When you think of exotic wildlife, your mind may travel to faraway nature parks in Africa and South America — but there’s a world-class wildlife reserve here in Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains. Elk, coyotes, black bears, and bobcats are just a few of the animals that can be found throughout the national park, along with the majestic avian species that migrate through the Appalachian region each year. Here’s a guide to where and how to locate each one.
Elk sightings are fairly common in the Cattaloochee Valley, near Maggie Valley, as a herd of the species was reintroduced to this part of the Smokies in the early 2000s. Roughly 200 elk populate the area today, so hawk-eyed visitors have periodically caught sightings of the creatures, especially in the morning and evening.
Coyotes are among several canine species that inhabit the Cades Cove area of Smoky Mountain National Park, but due to their nocturnal schedules, it can be notoriously difficult to track these creatures down. Your best bet is to use your ears, rather than eyes, to seek them out; their shrill, piercing howls have been known to echo through Cades Cove.
Black bears inhabit so much of eastern Tennessee that they’re practically synonymous with the Smokies themselves. There’s no need to gravitate toward a specific valley or trail for a sighting (although Cades Cove and the Little River are known to attract larger groups) — it’s recently been estimated that there’s an average of two bears per square mile of the park.
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Fun Fact Friday: did you know that the black bear cubs you see in the summer and fall are being born right around now? After a female black bear goes into her winter den when the weather turns cooler in the late fall, she goes into a deep sleep rather than a true hibernation. It’s during this sleep, usually in January or February, that her cubs are born! Mama and cubs will emerge from their den between late March and early April. While we’re talking about bears, friendly reminder that no matter how cute they might look, it is NEVER safe to approach a bear. Remember to always give any wildlife at least 150 feet of distance so that you can safely enjoy the land they call home! Photo: Warren Bielenberg
Bobcats are highly camouflaged, as well extremely shy and reclusive, so your chances of spotting one are close to zero. If you’re intent on giving it a try, however, previous sightings have often occurred near the bear and coyote sightings, around Cades Cove.
Warblers, thrushes, sapsuckers, cuckoos, owls, and peregrine falcons are just a handful of the birds known to migrate to areas like Grotto Falls, Alum Cave, Mount LeConte, and Clingman’s Dome. Read up on your avian of choice before picking your birding destination— different species are attracted to different elevations and climate throughout the park.
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August 1: time for Bird of the Month! August’s featured bird is the Barred Owl, one of the most commonly-spotted owls in the Smokies. The Barred Owl is known for its distinctive call that sounds like it’s saying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” Look and listen for the Barred Owl during the day at any elevation, though they are most common in high elevations and low elevations. Summer is an especially good time to spot them! #BirdOfTheMonth #BirdOfTheYear #BirdYourWorld