Winter is a great time to go birdwatching! I love it because with no leaves on the trees, the birds are MUCH easier to see! Everyone knows that most birds fly south for the winter, but did you ever consider that the Smokies might be “south” for many birds of the north?
Cades Cove is a great place to see lots of birds, especially hawks. On my last birdwatching trip to Cade’s Cove, here is what I saw:
There were lots of red-shouldered hawks perched in trees, watching for potential prey in the fields below. These raptors are difficult to see in the summer because they spend most of their time in the forest. However they are one of the most vocal hawks so they are often heard in the woods. We must have seen 5 or 6 of these beautiful birds in the Cove! We also saw a Northern Harrier ( formerly called a Marsh Hawk). We didn’t see any on this trip, but as the most common North American hawk, Red-tailed Hawks are likely any time of year.
Woodpeckers seem to love winter! At least they always seem to be easy to find in the colder months. We saw several species including Pileated Woodpecker (right), North Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Downy Woodpecker. We didn’t see any Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, but they are usually around. These birds are uncommon in warmer months, but fairly common in the winter, so grab a field guide, and see if you can find one of these cool woodpeckers!
I’ll admit, if you are a new to birding, sparrows may not be the easiest or most exciting birds to watch. But once you learn a little bit about them, they start to become more interesting. Winter is a great time to see lots of different sparrows. Most people would recognize a junco, but did you know they are a type of sparrow? We saw a large mixed flock of Juncos and Fox Sparrows foraging on the ground in the Cove. Fox Sparrows are really cool birds because they look so different in different parts of the country! I have seen Fox Sparrows in the West where they are very dark colored. Here in Cade’s Cove I was shocked to find that they are mostly red! Other sparrows we saw in Cade’s Cove are Song Sparrow and Field Sparrow.
Other birds we saw in the Cove included Wild Turkeys, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice. If finding these winter birds sounds like fun, then bundle up in your warmest jacket and wear some thermals under your pants. Grab a pair of binoculars and a field guide (I would recommend Peterson or Sibley) and head to Cade’s Cove.
If standing out in the cold weather does not appeal to you, you can still see lots of cool birds from the comfort of your own home! Hang up a bird feeder and you will likely get at least 5 different species! The all time favorite seed is the sunflower seed, which will attract several species to your yard! Some of the most common feeder birds around here are the Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal. Try a suet feeder to attract woodpeckers or a thistle feeder to attract finches!
Learn more about these birds and others at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Website: All About Birds!
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