No sense talking Tennessee birds without acknowledging the Northern Mockingbird, the official state bird.
It lives year round in Tennessee and in fact, it is difficult to find a back yard in the state that does not see one at least one Mockingbird on a regular schedule, if not on a day to day basis. They have a habit of making themselves feel at home where ever they roam.
For mockingbirds, feeling at home means having the inspiration to sing, sometimes all day and all night. Equally as interesting, mockingbirds possess the ability to mimic the songs of dozens of bird species as well as the sounds of bells, whistles, frogs and other sound producing objects within their range of hearing.
It’s probably a stretch to assume that the Mockingbird can mimic the vocalizations of Tennessee’s approximately one hundred and seventy breeding birds, let along the approximately four hundred and twenty five different birds on the Tennessee birds checklist.
Tennessee birds can sometimes also read like a book. Mountains on the eastern borders, Mississippi River on the western border and a combination of grasslands and forests between make for a diverse birding adventure.
Mississippi Flyway and Tennessee
Thanks to the Mississippi Flyway, Tennessee has always been in the sights of migratory bird populations. Thanks to the West Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the migratory birds have ample space to relax and spread their wings.
The complex consists of five separate National Wildlife Refuges: Reelfoot NWR, Chickasaw NWR, Lower Hatchie NWR, Hatchie NWR and Lake Isom NWR. In the west, for example, the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge hosts 306 species of birds.
Winter at the refuges means ducks, ducks and more ducks. In fact two dozen different duck species have been documented. Population estimates suggest that during the average winter some 200,000 ducks call the refuges home. Mallards top the list as the most common species. Other common species include gadwall, wigeon, black duck, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, pintail, ring-necked duck, canvasback, lesser scaup, bufflehead, goldeneye, and ruddy ducks.
Spring in the refuges means neo-tropical migrants. Five of the more colorful and common visitors include, the always beautiful indigo bunting (pictured_), common yellowthroat, prothonotary warbler, yellow-billed
cuckoo, and summer tanager.
Country music fans always think Nashville, although they might not always associate the city with birds. While country songs about birds might not be as popular as country songs about Big Green Tractors, it would be a mistake of huge proportions to think that birds shy away from the Nashville area. The Tennessee Ornithological Society recommends the following five birding areas in and around the city.
- Bells Bend – A large pastoral park near Nashville with extensive open fields, fencerows, and hiking trails featuring grassland and shrubland species such as Henslow’s Sparrow and Willow Flycatcher.
- Radnor Lake: Waterfowl and woodland birds.
- Shelby Park and Bottoms: Field birds, woodland birds and water birds.
- Ellington Agricultural Center: Urban birding.
- Beaman Park: Springtime delights with thrushes, warblers, and tanagers.
The picture shows a bluebird, fairly common in the Nashville area. It’s also memorialized on the state’s Watchable Wildlife specialty license plate.
Smokey Mountains Birds
The Smokey Mountains along Tennessee’s eastern border are home to the Smokey Mountain National Park. The mountains are sufficiently high in altitude to host a variety of vegetative zones such as good old rocky top peaks and warmer low elevation woodlands.
In total the park hosts close to two hundred and fifty different bird species, half of them are listed as breeding birds, including 52 from the neo-tropics.
Tennessee hosts a variety of Grosbeaks. Three from the Cardinal family. The Evening Grosbeak, a finch, is a regular, though not common winter visitor to the state. Put out the fruit and nuts and they will arrive at the feeder. For a real treat, Tennessee birders keep their eyes open for the following three species:
- Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- Black-headed Grosbeak
- Blue Grosbeak
This page hosts pictures of some representative species of Tennessee birds. Please use the green birds button at the top of the page for help with general Tennessee bird identification issues.