A Checklist of the
Birds of the
National Forest


The Cherokee National Forest (CNF) is located in the Unaka range of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The diverse habitats found here include coniferous forests of red spruce, pine and hemlock in addition to cove and northern hardwood forests, mixed oak-hickory forests, treeless "balds," wide rivers, and narrow cascading streams. Elevations range from about 700 feet to over 6,000 feet above sea level.

These forest lands were originally purchased in 1912 and were organized into two separate national forests. In 1936, all Forest Service lands in the state were consolidated into the Cherokee National Forest that now includes over 636,000 acres. The forest is actively managed under the concept of ecosystem management for wildlife, recreation, timber, water and other resources, by the USDA Forest Service.


To date, 262 bird species are known to reside here year-round or to visit the Forest seasonally. Birds are very mobile creatures, and you are encouraged to study their movements. Some species, including the red-breasted nuthatch and brown creeper, nest at or near the southern limits of their range here and undergo seasonal, altitudinal migrations. They are found at the highest elevations during the summer nesting season and at variable elevations during other seasons.

Eighty-seven species found here are long-distance neotropical migrants that nest in North America and spend their wintering period primarily south of the United States. Numbers of many of these birds have declined in recent years for reasons that are not fully understood, but may be related to forest fragmentation and loss of habitat in both the temperate and tropical zones. An international initiative called Partners in Flight/Aves de las Americas, formed in 1990, is dedicated to the conservation of these birds.

Many migrant species are found within the CNF during both migration and the nesting season. Abundance codes listed for these species describe numbers of birds during the nesting season, and do not reflect the temporary influx of higher numbers of migrants. A bird in migration often uses a wider variety of habitats than the same bird during nesting season; nesting birds are often very habitat-specific.

This checklist is a reference to all lands within the proclamation boundary of the Forest, including nonforested private inholdings and several large reservoirs (a total of over 1.2 million acres). The Forest is divided into two distinct "halves" by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In some cases the seasonal status or abundance of a bird species may differ between the "north end" and the "south end" of the forest. In this checklist, this difference is noted by the two status codes for the same season. The "southern" status codes precede the "northern" status codes, and these are separated by a comma.

The nomenclature and arrangement of species follows the A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds 7th Edition (1998).
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R-Permanent Resident
S-Summer Resident
W-Winter Visitor

A - Abundant: over 25 individuals on a given day in proper habitat/season.
C - Common: 5-25 individuals on a given day in proper habitat/season.
F - Fairly Common: at least one individual per day in proper habitat/season.
U - Uncommon: at least one individual per season of occurrence or several individuals per year.
O - Occasional: one individual per year or less.
X - Rare/Accidental: has occurred at least once but is not to be expected.

le - low elevation (mostly below 3,500 ft.)
he - high elevation (mostly above 3,500 ft.)
s - shrub/sapling
m - mixed coniferous/deciduous forest
s/f - red spruce and/or Fraser fir forest
l - lake/shoreline
g - grassy fields/balds
d - deciduous forest
c - coniferous forest

* - confirmed breeder
*? - suspected breeder
+ - recently reintroduced

LOONS (Gaviidae)
_____Red-throated Loon XM l
_____Common Loon FW, UW l

GREBES (Podicipedidae)
_____Pied-billed Grebe UW l
_____Horned Grebe UW l
_____Red-necked Grebe XW l

PELICANS (Pelicanidae)
_____American White Pelican X l

CORMORANTS (Phalacrocoracidae)
_____Double-crested Cormorant UW, OW l

HERONS (Ardeidae)
_____American Bittern X l
_____Great Blue Heron OR-UW l
_____"Great White Heron" X l
_____Great Egret OM l
_____Snowy Egret OM l
_____Little Blue Heron OM l
_____Green Heron *FS l
_____Black-crowned Night-Heron OM l

IBISES (Threskiornithidae)
_____White Ibis XM l

VULTURES (Cathartidae)
_____Black Vulture *FR, *UR
_____Turkey Vulture *CR

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_____Greater White-fronted Goose XM l
_____Snow Goose OW l
_____Canada Goose UR, *FR l
_____Tundra Swan OW l (south only)
_____Wood Duck *UR, *FR l
_____Gadwall UW, FM l
_____American Wigeon UW l
_____American Black Duck CW, UW l
_____Mallard *CR, *UR l
_____Blue-winged Teal FM, UM l
_____Northern Shoveler FM, UM l
_____Northern Pintail UW, OW l
_____Green-winged Teal UW l
_____Canvasback OM l
_____Redhead UM l
_____Ring-necked Duck FW l
_____Greater Scaup UW l
_____Lesser Scaup FW l
_____Harlequin Duck XW l (north only)
_____Surf Scoter OW l (north only)
_____White-winged Scoter OW l (north only)
_____Black Scoter XM l (north only)
_____Oldsquaw OW l (north only)
_____Bufflehead FW, CW l
_____Common Goldeneye UW l
_____Hooded Merganser FWM, UW l
_____Red-breasted Merganser UM l
_____Common Merganser OW l
_____Ruddy Duck UW l

HAWKS AND EAGLES (Accipitridae)
_____Osprey UM l
_____Swallow-tailed Kite X
_____Bald Eagle *UW, UR+ l
_____Northern Harrier UW, g
_____Sharp-shinned Hawk UR, *UR c,m
_____Cooper's Hawk *UR c,m
_____Northern Goshawk OW c,m (north only)
_____Red-shouldered Hawk *?UR, UM d,m
_____Broad-winged Hawk *CS d
_____Red-tailed Hawk *CR, *FR d,m
_____Rough-legged Hawk X g

_____Golden Eagle OW g

FALCONS (Falconidae)
_____American Kestrel *?CR, *FR
_____Merlin OM
_____Peregrine Falcon OM, UR+

_____Ruffed Grouse *FR d,m,c
_____Wild Turkey *UR g,s,m

QUAILS (Odontophoridae)
_____Northern Bobwhite *UR g,s

_____Sora OM
_____Common Moorhen XM
_____American Coot FW l

CRANES (Gruidae)
_____Sandhill Crane OM, XM

PLOVERS (Charadriidae)
_____Semipalmated Plover UM l
_____Killdeer *FR

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SANDPIPERS (Scolopacidae)
_____Greater Yellowlegs FM, UM l
_____Lesser Yellowlegs FM, UM l
_____Solitary Sandpiper FM l
_____Willet OM l
_____Spotted Sandpiper FM l
_____Upland Sandpiper XM g
_____Whimbrel XM g
_____Ruddy Turnstone XM l
_____Sanderling UM l
_____Semipalmated Sandpiper UM l
_____Western Sandpiper OM l
_____Least Sandpiper FM l
_____White-rumped Sandpiper OM l
_____Baird's Sandpiper OM l
_____Pectoral Sandpiper UM l
_____Dunlin UM l
_____Stilt Sandpiper OM l
_____Buff-breasted Sandpiper XM g
_____Dowitcher species OM l
_____Common Snipe UW g l
_____American Woodcock *UR s,g
_____Wilson's Phalarope XM l
_____Red Phalarope XM l

_____Pomarine Jaeger X l
_____Parasitic Jaeger X l
_____Laughing Gull X l
_____Bonaparte's Gull UW l
_____Ring-billed Gull CW l
_____Herring Gull UW l
_____Caspian Tern UM l
_____Royal Tern X l
_____Common Tern OM l
_____Forster's Tern UM l
_____Sooty Tern X l
_____Black Tern UM l


_____Rock Dove *UR
_____Mourning Dove *CR m,s,g

CUCKOOS (Cuculidae)
_____Black-billed Cuckoo *US d,m
_____Yellow-billed Cuckoo *FS d,m,s

BARN OWLS (Tytonidae)
_____Barn Owl *?OR g,d,m

TYPICAL OWLS (Strigidae)
_____Eastern Screech-Owl *CR d,m le
_____Great Horned Owl *FR c,d,m
_____Barred Owl *FR c,d,m
_____Northern Saw-whet Owl *?OR, *UR s/f,m he

GOATSUCKERS (Caprimulgidae)
_____Common Nighthawk *?FM/OS
_____Chuck-will's-widow *?FS c,m,d le
_____Whip-poor-will *CS c,m,d

SWIFTS (Apodidae)
_____Chimney Swift *CS

HUMMINGBIRDS (Trochilidae)
_____Ruby-throated Hummingbird *FS d,m

KINGFISHERS (Alcedinidae)
_____Belted Kingfisher *FR l le

_____Red-headed Woodpecker *?UR, *?OR d le
_____Red-bellied Woodpecker *CR, *FR d,m le
_____Yellow-bellied Sapsucker *US d he/FW d,m le

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_____Downy Woodpecker *CR d,m
_____Hairy Woodpecker *FR d,m,c,s/f
_____Red-cockaded Woodpecker (extirpated)
_____Northern Flicker *CR, d,m,c
_____Pileated Woodpecker *CR d,m,c

_____Olive-sided Flycatcher OS m,c he
_____Eastern Wood-Pewee *CS d,m le
_____Yellow-bellied Flycatcher OM
_____Acadian Flycatcher *CS d,m le
_____Alder Flycatcher UM, *FS s he
_____Willow Flycatcher *?US s le
_____Least Flycatcher *?US, *FS d
_____Eastern Phoebe *UW/FS d,m,s
_____Great Crested Flycatcher *FS d,m
_____Eastern Kingbird *FS g,s le

SHRIKES (Laniidae)
_____Loggerhead Shrike *?OR g,s

VIREOS (Vireonidae)
_____White-eyed Vireo *FS s le
_____Blue-headed Vireo *FS d,m,s/f
_____Yellow-throated Vireo *US d,m le
_____Warbling Vireo *OS 1 with d,m (north only)
_____Philadelphia Vireo OM
_____Red-eyed Vireo *AS d,m,c

_____Blue Jay *CR d,m,c,s/f
_____American Crow *CR d,m,c,s/f
_____Common Raven *?UR, *FR d,m,s/f he

LARKS (Alaudidae)
_____Horned Lark *US g, (north only)

SWALLOWS (Hirundinidae)
_____Purple Martin *US
_____Tree Swallow *US l
_____Northern Rough-winged Swallow *FS
_____Bank Swallow OM
_____Barn Swallow *FS
_____Cliff Swallow OS

_____Carolina Chickadee *CR d,m,c
_____Black-capped Chickadee *UR, *?OR d,m,s/f he
_____Tufted Titmouse *CR d,m,c

_____Red-breasted Nuthatch *UR, *FR d,m,c,s/f he;
         F-UW le
_____White-breasted Nuthatch *CR d,m,c
_____Brown-headed Nuthatch *OR m,c (south on

CREEPERS (Certhiidae)
_____Brown Creeper *?UR, *?UR he; FW le

WRENS (Troglodytidae)
_____Carolina Wren *CR s,d,m,c
_____Bewick's Wren (extirpated)
_____House Wren *US, *FS d,m
_____Winter Wren *FR, *CR d,m,s/f he
_____Sedge Wren OM
_____Marsh Wren OM

KINGLETS (Regulidae)
_____Golden-crowned Kinglet *FR, *CR m,s/f he; FW
_____Ruby-crowned Kinglet FM/UW

SILVIIDAE (Old World Warblers)
_____Blue-gray Gnatcatcher *CS d,m,c

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THRUSHES (Turdidae)
_____Eastern Bluebird *UR g,s
_____Veery *FS d,m, s/f he
_____Gray-cheeked Thrush UM d,m,c
_____Swainson's Thrush FM d,m,c
_____Hermit Thrush FW, *OS s/f he/FW d,m,c
_____Wood Thrush *CS d,m
_____American Robin *CR g,s,d,m,c,s/f

STARLINGS (Sturnidae)
_____European Starling *UR, d,m,g

_____Gray Catbird *CSXW s
_____Northern Mockingbird *UR s
_____Brown Thrasher *FS/OW s,d,m

PIPITS (Moticillidae)
_____American Pipit UW, UM g
_____Sprague's Pipit XW

WAXWINGS (Bombycillidae)
_____Cedar Waxwing *CR d,m,s/f

_____Blue-winged Warbler *US s, le
_____Golden-winged Warbler *?US,*US s
_____Tennessee Warbler CM
_____Orange-crowned Warbler OM
_____Nashville Warbler UM
_____Northern Parula *FS d,m
_____Yellow Warbler *?FS, *FS s
_____Chestnut-sided Warbler *CS s he
_____Magnolia Warbler FM, *?FS s/f he
_____Cape May Warbler CM
_____Black-throated Blue Warbler *CS d,m,s/f he

_____Yellow-rumped Warbler CW d,m,c,s
_____Black-throated Gray Warbler X
_____Black-throated Green Warbler *AS, *CS d,m
_____Blackburnian Warbler *FS d,m,s/f he
_____Yellow-throated Warbler *FS d,m,c le
_____Pine Warbler *AS, *CS, c le
_____Prairie Warbler *FS, *US, s le
_____Palm Warbler FM
_____Bay-breasted Warbler FM
_____Blackpoll Warbler FM spring; OM fall
_____Cerulean Warbler *?OS d
_____Black-and-white Warbler *FS d,m,c
_____American Redstart *FS d,m le
_____Prothonotary Warbler UM/*?OS d l le
_____Worm-eating Warbler *FS d,m le
_____Swainson's Warbler *?US, *?FS d,m
_____Ovenbird *AS, d,m,c
_____Northern Waterthrush FM
_____Louisiana Waterthrush *FS d,m le
_____Kentucky Warbler *FS d,m le
_____Connecticut Warbler OM
_____Mourning Warbler OM
_____Common Yellowthroat *FS g,s
_____Hooded Warbler *CS d,m
_____Wilson's Warbler OM
_____Canada Warbler *CS s,m,s/f he
_____Yellow-breasted Chat *FS s

TANAGERS (Thraupidae)
_____Summer Tanager *US,*?US d,m le
_____Scarlet Tanager *CS d,m

SPARROWS (Emberizidae)
_____Eastern Towhee *CR, s
_____Bachman's Sparrow *?OS, X g,s
_____Chipping Sparrow *CS/OW d,m,c,s,g
_____Field Sparrow *FS g,s
_____Vesper Sparrow UM, *US g he
_____Savannah Sparrow UW/UM g

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_____Grasshopper Sparrow OM, OS g
_____Henslow's Sparrow XM g,s
_____Fox Sparrow OW, UW s,d,m
_____Song Sparrow *CR s
_____Lincoln's Sparrow OM
_____Swamp Sparrow OW s,g
_____White-throated Sparrow CW s,d,m
_____White-crowned Sparrow OW s,g
_____Dark-eyed Junco *AR d,m,s/f he; CW le
_____Lapland Longspur X
_____Snow Bunting OW g he (north only)

_____Northern Cardinal *CR s,d,m
_____Rose-breasted Grosbeak *FS d,m he
_____Blue Grosbeak *US g,s
_____Indigo Bunting *AS d,m,c,s

BLACKBIRDS (Icteridae)
_____Bobolink OM g
_____Red-winged Blackbird *UR, *FR g,s
_____Eastern Meadowlark *UR, *FR g
_____Rusty Blackbird UW s,d
_____Common Grackle *UR, *CR s,g,d,m,c le
_____Brown-headed Cowbird *CR s,g,d,m,c
_____Orchard Oriole *?FS, *US d le
_____Northern Oriole *US d le

FINCHES (Fringillidae)
_____Purple Finch UW d,m,c (XS he north only)
_____House Finch *?UR s,d,m,c
_____Red Crossbill OR,*?UR c,s/f he
_____White-winged Crossbill OW (north only)
_____Pine Siskin A-UW d,m,c,s/f; *?OS he
_____American Goldfinch *CR s,d,m
_____Evening Grosbeak OW,O-FW d,m,c,s/f

_____House Sparrow *UR urban or farms

     Hamel, Paul. Tennessee Wildlife Viewing Guide. Helena and Millings, MT: Falcon Press, 1993.
     Gemmill, D., R. Wauer, and W. Boyle, eds. Birdfinding in Forty National Forests and Grasslands. Colorado Springs, CO: American Birding Association, 1994.

The CNF welcomes all well-documented records of unusual sightings and breeding confirmation for "suspected breeders." Contact Forest Biologist, Cherokee National Forest, P.O. Box 2010, Cleveland, TN 37320.

This checklist was originally produced by The Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, a nonprofit educational organization, in partnership with the Cherokee National Forest, East Tennessee State University, and the Tennessee Ornithological Society.

Originally Compiled by Dr. Fred J. Alsop III and Cathi J. Sullins, August 1993.
Reviewed by R. L. Knight, C. P. Nicholson and Dr. S. J. Stedman
Revised by Charles P. Nicholson, June 2000