Watchable Wildlife in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains
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Watchable Wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains

The Smokies are a premier wildlife viewing area. Early in the morning and late in the evening make the viewing. Cades Cove and Cataloochee have large open spaces, providing excellent opportunities for viewing. Still, wildlife sightings are common throughout the Park. Bears are the most sought after.

A total of 65 mammals live in the Park. Some, such as the coyote and bobcat are reclusive, while deer are very common and obvious. Besides deer, people most often see red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Deer are common throughout the Park. An exotic, the wild European boar, causes widespread damage. Like other intrusive exotic species, the Park seeks means to control the boar population. Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include bison and gray wolves. Reintroduction efforts brought back the red wolf and river otter; however, red wolf reintroduction efforts were not successful. In February 2001, the Park reintroduced elk back to the area as an experimental release effort.

More than 230 species of Birds use the Park, and over 110 species breed within Park boundaries. Birds are most active early in the morning, starting about 45 minutes before sunrise. Good birding spots include the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Cades Cove, and Oconaluftee. Some common species include: juncos, mourning doves, chimney swifts, eastern phoebes, barn swallows, blue jays, indigo buntings, cardinals, towhees, sparrows, chickadees, and warblers. Birds of prey include turkey vultures, hawks, and eagles. Peregrine falcons, the world's fastest bird, were close to extinction a few years ago. Through reintroduction, peregrines now nest on several rock

Reptiles include snakes, turtles and lizards. The only two poisonous species are the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead. Neither have a lethal poison, and death from a snake bite in the Smokies is extremely rare. Other common reptiles include the eastern box turtle, common snapping turtle, and southeastern five-lined skink.

Amphibians thrive in the Great Smokies. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are all common Park residents. The Smokies' 30 species of salamanders make them the salamander capital of the world. Notable species include Jordan's Salamander, one subspecies of which is found only in the Smokies, and the Hellbender, which can grow up to a whopping two and one-half feet long.

Appalachian Ranger District

Craggy Gardens: black-throated blue warbler, rose-breasted grosbeak, pine siskin, red crossbill. Mount Mitchell and Black Mountains: veery, red crossbill, pine siskin, Canada warbler. Roan Mountain and Carvers Gap: golden-winged warbler, alder flycatcher, saw-whet owl, pine siskin, red crossbill.

Cheoah Ranger District

Fontana and Walker Gap: cerulean warbler, American redstart, Kentucky warbler, Acadian flycatcher.

Highlander's Appalachian Bear Series, 12 stories...

The Bear Facts

The Smokies rugged, temperate environment provides excellent bear habitat. Only black bears live in the Park. Current estimates place park bear populations near 1800.

A bear's life spans averages 12 years. During summer months, a typical male weighs approximately 250 pounds, while females average slightly over 100 pounds. However, they may double their body weight by the fall. Bears, like humans, are omnivores. Their food intake is 85 percent plant material. They obtain most of their protein from insects, but occasionally eat fawns, or other small animals.

Most bears enter a deep sleep starting in late fall. Cubs are born in January. Bear sightings usually begin in early March, but weather conditions can delay this. Newborns and mothers remain denned until April. Cubs remain with their mothers for a year and a half.

It is illegal to feed or harass any Park wildlife. Fines range up to $5,000 and 6 months in prison. Besides being illegal, human foods (and packaging) can kill a bear. They die from asphyxiation or digestive track blockages. A human-fed bear has a life span of only eight years. Habituated bears lose their natural fear of people. Aggressive bears are sometimes destroyed. For their sake and yours, please follow food storage regulations and do not feed the bears or other wildlife. Park bear monitoring efforts include an annual bait station and food availability surveys.

The objective for managing bears is to manage visitors in a manner that allows bears to live naturally and provide for safe visitor use.
Park bear management also works closely with other organizations like the Appalachian Bear Center to improve community relations.

 Whitetail Deer

Deer live throughout the Smokies, but are most commonly seen in Cades Cove. Between 400-800 deer live near the Cove. When visiting at sunrise, it is common to see 200 deer.

Deer populations can change quickly. Local overpopulation leads to widespread disease and starvation. Predation by wolves, coyotes, bears, and bobcats help reduce threats associated with overpopulation.

Deer living in the southern Appalachians give birth in late June. Newborn fawns have no defense beyond camouflage. Many are lost to predation during their first few days. By their second spring, males begin to grow antlers. They fully develop in August, and in September, the bucks fight for mating rights. Mating occurs in November. The antlers fall off by mid-winter.

Deer browse for nutritious foods. The Park's diversity is excellent habitat. When favored foods disappear, deer switch to more common, less nutritious plants. If nothing else is available, they will eat poison ivy or rhododendron. Acorns and nuts are important fall foods. Acorn availability relates to deer survival rates.

Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains
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