Volume IV - Nos. 4 & 5
BIRDS OF THE GREAT SMOKIES
Spruce-Fir Avian Life Shows Northern Character
BY ARTHUR STUPKA,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Separating the states of Tenneasee and North Carolina, the Appalachian Mountain system culminates in an irregular divide constituting the highest mountain mass east of the Black Hills. There are many peaks of more than 6,000 feet altitude --- an ancient highland characterized by a dense cover of vegetation. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with its more than 600 square miles, extends for 71 miles along this high divide, being bounded on the east by the Pigeon River and on the west by the Little Tennessee. Numerous ridges radiate from the main axis and these are separated by swift-flowing streams of great beauty.
There are no lakes in the park and none of the few small ponds continues to hold water during the normal autumn period of scanty precipitation. Moreover, the park lies at a point which is approximately equi-distant from the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico --- a significant geographic isolation. A glance at the list of 190 to 200 birds which are known to occur here reveals the absence or scarcity of many shore-and-water-inhabiting species. Nevertheless, 13 species of ducks have been observed on water-courses either within the park or immediately adjacent to its boundaries, and certain other waterbirds and shorebirds occur with more or less regularity.
Approximately one-third of the bird population may be classed as summer residents --- those found here during the breeding season only. These include more than half of the 36 wood warblers, 6 of the 7 flycatchers, 4 of the 5 vireos, and many others. Close to another third are permanent residents -- ones remaining here throughout the year. This group includes a number of the hawks, probably all of the woodpeckers and owls, and such birds as nuthatches, crows, jays, ravens, grouse, quail, turkeys, and others. The remaining number, representing somewhat more than one-third of the total bird population, includes the winter residents (hermit thrush, white-throated and fox sparrows, etc.), transients (many ducks, warblers, and others which breed further north), and occasional visitors. In the last-mentioned group are the vagrant red crossbills and pine siskins (which may breed on occasions), the bald and golden eagles which visit the park at irregular intervals, the sooty tern and herring gull which have been observed shortly after hurricanes have lashed the Atlantic coast, and the American brant and white pelican of which we have but single records.
In 6 of the 46 bird families known to occur in the park we find races which are the southern representatives of more northern forms; significantly enough, all but the mountain vireo, a Southern Appalachian race of the blue-headed vireo, rarely nest below the 3,000-foot altitude in the Smokies. Others in this group include the Appalachian chickadee (a relative of the black-cap), the southern creeper, southern winter wren, Cairn's warbler (related to the black-throated blue), and Carolina junco. There is also the probability that the erratic red cross bill which was reported breeding in the park in April, 1938 (first such record south of Pennsylvania), may prove to be a distinct race.
Introduced species are represented here by the ring-necked pheasant, rock dove (common domestic pigeon), starling, and English sparrow. Fortunately, the first two are very rare and probably do not breed, while the latter two, although breeding, are not abundant and do not invade undisturbed areas in the park.
In its bird life as well as in floristic composition the spruce-fir forest of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park resembles the interior forests of northern New England. Just as one finds here the same red spruce, mountain ash, yellow birch, fire cherry, and many shrubs and herbaceous plants which grow abundantly in the far northern forests, so too does the bird life take on a definitely northern aspect.
Raven, duck hawk, red-breasted nuthatch, winter wren, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, sapsucker, ruffed grouse, olive-sided flycatcher, veery, Canada and other warblers, and many additional species breed in the upper Smokies. Such past disturbances as lumbering and fires, clearing of land and hunting, have affected the rugged uplands considerably less than the lowland regions.
Ecologists recognize this forest of spruce and fir as one of the three principal groups of forest types which prevail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the so-called cove-hardwoods and the oak-pine complex comprising the remaining two groups.
A heterogeneous mixture of beech, yellow birch, buckeye, basswood, maples, silverbell, hemlock, tulip poplar and others --- trees which here become giants of their kind -- - characterize the cove-hardwood complex, and here the more variegated flora, occupying a greater diversity of habitats, becomes the haunt of many more bird species. Speaking in a general way, the number of kinds of birds increases as we go from north to south, and so too in a mountainous area do we find more species as we travel from highland to lowland.
The oak-pine complex, which also includes the tulip poplar, chestnut, and the so-called heath balds or "laurel slicks", occupies the drier situations, usually at low altitudes or on exposed ridges. Here too the number of bird species is greater than in the high coniferous forest but it is questionable whether the avian fauna here is greater than in the cove hardwoods. Some birds, such as the wild turkey, ruffed grouse, downy woodpecker, mountain vireo, black-throated green warbler, and others may breed in all three of these main forest groups.
Late April marks the peak of the spring bird migration in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. By that time most of the flycatchers, vireos, wood-warblers, and other groups have appeared on the scene, some remaining to breed while others continue northward. Early October marks the autumnal migration peak, but the bird student will invariably run up his biggest list in April.
Some of the species, especially the Carolina junco and southern winter wren, appear to follow a definite migration up and down the mountains, breeding at altitudes above 3,000 feet and wintering in the lowlands --- in this regard resembling the pine grosbeak, brown-capped rosy finch, and gray-headed junco of our Rocky Mountain National Park. The bullfinch and perhaps other birds of western Europe likewise have a vertical migration.
BIRD FAMILIES REPRESENTED IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
(Figure after the family name indicates number of species known to occur in the park)
ACADIA GETS SPECIMEN OF RARE IVORY GULL
The first record for Mount Desert Island, the third for the state of Maine and the sixth for all New England resulted from the recent taking of the rare Ivory Gull (Pagophila alba) at Southwest Harbor. The only other specimen taken in Maine dated from 1894. There was a sight record in 1918.
The Ivory Gull is a small white bird which usually feeds at the southern edge of the Arctic ice pack. It has been seen within five degrees of the North Pole, the most northerly record for any avian species. It is rare in the settled portions of Canada. The specimen found on Mount Desert Island is being mounted for permanent display in Acadia National Park.
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