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Great Smoky Mountains
National Park (Tennessee)

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SBRChecklistGreat Smoky Mountains NP

Note:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of the IBA site, Southern Blue Ridge.

Mt. LeConte

Photo by Charlie Muise

View of the shoulder of Mt. LeConte.

Location:  Major entrances at Townsend (Blount County), Wears Valley (Sevier County), Gatlinburg (Sevier and Cosby [Cocke County]), the southern portion of all three counties comprising the Tennessee side of the park.
Physiographic Province:  PIF 23 (Southern Blue Ridge); BCR 28 (Appalachian Mountains)
Tennessee Site Map - GSMNP.bmp (80006 bytes)
Geographical Coordinates: 
    Park Headquarters--Lat. 354108N  Long. 0833213W
Elevation Range:  888' - 6,643'
    1,467' Park Headquarters
Size:  244,840 acres (Tennessee)
USGS 7.5’ quad:  Gatlinburg, others

Description:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles (521,490 acres) divided almost equally between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, and is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The uninterrupted chain of mountains range to 6,643 feet and for 36 miles the crest of the range remains more than 5,000 feet above sea level, including 16 peaks over 6,000 feet.  Precipitation levels are among the highest on the North American continent, with annual averages of 85 inches in parts of the park (Tilley and Huheey 2001).  Higher elevations average 69 inches of snow annually. The Park is within easy driving distance of two-thirds of the U.S. population and is the most heavily visited National Park, with nearly 10 million annual visitors.
    The extraordinary biodiversity of the Great Smokies is world-renowned, as reflected in its designation as an International Biosphere Reserve. Every major eastern forest type can be found within the Park's boundaries. The park's 1,637 vascular plant species include over 130 species of trees, and 60-70 distinct vegetative communities. At lower elevations, forest of Tulip Poplar dominate large areas that historically were farmed.  In sheltered rich coves (typically with northerly aspects), Yellow Buckeye, Sugar Maple, White Basswood, and Tulip Popular dominate the overstory. In coves with steeper v-shaped drainages, Silver Bell and hemlock dominate the canopy and rhododendron often forms a thick, impenetrable understory. Drier slopes (south and west facing) are dominated by Chestnut Oak with a mountain laurel understory. Dry ridges typically have a large component of pine (Pitch, Shortleaf, Virginia, and Table Mountain) and dray site oaks (Chestnut, Scarlet, and Black).  At higher elevations, the northern hardwood forest is prevalent, which is composed of Sugar Maple, Yellow Buckeye, Yellow Birch, and American Beech. At the highest elevations, Red Spruce forests (above 5,200 feet) and Red Spruce-Fraser Fir forests (above 6,000 feet) dominate. Scattered throughout the Park are unique communities such as grassy balds, heath balds, beech gaps, caves, vernal pools, and small wetlands, which are significant because they support unique biota, are generally small in aerial extent, and have a limited distribution in the southern Appalachians.   
    The park supports 14 federally-listed Endangered or Threatened species, 25 animal species that are under consideration for federal listing as Endangered or Threatened, and 194 species of plants and animals ranked as globally vulnerable, imperiled, or critically imperiled by The Nature Conservancy. There are 405 plant species that occur in fewer than five locations in the park, 3 of these are federally-listed and 74 are state-listed as threatened or endangered (National Park Service 2001).
    Great Smoky Mountains contains approximately 75 percent of all the Fraser Fir forest that remains in existence, a significant proportion of all remaining Southern Appalachian northern hardwood forest, and the largest contiguous tracts of old-growth (all types) remaining in the eastern U.S.
    The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was designated a International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1983.

IBA Criteria: 1, 2, 3, 4f, 5

Woodland stream.

Photo by Charlie Muise

A typical mountain woodland stream.

Ornithological Importance:  The park supports 230 species of birds of which 110 species breed. Two hundred species have been documented in recent years, including one of the highest diversities of breeding neotropical migratory birds of any area in the United States. In some habitats, over 80 percent of the breeding bird community is made up of neotropical migrants (Simons and Shriner 1998). Thirty-three species previously documented here are considered extirpated, extinct, or vagrant. Part of the reason for such diversity of neotropical migrants may be due to the invertebrate diversity. This is still being studied, but numbers in well-known groups are already impressive, including 1,500 species of beetles and 1,000 species of lepidopterans. Northern Harrier, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, is found in small numbers as migrants or wintering individuals. Swainson's Warbler, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, has been found regularly during the breeding season at Schoolhouse Gap Trail, 2002-2005. There were 21 sightings ranging from north of Abrams Creek to the Albright Grove (Shriner 2001). Recent records include--April 30, 2001 (1) Lumber Ridge Trail; May 7-30, 2003 (1) Oasis; April 27, 2003 (1) Schoolhouse Gap; and May 29, 2004 (1) Parson's Branch Road.
    Note 1. Two nests of the Peregrine Falcon, a Tennessee Threatened species, occur in the park. One nest on the side of Mount LeConte has been monitored since 1997. A second nest has been monitored since 2003. These areas and one other are the only known nesting locations in Tennessee for the species.
    Note 2. Northern Saw-whet Owl is found year-round in the park, at higher elevations in summer and lower in winter. No nest has been documented but there were two young fledglings in Cosby Campground (Shriner 2001), but it cannot be certain they did not fly in from outside of the park (Paul Soper). Example of sightings include--December 30, 2000 (1) Cades Cove; April 6-7, 2001 (2) two locations; February 12, 2001 (1) Tremont Road; March 24, 2004 Indian Gap (3) three locations; and January 17, 2006 (1) near Treamont.
    Note 3. Common Raven, a Tennessee Threatened species, is found year-round in small numbers in the higher elevations and lower during the winter. Two nest sites are known. Example of sightings include--Summer 2000 (1 immature) Tremont main parking lot; April 6, 2001 (1) Newfound Gap road; July 15, 2001 (1) Siler's Bald; May 5, 2001 (1) Mt. LeConte; November 11, 2001 (1) Newfound Gap; December 2, 2001 (2) Metcalf Bottoms; February 3, 2002 (1) Laurel Creek Road; April 26, 2003 (1) Middle Prong Trail (by nest); May 12, 2001 (2) Laurel Creek Road; October 4, 2003 (1) Middle Pong Trail; December 14, 2004 (2) Foothills Parkway above Flats Road; February 12-13, 2005 (1) Townsend Wye; and many sightings in Walker Valley by Tremont staff. A nest at Middle Prong trail has been present since at least 1999.
    Note 4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, is present in the park during the breeding season and assumed breeding. There have been no confirmed nest sites since the 1940's. There have been at least seven good breeding season sightings in the last ten years at different sites, almost all in North Carolina (Paul Super). The park is one of only a few sites in Tennessee where it is known to breed.
    Note 5. Black-capped Chickadee, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, occurs regularly at higher elevations year-round and lower in winter. Population levels are considered stable to allow birds to be exported to Roan Mountain.
    Note 6. Habitats of an exceptional representative of a natural habitat are numerous in the park. These range from Heath Balds; to 60,000 acres of old growth forests, the largest in the eastern United States (National Park Service 2001); to mature deciduous forests; to spruce-fir forests that contain 75% of the world's Fraser Fir; to grass balds; and to cove hardwoods.
    Note 7. Of the 110 species that breed in the park, over 50 species are neotropical. With an elevation differential of 5,755 feet, the park contains species assemblages for low to mid to high elevations. Among the neotropical species at low elevations are Whip-poor-will, Yellow-throated Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, and American Redstart. Mid elevations finds Blue-headed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Veery and Canada Warbler are among the high elevation species. Some species such as the Chestnut-sided Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler range throughout all elevation changes.
        The continuous chain of mountains northeast to southwest allow the flow of neotropical migrants in Tennessee from the Cherokee National Forest both north and south of the park.

Site Criteria



Avg. No Season

Max. No. Season

Years of Data



Peregrine Falcon (T) (See Note 1 above.)


2 pair

2 pair, 2 young


3, 6, 7a

1Northern Saw-whet Owl (T) (See Note 2 above.)Year-round  80 years3, 6, 7b
1Common Raven (T) (See Note 3 above.)B, Year-roundTwo nest sites known 2001-20051, 3, 6, 7c
2Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (NOM) (See Note 4 above.)B, Year-round  Breeding 2002-2004, Winter 2000-20053, 5, 6
2Black-capped Chickadee (NOM) (See Note 5 above.)B, Year-round  1997-20051, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
3Habitats: (See Note 6 above.)     


Landbirds: Neotropical migrants and breeding (See Note 7 above.)




80 years



Monitoring: Tremont MAPS station




5 years



Monitoring: Species database




80 years



Monitoring: Table Mountain pine forest




80 years


Season1   B = Breeding, W = Wintering, SM = Spring Migration, FM = Fall Migration
Source 2  1-Atlas Breeding Birds of Tennessee 2-Breeding Bird Surveys
3-Christmas Bird Counts (Great Smoky Mountains NP) 4-Point Counts 5-Refuge Counts
6-Personal observations (Charels Muise) 7-Other (a-Keith Watson, Dich Dichenson, Susan Hoyle, Kris Johnson;
b-David Trently, Bill Sliver; c-Allan Trently, David Trently; d-Jean Alexander, Terry Witt, David Johnson;
e-MAPS banding)

Ownership:  United States Government, Department of Interior, National Park Service
   Contact:  Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37338, 865-436-1200 (office), 865-436-1220 (fax).

Conservation Concerns:  Critical concerns are natural pests/disease, introduced plants/animals, and loss of Fraser Fir to Balsam Wooly Adelgid. Serious concerns are air pollution, 10 million visitors per year, and development around the park. Potential concerns are water pollution, disturbance to birds because of the number of visitors, recreational development/overuse, forestation, and loss of Eastern Hemlock to Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.

Management Program:

Submitted by:  Charles Muise cmmbirds@yahoo.com

Additional Contributors:   Jean Alexander, David Trently, Paul Super, Susan Hoyle, Michelle Prysby, Carey Jones, and staff at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

National Park Service 2001.
Simons and Shriner 1998.
Shriner, S. A. 2001. Distribution of Breeding Birds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. PhD Dissertation. North Carolina State University.
Tilley S. G, and J. E. Huheey 2001. Reptiles and Amphibians of the Smokies. Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association.

Approved under the umbrella IBA site Southern Blue Ridge:  February 2006--Yes 7  No 0

This page was last updated on 02/20/06.