Take a walk through the lush forests of the Blue Ridge almost any time of year, and you’ll be met by the lively sound of birdsong. Our biodiverse region is home to a large number of resident birds and — because of the area’s location along the Atlantic Flyway — an even wider array of migrating species.
The two big annual migrations in spring and fall are popular times for birdwatchers to flock to the area (pun intended), but early spring can also be a great time to spot wild birds among the bare limbs of forest trees. Experienced birdwatchers recommend going out early in the morning for the best chance at spying a variety of birds — avoid the midday hours when birds are less active.
The North Carolina Birding Trail is an excellent online resource for information about birds and birdwatching across the state. Grab your binoculars and check out these top Blue Ridge spots for birding:
The impressive triple waterfall isn’t the only breathtaking sight at Linville Falls. Look for Osprey, Belted Kingfisher and the colorful Wood Duck along the river, and keep an eye out for Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco and Scarlet Tanager along the trails.
Historic Orchard at Altapass
In addition to picking apples, tapping your toes to live music and enjoying the sweet taste of apple pie a la mode, the 144 acres of the century-old Orchard at Altapass are wide open for spotting mid-elevation woodland birds.
Look for the blue flashes of Indigo Bunting and Eastern Bluebird near the herb garden, or hike up to the Loops Overlook to see Cedar Waxwing, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a variety of warblers, vireos and woodpeckers. Pull up a chair on the deck in June and July to watch the swallows build their nests.
The Orchard’s trails are open year-round, and facilities including the General Store and Grill are open May-October.
This popular stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for the 60-foot plunging Crabtree Falls waterfall, but the 2.5-mile loop trail is also a great place to spot Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Brown Creeper, Louisiana Waterthrush and many species of flycatcher and warbler.
Look for Eastern Meadowlark and sparrows in the meadow, along with a colorful array of spring wildflowers. Find a perch at the nearby Three Knobs Overlook (Parkway milepost 338.8) for a chance to see raptors.
Mount Mitchell State Park
The alpine forest that surrounds the highest peak in the Eastern U.S. makes Mount Mitchell State Park a unique bird habitat. Hike along the 10+ miles of trails to spot Cedar Waxwing, which make their home here year-round. Keep a sharp eye for Peregrine Falcon and Sharp-shinned Hawk near the summit, and spot Carolina Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch near the restaurant.
Lake James State Park
A mix of hardwood and pine forests, wetlands and lake habitats welcome a variety of birds to Lake James State Park. Look for waterbirds such as Green Heron and Belted Kingfisher and raptors like Red-tailed Hawk and Osprey. Keep an eagle eye out for Bald Eagles — they call Lake James home year-round, and one nest site has been active for more than a decade!
Mountain Gateway Museum
Try out some urban birding at the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort. Look for Eastern Phoebe swooping over Mill Creek and for Chipping Sparrows on the museum grounds. Visit in summer when the fruit trees are filled with ripe berries — Cedar Waxwing and American Goldfinch will be around to gobble up the harvest.
More Birding Spots in the Blue Ridge
Also in Old Fort, the Inn on Mill Creek hosts Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Whip-poor-will, Ovenbird and Swainson’s Warbler. South of Marion, the historic Cottages at Spring House Farm is a great place to relax amid lush rhododendrons or beside one of the many ponds. Keep your eyes open for Wild Turkey, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, thrushes and vireos.
Nearby Chimney Rock State Park is a favorite destination for birders. Peregrine Falcons nest here, and the surrounding woodland trails are a great place to spy more than 15 species of vireo and warbler. In September and October, Chimney Rock is a hot spot to watch the migration of Broad-winged Hawks and several other species.