To witness Grandfather Mountain’s awe-inspiring beauty and diverse wildlife, look no further than its resident population of birds. While many of the mountain’s species of birds are transient and can be spotted during the annual Hawk Watch, there are approximately 40 to 50 species that call the mountain home year-round and can even be spotted during your winter visits.
Photo at top: White-Breasted Nuthatch, Red Crossbill, Dark-eyed Junco
Due to its unique ecology, species of birds from northern climates are often found in Grandfather Mountain’s high-elevation forests of Red Spruce and Fraser Fir, which are more common in Canadian environments but persist in the high-elevation forests of Southern Appalachia. For this reason, Grandfather Mountain presents an opportunity for visitors to witness species of birds not found elsewhere in the Southeast.
Popular Winter Species
Red Crossbill: This species breeds in the winter, and the southern-most point of its migratory range includes Grandfather Mountain and Southern Appalachia. Red Crossbills are quite variable and include small-billed birds that feed on spruce cones and large-billed birds that feed on pines. Red Crossbills are a species of finch that are most recognized by their crossed bills, long pointed wings and high-pitched chirping.
Northern Saw-whet Owl: Grandfather Mountain is one of the most reliable locations in North Carolina to view the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a species that excites birding enthusiasts across the country. One of the smallest species of owl in existence, these nocturnal birds of prey are seldom seen during the day but can often be heard in the still night of evergreen mountain forests from the months of January to May.
Pine Siskin: Another species that is more abundant North but reaches the end of its breeding range in the high-elevation forests of the South. This species of songbird winters on Grandfather Mountain and is similar in many aspects to the goldfinch. The Pine Siskin travels in flocks and can often be seen descending toward fields to feed on seeds or perching next to a bird feeder. (photo below)
More Winter Bird Species at Grandfather
- Ruffed Grouse
- Song Sparrow
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Carolina Chickadee
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Fox Sparrow
- White-throated Sparrow
- Dark-eyed Junco
- House Finch
- Purple Finch
- American Goldfinch
- Northern Cardinal
- Eastern Towhee
- Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- White-winged Crossbill
- Evening Grosbeak
Left to right: Downy Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker
Tips for Winter Birdwatching at Grandfather
- The best place to spot the birds in the winter home on Grandfather Mountain is by the bird feeders on the deck of the Wilson Center. Because the birds’ diet of worms and seeds is few and far between during the winter months, the feeders provide a consistent source of nutrition and are frequented by birds that live on and off the mountain. Read more about birding on Grandfather and download our bird list.
- Other prime birding spots on the mountain include open spaces near the Mile High Swinging Bridge, such as the rocky outcrop of Linville Peak. Winter species like the Red Crossbill can often be seen feeding amongst the high-altitude forests of Red Spruce or Fraser Fir. Birding equipment, such as a spotting scope, binoculars or a camera with a long-range lens, is recommended to adequately view these amazing species.
- Open spaces found along Grandfather Mountain’s trail system, such as the overlooks at the end of the Black Rock Trail, are also prime spots for viewing the multitude of bird species on the mountain. See our Winter Hiking Tips.
- The trick to winter birding is patience. You can often go a long period without seeing any birds, but when one shows up, there are usually many more to follow, since many species converge together in feeding flocks. Additionally, peak winter birding season lasts from November to February and presents the best time to view the winter birds before they depart and other migratory species return to the mountain.
- Because birding is often a waiting game, it is best to dress in layers and adequate winter apparel before setting out on your winter birding adventure. Moreover, you can stay up to date on the conditions of the mountain by checking the homepage of grandfather.com, where notices of trail closures and access to the Mile High Swinging Bridge are posted.
- Meet our resident Eagles in the Wildlife Habitats.