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Grandfather Mountain

Curtis Smalling

County: Avery

Key Birds: Summer: Peregrine Falcon, Winter Wren, Magnolia, Blackburnian, and Canada Warblers, Veery, Hermit and Wood Thrushes, Yellow-throated and Blue-headed Vireos, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, and Hooded Warblers, and Ovenbird. Winter: Evening Grosbeak and Purple Finch. Year Round: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Saw-whet and Barred Owls, Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Common Raven, American Crow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped and Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and Red Crossbill.

Best Times to Bird: Migration seasons and breeding season are excellent. Winter birding can be brutal with very few birds seen except at the feeders at the nature museum, except for irruptive years, then winter finches including Common Redpoll and White-winged Crossbills are possibilities and worth the effort.

Google Map


Description: Grandfather Mountain is the world's only privately owned International Biosphere Preserve. Encompassing some 3,000 acres, this southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Mountains hosts a large variety of breeding birds, possibly the highest assemblage of anywhere on the east coast. At 5,964 feet above sea level, the mountains are high enough to support extensive spruce fir forest and the birds that depend on that habitat. Numerous rocky outcrops support Peregrine Falcon and Common Raven, and ample heath bald, cove forest, and mixed forest areas support broad diversity of bird species.

Twelve miles of privately maintained trails, together with ten or more miles of National Park Service Trails offer birders excellent access to the backcountry on Grandfather. It is a rugged mountain, however, and should not be approached recklessly. There is an admission charged and hiking fees are required. Picnic facilities, restrooms, gift shops, restaurant, captive animal habitats, and an excellent nature museum are all available. Backcountry rangers patrol trails daily in summer months.

Directions: From Boone, take Hwy 105 south 17 miles to Linville. At traffic light in Linville follow signs to Grandfather via Hwy 221 north. At 2 miles on 221N enter Grandfather Mountain through toll gates. You may also access the mountain off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 305. To access non-fee National Park Service Tanawha Trail use various overlook parking areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway from milepost 298 (Cold Prong) to milepost 305 (Beacon Heights) including the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor's Center.

Birding Highlights: As you approach Grandfather from Linville, you will pass on your left a large field where the Highland Games and Singing on the Mountain are held each year. This field, McCrae Meadows is usually home to a large flock of Wild Turkey and many of the mid elevation species found in the mountains during the breeding season. Look for Chestnut-sided Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Towhee, and Gray Catbird. Blue-headed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos are also found here.

After entering the gate, proceed to the Nature Museum and check the feeders and surrounding shrubs at all times of year. In winter, large flocks of Pine Siskin are likely to be present, as well as resident Dark-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch and occasionally Black-capped Chickadee. Most of the chickadees on the mountain appear to be Carolina's and there has probably been some hybridization. It is difficult to tell in the winter. In summer, the Black-capped are restricted to the upper most reaches of the mountain but regularly give their distinctive calls. Check the parking area for Crossbills. Red Crossbills are normally present on the mountain year round, and in 2001 a small flock of White-winged Crossbills made daily appearances at the Nature Museum. During the breeding season, this level of the mountain has an interesting mix of mid and high elevation birds with Wood Thrush and Veery present, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, and White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches sharing the woods around the mountain. The animal habitats are nice to walk through and should yield close looks at a number of the more common species on the mountain. Also look for close looks at Common Raven as they raid the feeding areas of the captive animals. This is a good spot to often have side by side comparisons of American Crows and Common Ravens. The Ravens will be noticeably larger and heavier billed. Voice of course is a sure sign and the distinctive tail shape when they are cavorting overhead is also a telltale sign.

Continue to the top of the mountain to the “Mile High Swinging Bridge” for spectacular views of the surrounding area. You should hear several breeding species singing during the season with Dark-eyed Junco, Winter Wren, Gray Catbird, Eastern Towhee, and Canada Warbler especially plentiful at this elevation above 5,000 feet.

As you start to descend from the mountain, pull into the Black Rock Trail Parking Area to access some of the more strenuous opportunities for birding on the mountain. The Black Rock Trail, although rocky, is fairly flat as it skirts the side of the mountain. Look for the species mentioned above as well as good numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglet and Blackburnian Warbler. Northern Saw-whet Owls nest along this trail and can sometimes be seen with their heads just out of the nest boxes placed along the trail.

The Grandfather Trail is the trail to use if you are looking for the northern scarcities. This strenuous trail reaches and follows the summit of the mountain, using cables and ladders to accomplish the feat. At McCrae Peak, Calloway Peak, and Attic Window listen for Hermit Thrush, Magnolia Warbler, and Black-capped Chickadee. This is also a good vantage point to look overhead for Common Ravens and Peregrine Falcons hunting. Fortunately, one of the best spots to look for Magnolia Warbler is at the beginning of the trail as it steeply ascends for the first half mile or so. Three to four singing males are usually along this stretch of the trail and can give quite good looks at their brilliant breeding plumage. This trail is very strenuous and precautions suggested by the rangers should be followed.

Many of the middle elevation species are easily seen from overlooks along the Parkway for those who cannot handle the backcountry experience. The Linn Cove Viaduct Trail from the Visitors Center is paved for its first section making it wheelchair accessible. Hairy Woodpecker, Veery, Black-throated Blue, Hooded, and Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbird, and Scarlet Tanager are common.

The Rough Ridge Overlook connects to the Tanawha Trail and is an excellent short trip to a boardwalk over a portion of a heath bald. This area is good for fall hawk migration and summer resident Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks are easily seen from here. During summer Winter Wren, Canada Warbler and Gray Catbird are prevalent along with a few Magnolia Warblers. This trail, as a part of the Tanawha Trail, does not require a hiking pass.

Other trails off of the Parkway include the Nuwati, an easy to moderate trail at lower elevation. This trail is accessed from the Boone Fork Overlook at milepost 299.9. It follows an old logging road bed and provides easy views of Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Hooded, Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Parula and other forest species like Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, and Acadian Flycatcher.

General Information: There are fees charged for entrance to the mountain. These tickets may be purchased at the entrance road off of Hwy 221. Hiking permits for Grandfather Mountain maintained trails are available at the mountain or from several permit outlets near the mountain as well as area outfitters. Please be aware of weather conditions and times of entry etc. Primitive backcountry camping sites are available. Camping is only permitted at those designated locations.

Additional Help

Delorme Map Grid: Page 33, A5

North Carolina Travel Map Grid: D1

For more information Grandfather Mountain, 800-468-7325; www.grandfather.com

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