The Warner Parks are located in southwest Davidson County nine miles from downtown Nashville. They were established between 1927 and 1932 and have for decades been premier birding and bird study sites (more on bird study below). The two park units, Edwin Warner and Percy Warner Parks, span 2,684 acres of wooded hills and valleys, open meadows, and wet weather springs and streams. Located within the Nashville Basin, the parks' rugged hills and ridges rise 400 feet above the floodplain of the Little Harpeth River. This river and Willow Pond provide permanent water sources. The diverse habitats for birds include mature beech-maple and oak-hickory forests, secondary growth areas, shrubby thickets, and mowed and unmowed fields.
As the largest municipally administered parks in Tennessee, the Warner Parks preserve a unique natural area and provide citizens with outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities. The Warner Park Nature Center (see below for directions) is a year-round facility where visitors may enjoy the local natural history museum, the library, an organic vegetable and herb garden, beehives, a wildflower garden, and more.
Warner Parks Nature Center (left) and a park trailhead (right). Photos by Ed Gleaves.
The Warner Parks Nature Center at 7311 Highway 100- in Edwin Warner Park, is a good place to start a Warner Parks birding trip. From Nashville or Memphis, take I-40 exit 199 (Old Hickory Boulevard), turn left and follow Old Hickory Boulevard for 4 miles to Highway 100. Turn left and go 0.2 miles to the Edwin Warner Park entrance and turn right into the Park. Follow the Park drive to the left for 0.3 miles to the Nature Center (coordinates 36.06084 N, -86.91117).
Coming from the south or southeast via I-65, take the Old Hickory Boulevard West exit in Brentwood and follow Old Hickory Boulevard 7.5 miles to Highway 100. Turn left onto Highway 100 and go 0.3 miles to the Edwin Warner Park entrance and turn left into the Park. Follow the Park drive to the left for 0.3 miles to the Nature Center.
For a Google map and directions to the Nature Center, enter either your full starting address including town and state OR your zip code:
BIRDING THE WARNER PARKS
What to Look For
The Warner Parks avifauna is mostly characterized by woodland and field-edge species including a wide variety of warblers, vireos, woodpeckers, and thrushes. Fifteen species of raptors and owls are included on the Checklist of Birds of the Warner Parks (see links below). Occasional shorebirds, ducks, herons, and other water birds are found when conditions are good.
The Checklist provides a listing of 184 species reported in the parks, noting their frequency (regularly, irregularly, or formerly occurred) and the seasons in which they may be seen. Also noted are species that have nested in the parks in recent years, as well as those that formerly nested in the parks.
A class of student birders enjoys a Northern Flicker. Photo by Sandy Bivens.
For an area without a major body of water, the Warner Parks are remarkably fruitful when it comes to birding. During the ten-year period 1999-2008*, 147 species were recorded within the borders of the parks and the contiguous property of Cheekwood Mansion. Spring bird counts over that period averaged 78 species; the fall counts, 57 species; and Christmas counts, 39 species. Interestingly, reports of species seen during these seasonal counts over the past five years have trended higher in the 10-20% range over the previous five years. Whether this is due to an actual increase in bird population or more activity on the part of birders has not been determined.
What can a birder expect to see in the Warner Parks? The 1999-2008 sighting records reveal a surprising variety of birds, with the most frequently reported, in descending order, being:: Common Grackle, American Robin, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, European Starling, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Blue Jay, White-throated Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, American Crow, Black Vulture, Indigo Bunting, Red-wing Blackbird, House Finch, Eastern Towhee, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Field Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, and White-breasted Nuthatch.
Some of the lesser known birds observed in the Warner Parks over the past decade are Black-crowned Night Heron, Merlin, Least Sandpiper, Eurasian Collared Dove, Loggerhead Shrike, Veery, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Purple Finch, Lark Sparrow, and Blue Grosbeak.
No less than 31 species of warblers have been reported over the same time period, including Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Connecticut Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler. Louisiana Waterthrushes regularly nest along the creek that runs by the Nature Center.
A Warner Park pond in winter (left) and Black Vulture (right). Photos by Ed Gleaves.
Where to Look for Birds in the Warner Parks
Most birding activities begin with the Nature Center, where feeding stations can be viewed without disturbing the birds. A second feeding station can be found a short walk along the Hungry Hawk Trail, part of a network of trails in the Warner Parks. Birds found in the vicinity of the Nature Center include the usual feeder birds—chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, wrens, cardinals, towhees, jays, and finches—and, during the winter, juncos and various sparrows.
The fields and woods adjoining the Nature Center and continuing along Highway 100 play host to numerous American Kestrels, Purple Martins (martin houses provided free of charge), Barn Swallows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Chimney Swifts, Field Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, Northern Mockingbirds, American Robins, American Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Common Yellowthroats. Wild Turkeys, rarely seen a decade ago, have become quite common along the roads—and especially on the adjacent golf course on Old Hickory Boulevard, while raptors are commonly seen there and at the Steeplechase grounds. Black Vultures like to perch high atop telephone poles overlooking the Nature Center.
The deciduous woodlands occupying much of the parks are home to, among many other birds, owls, woodpeckers, flycatchers, gnatcatchers, thrushes, vireos, and warblers. Deep Woods, Beech Woods, and Indian Springs picnic areas in Percy Warner, good spots for viewing woodland birds, are all easily accessible by road.
The riparian belt along the Little Harpeth River will turn up occasional ducks, sandpipers, herons, kingfishers, flycatchers and other birds seeking running water and insects.
Like any good birding area, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. No simple listing of the birds of the Warner Parks will predict just what a given birder might see on a given day. Thus each day is one of great expectations.
BIRD STUDY AT WARNER PARKS
The Nature Center is home to bird exhibits, study skin collections, and a highly active bird banding station. As of early 2009, approximately 15,000 birds have been banded at the Warner Park station.
For over fifty years, volunteers have coordinated the Bird Casualty Study at the WSMV Tower in Nashville, resulting in a 1998 master’s thesis at Middle Tennesssee State University and summarized in The Migrant.
The oldest continuously operated Eastern Bluebird nesting box program in the state was started in 1936 by nationally known ornithologist Amelia Laskey. Today this research is continued by Nature Center staff and volunteers.
Since 1985 the Nature Center staff has maintained records as part of the Breeding Bird Census. The Warner Parks are also listed as one of Audubon’s Important Birds Areas, one of 28 in Tennessee.
DeLorme Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer page 53, Grid D-4.
Contributed by Ed Gleaves and Sandy Bivens, June 2009
*Records include all spring, fall, and Christmas bird counts taken by the Nashville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (NTOS), plus occasional personal records by Edwin S. Gleaves.