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Roan Mountain

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Cherokee NF (north) IBAChecklistDirections/Bird FindingCherokee NF
SBRBig Bald (Mt)Unaka MtFall Banding Totals 1996-1997, 2000-2005

Note:  Roan Mountain is within the Cherokee National Forest and is part of the IBA site, Southern Blue Ridge.

Location:  Elevations on Roan Mountain from 2,700' - 6,285' to include from the junction with US 19E and Tennessee 143 in Roan Mountain village (about 15 miles south southeast of Elizabethton), Tennessee 143, Roan Mountain State Park, Cherokee National Forest, and Carver's Gap, Carter County, Tennessee.
Physiographic Province:  PIF 23 (Southern Blue Ridge); BCR 28 (Appalachian Mountains)
Tennessee IBA Site Map - Roan Mountain
Geographical Coordinates: 
    Roan Mountain (village)--Lat. 361146N  Long. 0820413W
    Roan Mountain (summit)--Lat. 360616N  Long. 0820719W
Elevation Range:  2,700' - 6,285'
    2,579' Roan Mountain (village)
    6,285' Roan Mountain (summit)
Size: acres
USGS 7.5' quads:  Bakersville, Carver's Gap, White Rocks Mountain

Description:  Roan Mountain is one of a series of peaks rising out of the landscape of the Appalachian Mountains in northeast Tennessee. From around 2,700' at Roan Mountain village to its summit at 6,285', the habitat transverses from forests of hardwoods to spruce-fir, natural rhododendron gardens, and grassy balds. The origin of the name is a mystery, with theories it was named for the roan color when the rhododendrons are in bloom, to the roan horse of Daniel Boone when he was here, to the ash trees known as rowans, to the botanist Andre Michaux who explored the area in 1794 and named if after the Rhone River from his native France. Roan Mountain State Park, 2,006 acres, is situated at the base of Roan Mountain at elevations from 3,000 feet in the valley to around 3,700 feet on the surrounding ridges. Habitat is hardwood forests. Tennessee Highway 143, from the intersection of US 19E in Road Mountain village, winds up the mountain 13 miles through the Cherokee National Forest to Carver's Gap at 5,512', a low point in the ridgeline of Roan Mountain. Here the Appalachian Trail crosses and spruce-fir forests, rhododendrons, and  grassy balds compose the habitat.

IBA Criteria:  1, 3, 4f, 5

Ornithological Importance:  Elevation changes create distinctive breeding habitats for species assemblages limited within the state. The elevated ridgelines provide passage for a large number of neotropical migrants. Several listed species occur in the site.
        Common Raven
, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, occurs regularly on the mountain. There are sightings daily of 1-4 birds, with a maximum of 23 in a flock on February 23, 1990. They probably breed in the cliffs on the North Carolina side of the mountain (Rick Knight).  
        Golden-winged Warbler
, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, occurs around elevations 2,750'-3,800' along Sugar Hollow Road, Heaton Creek Road, Roan Mountain State Park, and Tennessee 143 (the main road up the mountain). In a Golden-winged Warbler survey on June 3, 2001, 7 territories were detected with up to 15 territories predicted based on habitat availability on Sugar Hollow Road. This habitat needs to be managed to continue to attract the species. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has some conservation easements at the back of Sugar Hollow that contain Golden-winged Warbler habitat. The land is grazed by cattle so the habitat may remain in tact. The species was found at one site on Heaton Creek Road, but probably didn't nest. Habitat is limited along this road. At Roan Mountain State Park, habitat exists at a picnic shelter (#1?). In another survey, along Tennessee 143, one area on both sides of the road contained 4 territories with at least 5 predicted (Welton 2003, Allan Trently).
    Note 1.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, is found in the spruce-fir belt (5,500' and above) on Roan Mountain year-round. Breeding has been documented through a nest box project. Records in the period 2000-2005 include: 2000--February 11 (1); 2001--April 29-May 1 (1), June 4 (1 adult in nest box), July 12 (1 young in same box), December 2, (1); 2002--August 31 (1), October 3 (2); 2003--March 8 (1-2), October 8-13 (1); 2004--March 27(2-3), May 25-29 (2-3), June 5 (1), September 13 (1 adult mist netted/banded), October 3 (1); 2005--June 17-18 (1), September 18 (1). (Rick Knight, et al)  
    Note 2.
Elevation changes from 2,700' to 6,285' create habitat changes equivalent to 1,000 miles to the north. These distinctive habitats contain specific species assemblages that are limited in the state especially at middle and high elevations. At lower elevations, below 3,000', hardwood forests, openings, and edges provide breeding habitat for Broad-winged Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo (rare), Acadian Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler (a Tennessee In Need of Management species), Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Indigo Bunting. At middle elevations, 3,000'-5,000', northern hardwood forests and edges attract breeding Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Veery, Golden-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Canada Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. At high elevations, above 5,000', northern hardwood forest, spruce-fir forest, grassy balds, and heath/shrub balds contain breeding Northern Saw-whet Owl (a Tennessee In Need of Management species), Alder Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Red Crossbill (sporadic).
    Note 3.
In the fall, many migrants pass through Carver's Gap (5,512') as it is the low point to cross the mountain. The flocks can be impressive. These include: Chimney Swifts up to 60+/day, i.e. September 13, 2004 (65); woodpeckers--Red-headed Woodpecker (1-2 occasionally, but 22 between September 4-October 7, 2004), Red-bellied Woodpecker (small numbers), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (small numbers), and Northern "Yellow-shafted" Flicker up to 50+/day, i.e. October 8, 2002 (50+); Blue Jay (flocks of 20-40); swallows--small numbers, mainly Barn Swallow, i.e. August 31, 2002 (70+); Scarlet Tanager (100-200+ annually), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (500-1,000+ annually); and small numbers of many other species. Raptors use the mountain peak for passage. At the banding site at Carver's Gap, no formal hawk watching has been done, but raptors are observed. Accipiters and falcons (small numbers) are mainly seen, but occasionally Osprey, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, and butoes are observed (Rick Knight).
    Note 4.
A high elevation fall banding station is located at Carver's Gap (5,512'). Habitat consists of green alder, hawthorn, fire cherry, blackberry, and rhododendron, interspersed with a few spruce and fir, and some open grassy areas. In the period 1996-1997, 2000-2005, a total of 73 species of 4,900 individuals were banded for an average of 42 species and 613 individuals annually. Of the 73 species banded, 48 species (65.8%) were neotropical and of the 4,900 individuals banded, 3,785 individuals (77.2%) were neotropical. Of the 3,785 neotropical individuals, 2,546 individuals (67.3%) were warblers of 25 species. Twenty-five species of 1,115 birds (22.8%) were non-neotropical. See Fall Banding Totals 1996-1997, 2000-2005 for a summary of the top 20 neotropical species banded during this 8-year period.
        Of the 25 non-neotropical banded species, the Dark-eyed Junco was fourth overall in the number banded with 699 individuals in the 8-year period with highs of 162 birds (2003) and 145 birds (1996). The species represented 62.7% of the total non-neotropical birds banded in the 8-year period.

Site Criteria



Avg. No Season

Max. No. Season

Years of Data



Northern Saw-whet Owl (See Note 1 above.)

B, year-round


possibly 10+


6, 7


Habitat: Species assemblages (See Note 2 above.)

B, W






Landbirds: Migratory (See Note 3 above.)

FM (mainly)






Monitoring: Bird banding station (See Note 4 above.)






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
4-Point Counts 5-Refuge Counts 6-Personal observations (Rick Knight) 7-Other (Matt Rowe)

Ownership:  United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service 
USDA Forest Service, Watauga Ranger District, 4400 Unicoi Drive, Unicoi, TN 37692, 423-735-1500.

Conservation Concerns:  Serious concern is natural pests/disease. Major concerns are air pollution and succession. Potential concerns are recreational developments/overuse and global warming.

Management Program:  Cherokee National Forest Revised Land and Resource Management Plan

Submitted by:  Rick Knight, 804 N. Hills Drive, Johnson City, TN 37604, 423-282-5297, rknight8@earthlink.net

Additional Contributors:  Allan Trently, ajtcorax@hotmail.com

Welton, M. J. 2003. Status and distribution of the Golden-winged Warbler in Tennessee. Migrant 74:61-82.

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

This page was last updated on 02/19/06.