forests. It can also be found in urban areas that have plenty of trees. It makes loud and distinctive drumming sounds.
7. Belted Kingfisher
The male is bluish-gray and white. The female is similar but has rusty on the belly. Both sexes have a strong bill and shaggy crest. Normally seen alone. Dive-plunges head-first from bare branches at the edge of ponds, lakes, and estuaries. Kingfishers produce a characteristic rattling noise mostly during flight.
8. Mourning Dove
Brown with black spots. The breast and belly are beige. The legs and feet are red. This small and chunky dove is widespread and uses a variety of different habitats, including urban areas. It does not enter continuous forests. Generally seen in pairs or small flocks.
9. Eastern Meadowlark
The Eastern Meadowlark has patterned upperparts (back) in shades of black and brown. The underparts are bright yellow with a black bib. The tail is mostly white with the central pairs of feathers brown. This is more noticeable when the bird flies. It is found exclusively in open fields with short grass.
10. Northern Flicker
Warm-brown with black barring above and large black dots on the underparts. It has a distinctive black crescent on the breast. It is frequently seen foraging on the ground. It is smaller than a pigeon and favors forest edges and open woodlands. Both sexes are similar in size and appearance except for a red mustache in the male.
11. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has a striking black head and back with pure white underparts and bright red-rose breast. The bill is pinkish white. The female has dusky upperparts. The underparts are brownish with dusky streaks. She has a broad white eyebrow. It forages in wooded habitats.
12. Common Grackle
It looks black from a distance. At close range, it has a glossy dark-greenish body with a black-blue head. It has a pale-yellow eye that contrasts with its dark head. It is often found in flocks. It favors open habitats, including fields and urban areas. The female has a duller plumage.
13. Brown Thrasher
The Brown Thrasher has rich rufous upperparts with heavily streaked underparts. It has a long tail and yellow eyes. It generally forages for food in thick vegetation on or near the ground. Its song resembles that of the mockingbird.
14. Blue Jay
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Blue and white back and head with black markings. The breast and belly are whitish. It has a prominent crest. It is one of the most familiar American birds. Usually seen in pairs or noisy family flocks of 3 to 5 individuals. Males and females look alike. It favors semi-open woodlands and urban areas.
15. American Robin
Bluish-gray back and rich brown breast and belly. The head is blackish with an orange bill. Both sexes look alike. Juvenile birds have black spots on the breast. Seen alone or in flocks, particularly during the non-breeding season. It is one of the most familiar North American birds.
16. Wood Thrush
The Wood Thrush has rufous-brown upperparts and top of the head. The underparts are white with black spots. It has a beautiful song; which is characteristic of the northern woodlands. It forages for food on or near the ground.
17. Red-bellied Woodpecker
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Black and white barring on the back with light grayish-beige sides of the head, breast, and belly. The top of the head and nape are red in the male. The female has red only on the nape. It is the most common woodpecker in North America. Found in a variety of semi-open habitats, including urban parks and backyards.
18. Red-headed Woodpecker
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A beautiful woodpecker with a bright redhead. The back is bicolored dark blue and white. The breast and belly are pure white. It is often seen in pairs or family groups in lightly wooded areas with short vegetation or only grasses. It also uses sub-urban habitats. It flashes black and white during flight.
19. Red-winged Blackbird
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The male is black with bright red shoulder patches. The female is brown with blackish spots and streaks. Both sexes have a conical and pointy bill. It breeds in wetlands. It is slightly larger than a sparrow and favors open areas. It often forms large flocks during the non-breeding season.
20. Eastern Kingbird
Gray back and top of the head. The throat breast and belly are white. It has a conspicuous white terminal band on the tip of the tail. Both sexes look alike. It favors open country or sparsely vegetated habitats where it is often seen perched on top of poles or top of short trees.
21. Brown-headed Cowbird
The male is glossy black with a brown head. The female is brown overall. Both sexes have a thick stubby bill. It favors open habitats where it is often seen in flocks in the company of other blackbirds. Unlike other birds, it walks on the ground rather than hopping.
22. Baltimore Oriole
The male has a striking black and orange plumage. The breast and belly are pure oranges in color. The tail is yellow and black. The female is overall dull orange with a blackish back. Both sexes have a sharp grayish-blue conical bill. It favors deciduous forest and semi-open woodlands.
23. Orchard Oriole
The male has a black head and upper back. The underparts are chestnut. The wings have a chestnut bar. The female has yellow-olive upperparts and yellowish underparts. The wings are slightly darker with white wing bars. It forages in open woodlands, forest edges, and open habitats with scattered trees.
24. Scarlet Tanager
The male Scarlet Tanager is bright red with black wings and tail in breeding plumage. The female is a yellowish-brown body with dusky wings. Males in non-breeding plumage are similar to the female with black wings. Its song is characteristic and easy to remember.
25. Northern Cardinal
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The Northern Cardinal is perhaps one of the most familiar North American birds. Males are bright red and females are a warm brown. They can be found in woodlands and urban habitats. It is about the size of a sparrow and favors semi-open habitats.
26. Gray Catbird
The aptly named Gray Catbirds is all gray with a solid black cap. Both sexes look alike. It favors thick understory and vine tangles where it searches for berries. It produces cells that resemble those of a cat, hence the name.
27. Cedar Waxwing
Warm brown overall with a yellowish belly. It has a yellow terminal tail band and waxy red tips on the secondary flight feathers, hence its name. It shows a black mask and a bushy crest. It forms fast-flying flocks during the non-breeding season.
28. Blue-headed Vireo
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The Blue-headed Vireo is distinguished by its white spectacles that contrast with the gray-blue color of its head. It is usually found along with mixed-species flocks in wooded areas of the park. It is slightly smaller than a sparrow and favors woodlands.
29. Downy Woodpecker
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Patterned black and white back and head. The breast and belly are pure white. The male and female are similar except for a red spot on the nape of the male. Generally seen alone or in pairs in semi-open habitats, including urban areas.
30. Eastern Bluebird
The males have a bright blue back and top of the head with orange breast and sides of the belly. The female is a very dull version of the male with little to no blue on the back. It favors open fields such as pastures and savanna habitats, where it often perches on utility wires and poles.
31. Field Sparrow
It has a patterned back in shades of brown, gray, and blackish. The underparts are generally gray. The top of the head is rufous. It is easily distinguished from other sparrows by its small pink bill. It forages in overgrown fields and similar brushy areas. Often with other sparrow species.
32. Chipping Sparrow
It has a patterned back in shades of brown and blackish. The underparts are gray. It has a characteristic rufous cap and black line through the eye. The bill is dark. It forages on the ground generally in grassy areas and short brush in open areas.
33. Barn Swallow
It has blue upperparts and rufous to pale buffy underparts. The throat and forehead are rich rufous. It has a long forked tail. It is rather common and almost always seen flying low over open fields. Barn Swallows build cup nests on buildings, barns and other similar structures.
34. Tufted Titmouse
It has a gray back, tail, and top of the head. It has a characteristic crest or tuft. The sides of the face, throat, and belly are pale. It has reddish-brown flanks. It has a black short and stubby bill. Both sexes look alike. It favors woodlands where it is found in pairs along with mixed-species flocks.
35. Indigo Bunting
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Breeding males are striking blue with a bluish-gray bill. The female is overall brown. Non-breeding males are brown blotched with blue. They are found alone in hedgerows, and thick understory at the edges of woodlands.
36. American Goldfinch
The male is bright yellow with a black forehead in spring and summer. The female is brown. Both sexes turn brown and look more alike during the winter. It is smaller than a sparrow and favors forest edges, semi-open woodlands, and urban habitats.
37. White-breasted Nuthatch
Black cap and nape with bluish-gray back. The sides of the head, breast, and belly are white. Both sexes look alike. It is one of the few birds that creep on trunks and branches in all directions, often upside down. It favors deciduous forest and semi-open habitats, including urban areas.
38. Carolina Wren
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It has a rich brown back barred with dusky towards the tail. The breast and belly are buffy-brown. It has a conspicuous white eyebrow. Both sexes look alike. It is a great singer that forages near the ground in a variety of habitat types, including urban environments.
39. Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee and throat with white cheeks. Very small with a thick neck and large head. It has a short and stubby black bill. Both sexes look alike. They are more often found following mixed-species flocks. It is smaller than a sparrow and favors woodland areas.
40. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The male has a greenish back and cap and a coppery-red iridescent throat. The belly is gray and greenish. The female is similar but lacks the iridescent red throat and has a pale belly. It is the only hummingbird that breeds in the Eastern United States and Canada.
- Birds of Acadia National Park
- Wildlife of Acadia National Park (Mammals)
- Wildlife of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Mammals)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Visitor’s Guide