Did you know that North Carolina's national forests are a summer home for more than 63 kinds of neotropical birds, such as the red-eyed vireo and indigo bunting?
Neotropical migratory birds account for 340 of the 600 species of birds that breed and nest in North America. These birds migrate each fall to warmer climates in tropical regions of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. A sure sign of spring is the return of these colorful, transcontinental travelers, which awaken us with their songs.
In comparison, "resident" birds, such as the northern cardinal, hang around all year. Some migrants, like the American robin, travel short distances to spend the cold winter months in warmer areas of the United States.
The annual migration of North America's neotropical migratory birds is a biological wonder. It's hard to imagine that a blackpoll warbler that nests in the Northern States, makes an 86-hour, 2,300-mile nonstop flight across the Atlantic. These tiny birds must double their body weight in the late summer and early fall to build up enough body fat to make the long-distance flight.
With the advent of spring, most neotropical birds return to the place where they were born. The Southern Appalachians are a popular nesting ground for these birds, because the area provides some of the largest blocks of mature forest in the Eastern United States. As part of the Southern Appalachians, North Carolina's national forests offer the perfect habitat for a diversity of neotropical migratory birds.
With large blocks of forest and unique combinations of elevation, topography, climate, soil, and geology, North Carolina's national forests provide a huge sanctuary for many of these birds. The national forests are managed not only for large tracts of mature hardwood forest, but also for grassy openings, brushy thickets, young forests, and high-elevation spruce-fir forests. These habitats provide homes and food for 160 bird species.
Where can you spot these birds?
APPALACHIAN RANGER DISTRICT
- Craggy Gardens: black-throated blue warbler, rose-breasted grosbeak, pine siskin, red crossbill. Mount Mitchell & Black Mountains: veery, red crossbill, pine siskin, Canada warbler. Roan Mountain & Carvers Gap: golden-winged warbler, alder flycatcher, saw-whet owl, pine siskin, red crossbill.
CHEOAH RANGER DISTRICT
- Fontana & Walker Gap: cerulean warbler, American redstart, Kentucky warbler, Acadian flycatcher.
GRANDFATHER RANGER DISTRICT
- Linville Area: peregrine falcon, Blackburnian warbler, magnolia warbler, Canada warbler.
- Curtis Creek: Swainson's warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, Acadian flycatcher.