Birds Watching

Birds Watching

Consider the Cardinal. After that, consider the Robin. You may still have time left to consider a Blue Jay and then a Yellow Warbler before the day is out. Then it’s time for dinner, and off to a Hardee’s or Burger King, where you can get a burger that’s bigger than a Toyota Prius.


The High Country is home to a wide range of birds. The Cardinal may be the state bird of North Carolina, but the Robin holds dominion in these mountains. The Robin can be recognized by its red breast. It is a common enough sight in yards and trees and even parking lots. Here are some places you can find Robins and Cardinals and others of their feathery ilk.

If you park your car at Moses Cone Park in Blowing Rock and then take one of the carriage trails, chances are better than good that you will see wild turkeys crossing the path ahead of you or flying through the trees on their way to deeper parts of the forest. It is known that Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national bird. One look at a wild turkey in flight and you’ll know why. Forget the ridiculous bird that we eat at Thanksgiving. A wild turkey is spectacular.

And ducks. From Bass Lake in Blowing Rock to Banner Elk Town Park, you can find the good old wood duck. While they may not be the most exciting bird around, there is something oddly fascinating when they submerge for a morsel of food and all that is visible are wildly churning hind flippers sticking up out of the water. But there is drama to be found in duck world. The very shiny head of the Mallard can be found at these places, too.

As you hike along the trails from Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain, you are more likely to hear a Woodpecker rather than see one. It sounds as if a very tiny person is playing a very tiny bongo drum deep in the woods. But if you stop to investigate, you may get lucky and see one. Woodpeckers are actually quite small, but their heads vary in color, and on any given walk through the woods, you might run into a red one banging away at a tree, and then a shiny green one, banging away at another tree.

The same goes for owls. You are more likely to hear them rather than see them. But if you are game, owls can be found at dusk. Falcons aren’t so particular with their hours. You can spot one soaring over the fire tower at Moses Cone or around Linville Gorge just about any time. When a falcon or a hawk catches an updraft, they seem to be able to go on forever without once beating their wings.

Nature keeps earlier hours than the average person, so if you want to see the variety of birds the High Country houses, it is best to get up early and greet the dawn with them. With the exception of the owl, most birds are early morning risers and get most of their chores (such as they are) done before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee. Bring binoculars and a guidebook. Most importantly, don’t leave food for the birds or approach a nest. Birds are extremely sensitive to disturbances in their nesting areas. Grab an eyeful of nature’s colorful birds. They sound nice, too.

Bird Chart:

Birders are notorious for their highly individualistic opinions, including which species are their favorites, and why. But there are a number of High Country avian residents and visitors - the feathered kind that is - that capture the hearts of just about everyone who sees them. Here's where to find them.

Peregrine Falcon - Once near extinction, this remarkable bird has been successfully 'hacked', ore reintroduced throughout much of its original range, including the mountains of North Carolina. Its 200 plus mph power dive - making it the fastest bird on earth - to catch its prey is perhaps the single most stunning sight in the bird world.

Look for the Peregrine on the Profile Cliffs of Grandfather Mountain, and in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, especially near Table Rock Cliffs.

Raven - It looks a lot like a crow, but the best field mark is the wedge, as opposed to fan tail of its more common cousin. It is also likely to flap less and soar more. The higher elevations of the Appalachians are its only year-round home east of the Rockies and south of Canada. Look for it along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in other open areas above 5,000 feet.

Indigo Bunting - The most beautiful bird in the world? No other creature has its electric blue color, and it can frequently be seen throughout the High Country in a lot of accessible locations; gardens, backyards, and wood margins.

Wild Turkey - The ugliest bird in the world? Never mind, this extremely striking and intelligent bird has been successfully reintroduced to its southern mountain range by conservation and hunting groups. Look for it both in remote clearings and balds, and increasingly in suburban and populated rural areas. Often travels in large groups.

Broad-Winged Hawk - If you areHawk startled by a very large raptor sitting unflappable on a telephone wire or tree limb just feet away from human activity, it will be a Broad-Wing - rather tame and unthreatening, until you see it launch from its perch to catch a mouse or other prey.

Canada Warbler - this northern species reaches the southern limits of its breeding or summer range on the higher peaks of the southern Appalachians, and can be recognized by its black throat 'necklace'.

See also:

Wildflowers | Daniel Boone Native Gardens

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