Grandfather Mountain towers above its surrounding region with a 1,500-foot vertical drop into the Linville River Valley to the west and a 4,000-foot vertical drop into the Catawba River basin to the east. It is these extreme variations in elevation on Grandfather that create conditions to support 16 distinct ecological communities ranging from rich cove forests and acidic cove forests to heath balds and high elevation rocky summits.

Variations in terrain, soil, vegetation, wind, water, sunlight and microclimates create habitat for as many as 200 different bird species. About 100 of these are documented breeding colonies, which according to David Lee, former Curator of Birds at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, is one of the highest number of breeding birds in the east.

Grandfather Mountain is recognized as an Important Bird Area by Audubon North Carolina.


An American goldfinch, blue jay and Carolina chickadee

From left, American goldfinch, blue jay and Carolina chickadee

Where to Look

  • Feeders Outside the Nature Museum. Year-round visitors include nuthatches, tufted-titmice, chickadees and juncos. Throughout the summer and fall, you’ll also see ruby-throated hummingbirds enjoying sugar water from the hummingbird feeders.
  • Woods Walk Trail & Picnic Area. See and hear a variety of migratory songbirds, including vibrant warblers like the Blackburnian, Canada and chestnut-sided. Catch a glimpse of a brilliant red tanager. The forest floor hosts thrushes and ovenbirds and wild turkeys, and the canopy hosts many woodpeckers – from the tiny downy woodpecker to the enormous pileated woodpecker and the charismatic common flicker.
  • Bridge Trail, Black Rock Trail, Grandfather Extension Trail. As you gain elevation on the mountain and enter into the high-elevation habitats like the spruce-fir forest, you’ll begin to see species native to those unique areas and often only found in far more northern climates. You may find pine siskins, kinglets, magnolia warblers, winter wrens, crossbills and an occasional ruffed grouse. You may even hear the call of a Northern saw-whet owl, a tiny owl found in very few locations in North Carolina.
  • Swinging Bridge and Linville Peak. Our resident ravens liven up the peak daily, often vocalizing and flying low over the bridge. The peregrine falcons that nest in the state park are also frequently seen, sometimes even chasing off a visiting bald eagle or osprey. We periodically get flocks of cedar waxwings and red crossbills on the mountain ash and spruce in large numbers. The unique songs of winter wrens and hermit thrushes often echo through the valleys.
  • Read about Winter Birding on Grandfather.
  • Download the Grandfather Mountain Bird List
A dark-eyed junco, red-tailed hawk and downy woodpecker

From left, dark-eyed junco, red-tailed hawk and downy woodpecker

Fall Hawk Watch

Hundreds or even thousands of raptors will soar over Grandfather Mountain in September as the birds of prey make their annual southward migrations.

Throughout the month, visitors can join trained staff and volunteers at Linville Peak or Half Moon Overlook as Grandfather Mountain participates in the official Hawk Watch through the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

Each day, trained counters will record the number and type of raptors that pass above the mountain — including bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, merlins and vultures.

Download a tip sheet for hawk watching at Grandfather Mountain.

A broad-winged hawk soaring over Grandfather Mountain

A broad-winged hawk soars over Grandfather Mountain during the annual Hawk Watch.

Grandfather Mountain | Home to the Swinging Bridge, Animal Habitats and Nature Museum

GPS: 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646
Mailing: PO Box 129, Linville, NC 28646

Owned & operated by Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.
Go here for Grandfather Mountain State Park information.
Member of Southern Highlands Attractions