Birdwatching has become one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities in the nation. Its a challenging and satisfying hobby that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and physical conditions. It doesnt cost a thing and you can do it anywhere from your backyard to your vacation destination. But one of the best places to do it is right here in the TVA region.
Some of the premier birding sites in the entire inland Southeast are along TVA reservoirs. Deep water and shallow water areas, wetlands, upland and bottomland forests, fields and bluffs all these features make TVA reservoirs and adjoining lands prime locations for birds.
In many areas, TVA and partner agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies, have improved conditions for birds by developing wildlife refuges and wildlife management areas. TVA also has installed bluebird boxes; planted native grasses for songbirds, gamebirds and other wildlife; built nesting platforms for osprey and taken other steps to improve habitat for birds and other wildlife on its properties.
Each season offers unique birdwatching opportunities. Many birds are most colorful and vocal during the spring and early summer. Migrating species, which have wintered as far away as South America, return to the TVA region to nest or to rest on their journey to nesting areas farther north. Birds that have been silent much of the winter burst into song. And local residents, lingering winter visitors, and migrants are resplendent in their fresh and colorful breeding plumage.
Later in the summer, many songbirds become less conspicuous as their nesting season ends and they prepare for fall migration. The late summer, however, is often the best time to view shorebirds migrating southward, as well as herons, egrets and other large wading birds. Both the shorebirds and waders gather on mudflats exposed during the reservoir drawdowns that occur in late summer and early fall .
The fall brings large waves of hawks and songbirds migrating south for the winter. Many of the songbirds are less colorful than in the spring, and present interesting identification challenges. Late in the fall, winter residents such as loons, grebes, geese, and ducks arrive in the region, and large numbers of these species can be observed on the reservoirs.
Here are some of the best sites for birdwatching on TVA reservoirs, along with a list of the species youre likely to see.
Rankin Bottoms, Douglas Reservoir Spring and early summer: double-crested cormorants, herons, Canada geese, wood ducks, ospreys, prothonotary warblers, shorebirds, terns and bald eagles. In late summer and early fall, daily counts of hundreds of migrating shorebirds, terns, herons and egrets are common.
Songbird Trail, Norris Dam Reservation Great blue herons, Canada geese, wood ducks and belted kingfishers along the river and a variety of woodpeckers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, tanagers, orioles and sparrows in the riverbank forest and adjacent fields.
Chota Waterfowl Refuge, Tellico Reservoir Grebes, loons, herons, bald eagles and a large variety of songbirds, including both resident species and neotropical migrants. This area also supports an average of 3,000 ducks during the winter months.
Hiwassee Refuge, Chickamauga Reservoir Shorebirds, terns, double-crested cormorants, herons, ospreys, bald eagles and a large variety of songbirds. Be sure to go in winter to view the sandhill cranes, which frequently number in the thousands.
Guntersville State Park, Guntersville Reservoir A wide variety of warblers, vireos and thrushes; scarlet tanagers and brown-headed nuthatches. The park is best known for large numbers of wintering bald eagles.
Muscle Shoals Reservation, Wilson Reservoir All 37 species of eastern warblers (including the uncommon Swainson’s warbler in the Southport area), thrushes, bluebirds, Eastern kingbirds, American kestrels, barred owls and woodpeckers along several miles of trails. Great blue and black-crowned night-herons, terns, Baltimore orioles, hummingbirds, and occasional willets and spotted sandpipers along the river below Wilson Dam.
Duck River Unit, Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Kentucky Reservoir Nesting herons, bald eagles, ospreys, tree swallows and prothonotary warblers. The Duck River, Busseltown and Big Sandy units of the refuge also are home to large numbers of wintering ducks and geese.
The guidebook Tennessee River Country offers information about birding and other outdoor activities at TVA public recreation areas. View information on how to purchase the guidebook.