State of Tennessee

Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla ©Dubi Shapiro Website

Tennessee is a landlocked state in the Southeastern region of the United States. It borders Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the southwest, and Missouri to the northwest. It is the 36th-largest by area, and the 15th-most populous having over seven million people, of the 50 states covering roughly 110,00km² (42,000 square miles), of which 400 km², (c.900 square miles), over 2% is water. The state is about 710 km (440 miles) long from east to west and 180 km (112 miles) wide from north to south. Tennessee’s eastern boundary roughly follows the highest crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Mississippi River forms much of its western boundary. Due to flooding of the Mississippi that has changed its path, the state’s western boundary deviates from the river in some places.

It is geographically, culturally, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions of East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Nashville (pop. 700,000) is the state’s capital and largest city, and anchors its largest metropolitan area and the second city is Memphis (pop. 625,000). Other major cities include Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Clarksville. It is considered part of the Upland South, and the eastern third is part of Appalachia.

Marked by a diversity of landforms and topographies, Tennessee features six principal physiographic areas, from east to west, which are part of three larger regions: the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, and Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Mountains; the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin, part of the Interior Low Plateaus of the Interior Plains; and the East Gulf Coastal Plain, part of the Atlantic Plains. Other regions include the southern tip of the Cumberland Mountains, the Western Tennessee Valley, and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The state’s highest point, which is also the third-highest peak in eastern North America, is Clingmans Dome, at over 2,000m (c.6,600 feet) above sea level. Its lowest point is on the Mississippi River at the Mississippi state line in Memphis. Tennessee has the most caves in the United States, with more than 10,000 documented.

Tennessee is drained by three major rivers, the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi. The Tennessee River begins at the juncture of the Holston and French Broad rivers in Knoxville, flows southwest to Chattanooga, and exits into Alabama before re-emerging in the western part of the state and flowing north into Kentucky. Its major tributaries include the Clinch, Little Tennessee, Hiwassee, Sequatchie, Elk, Beech, Buffalo, Duck, and Big Sandy rivers. The Cumberland River flows through the north-central part of the state, emerging in the northeastern Highland Rim, passing through Nashville, turning northwest to Clarksville, and entering Kentucky east of the Tennessee River. Its principal branches in Tennessee are the Obey, Caney Fork, Stones, Harpeth, and Red rivers. The Mississippi River drains nearly all of West Tennessee. Its tributaries are the Obion, Forked Deer, Hatchie, Loosahatchie, and Wolf rivers. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers operate many hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and their tributaries, which form large reservoirs throughout the state.

Tennessee is within a temperate deciduous forest biome commonly known as the Eastern Deciduous Forest. It has eight ecoregions: the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, Central Appalachian, Southwestern Appalachian, Interior Low Plateaus, Southeastern Plains, Mississippi Valley Loess Plains, and Mississippi Alluvial Plain regions. Tennessee is the most biodiverse inland state, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most biodiverse national park and the Duck River is the most biologically diverse waterway in North America. The Nashville Basin is renowned for its diversity of flora and fauna.

Cherokee National Forest – ©AppalachianCentrist CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Forests cover about 52% of Tennessee’s land area, with oak–hickory the dominant type. Appalachian oak-pine and cove hardwood forests are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, and bottomland hardwood forests are common throughout the Gulf Coastal Plain. Pine forests are also found throughout the state. The Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest in the highest elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains is considered the second-most endangered ecosystem in the country. Some of the last remaining large American chestnut trees grow in the Nashville Basin and are being used to help breed blight-resistant trees. Middle Tennessee is home to many unusual and rare ecosystems known as cedar glades, which occur in areas with shallow limestone bedrock that is largely barren of overlying soil and contain many endemic plant species.

Most of Tennessee has a humid subtropical climate, with the exception of some of the higher elevations in the Appalachians, which are classified as a cooler mountain temperate or humid continental climate. The Gulf of Mexico is the dominant factor in Tennessee’s climate, with winds from the south responsible for most of the state’s annual precipitation. Generally, the state has hot, humid summers and mild to cool winters with generous precipitation throughout the year. The highest average monthly precipitation usually occurs between December and April. The driest months, on average, are August to October. The state receives an average of 130cm (50 inches) of precipitation annually.

While Tennessee is far enough from the coast to avoid any direct impact from a hurricane, its location makes it susceptible to the remnants of tropical cyclones, which weaken over land and can cause significant rainfall. The state annually averages about 50 days of thunderstorms, which can be severe with large hail and damaging winds. Tornadoes are possible throughout the state, with West and Middle Tennessee the most vulnerable. The state averages 15 tornadoes annually. They can be severe, and the state leads the nation in the percentage of total tornadoes that have fatalities. Fog is a persistent problem in some areas, especially in East Tennessee.

Birding Tennessee

Tennessee is home to over 350 species of birds, 325 freshwater fis, 89 mammals, 77 amphibians, and 61 reptiles. Common mammals found throughout Tennessee include white-tailed deer, red and grey foxes, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and squirrels. Black bears are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the Cumberland Plateau. Tennessee has the third-highest number of amphibian species, with the Great Smoky Mountains home to the most salamander species in the world. The state ranks second in the nation for the diversity of its freshwater fish species.

From the Mississippi River at Memphis to the 6,600ft high mountain peaks along its eastern border, Tennessee offers the greatest variety of bird habitats of any landlocked state in the east of the US. Around 420 species have been recorded in the state, and about 175 species regularly nest there.

The birds of Tennessee have been well studied since the early 20th century, largely through the efforts of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. The TOS has a network of local chapters in most of the larger cities. Most of these chapters hold regular field trips, and visitors are enthusiastically welcomed. Local contacts are available through the TOS web site. The web site also includes the TOS newsletter, the official state list, and a growing online bird-finding guide.

This page is sponsored by Tipton County Museum Birdfest

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 423

    (As at April 2024)

    State Bird - Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

  • Avibase - Bird Checklists of the World

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Tennessee , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years. I am pleased to offer these checklists as a service to birdwatchers.
  • Tennessee Ornithological Society

    Official Checklist
    The Official List of the Birds of Tennessee is compiled by the Tennessee Bird Records Committee. The sequence and nomenclature follow the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds.
  • Wikipedia

    Annotated List
    This list of birds of Tennessee includes species documented in the U.S. state of Tennessee and accepted by the Tennessee Bird Records Committee (TBRC) of the Tennessee Ornithological Society
Useful Reading

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Tennessee

    By Charles P Nicholson | University of Tennessee Press | 1997 | Hardcover | 426 pages, B/w illustrations, figs, tabs, maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 0870499874 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Tennessee - Field Guide

    | By Stan Tekiela | Adventure Publications | Edition 2 | 2022 | Paperback | 328 pages, colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781647552152 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Tennessee: A New Annotated Checklist

    By Scott G Somershoe & Christopher A Sloan | Scott & Sloan | 2015 | Paperback | ISBN: 9781507815755 Buy this book from
  • Tennessee Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species

    By James R Kavanagh & Raymond Leung | Waterford Press | 2000 | Unbound | 12 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781583551172 Buy this book from
  • The Birds of Northeast Tennessee

    (An Annotated Checklist for Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington Counties) | By Richard L Knight | Bristol Bird Club | 2008 | Paperback | 127 pages, illustrations, colour maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780615237565 Buy this book from
Festivals & Bird Fairs
  • Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival

    Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is happy to host the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival in Birchwood in January. . The festival includes the popular American Eagle Foundation, recording artists 2ND Nature, a main speaker, folk singers and arts and craft vendors.
  • Tipton County Birdfest

    Facebook Page
    May 3-5, 2024 in Covington, Tennessee in Tipton County. It will be held at the Tipton County Museum Veteran's Memorial and Nature Center. We will have birding hikes, walks, speakers, an educational snake show, birds of prey show, door prizes, museum exhibits and much more!
Museums & Universities
  • McClung Museum - Birds of the World

    Bird illustrations are both art and science. In the days before photography, the illustrations manifested details most humans did not have the opportunity to see. The McClung Museum has a notable collection of bird illustrations, thanks to the generosity of two couples, the late Mr. and Mrs. John L. Greer of Knoxville and Mr. and Mrs. Joel E. Rynning of Atlanta.
  • Tipton County Museum

    Home of Tipton County Birdfest 751 Bert Johnston Ave Covington, TN 38019 P.O. Box 768 (901) 476-0242 Covington, TN 38019
  • Audubon Society in Tennessee

    Offices & Chapters etc.
  • Bristol Bird Club

    Facebook Page
    The Bristol Bird Club was founded in Bristol, Tennessee, Bristol, Virginia in 1950 to promote the enjoyment, scientific study and conservation of wild birds. It is a Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society and is a member club of the Virginia Society of Ornithology. We meet on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, except June and September, 7:00 pm, at the Bristol, Va. Public Library. We have members from a large area in Virginia and Tennessee. Everyone is welcome to join. We have regular monthly field trips, an annual picnic, banquet and Christmas Party. We also sponsor an email listserve called Bristol-Birds that you may join to receive info on recent sightings. Click below to sign up for the listserve.
  • Chattanooga Audubon Society

    By visiting one of our properties, participating in an event, or bringing your class for a field trip, you contribute to the vital work of the Chattanooga Audubon Society. Our organization works tirelessly to protect and conserve our cherished land, resident creatures, and rich history. You sustain our efforts in preserving the breathtaking natural wonders that surround us.
  • Cumberland-Harpeth Audubon Society

    Facebook Page
    Cumberland-Harpeth Audubon Society is an outdoor social group focusing on environmental conservation and natural activities with birds in mind!
  • Nature Conservancy in Tennessee

    When you donate today, you will help ensure a thriving natural environment for future generations in Tennessee.
  • TOS - Bristol Bird Club - J Wallace Coffey Chapter

    We generally meet on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. We have both in-person meetings and a Zoom Video option. Our meeting place is in the Ascent Room of The Summit at 1227 Volunteer Parkway in Bristol, TN. The Zoom invitations are emailed to members or guests who request a link.
  • TOS - Buffalo River Chapter

    The Buffalo River Chapter was founded in 1972 and touted over twenty members at that time. Membership waned in recent years and there was even talk of disbanding. But, the chapter’s dedicated members held fast and membership is now growing! Most of our members live in Lawrence County and we have members from Giles, Lewis, and Maury Counties. Over the years the chapter hosted state forays and three state meetings.
  • TOS - Chattanooga Chapter

    The Chattanooga Chapter of TOS is devoted to the study and enjoyment of birds. The Chat, a newsletter for the members, is published monthly . The Chattanooga Chapter of TOS is a non-profit organization that is devoted to the study of birds in the South east Tennessee and North Georgia region.
  • TOS - Kingsport Chapter

    We are located in Kingsport, Tennessee. Our club strives to promote the public awareness of birds, nature, and conservation issues through the study of birds primarily in the Greater Kingsport area and through projects aimed to conserve bird populations.
  • TOS - Knoxville Chapter

    Welcome to the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society! That’s KTOS for short. We’re Knoxville’s premier bird club—we promote, educate, and protect birds and birdwatching in East Tennessee.
  • TOS - Lebanon Chapter - John W Sellars Chapter

    Website is the web presence of the John W. Sellars – Lebanon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. We are a group of birding enthusiasts loosely based in Lebanon Tennessee.
  • TOS - Lee and Lois Herndon

    If you already love birds (or you think you might learn to), you’re going to love birding with The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society...
  • TOS - Memphis Chapter

    The Tennessee Ornithological Society is an independent, non-profit, educational and scientific organization devoted to the study and conservation of birds. Our members encourage the study of bird life, to record such findings and to spread our interest among others.
  • TOS - Nashville Chapter

    The Tennessee Ornithological Society was founded in Nashville on October 7, 1915. In 1924, with the formation of the East Tennessee Ornithological Society in Knoxville, TOS began to diversify into separate chapters and from there forth we became known as the Nashville Chapter of The Tennessee Ornithological Society (NTOS).
  • TOS Records Committee

    The Tennessee Bird Records Committee maintains the official state list of wild birds on behalf of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. Documentation of evidence of new or rare species may be submitted to the committee for review and inclusion into the Tennessee database. The committee is currently putting together a system of status codes for each species that has occurred in the state. The initial list will be published in The Warbler for review
  • Tennessee Ornithological Society

    The Tennessee Ornithological Society was founded in 1915 to promote the enjoyment, scientific study, and conservation of birds. The TOS publishes a quarterly journal, The Migrant, and a newsletter, The Tennessee Warbler, and holds statewide meetings. It is also a federation of local chapters which hold regular meetings and field trips.
  • Tennessee Wildlife Federation

    We are advocates, hunters, anglers, and boots-on-the-ground conservationists who work to ensure everyone has access to the outdoors.
  • Warioto Audubon Society

    Facebook Page
    The Warioto Chapter of the National Audubon Society is located in Clarksville, Tennessee. We are a chapter of the National Audubon Society, Inc. Our members have an interest in birds, conservation and nature. We welcome everyone from beginners to experts to join us.

Abbreviations Key

  • *IBAs Tennessee

    WebpageSatellite View
  • BS Audubon Acres

    WebpageSatellite View
    Discover 5 miles of trails on 130 acres. A swinging bridge carries visitors over South Chickamauga Creek to explore forest, riparian, wetland, meadow, and hilltop habitats.
  • IBA Brainerd Marsh

    WebpageSatellite View
    The Brainerd levee and retention area were built in the 1970's to prevent flood waters from South Chickamauga Creek from damaging the neighborhoods in Brainerd.
  • IBA Ensley Bottoms Complex

    WebpageSatellite View
    The site consists of an array of sewage sludge drying ponds - some dry and some flooded. Shallow water/mudflat habitat attractive to shorebirds is abundant and large numbers of shorebirds frequent the area. The area is not open to the general public but birders are allowed to enter. Caution: The disagreeable odors from the sludge drying ponds can be overwhelming. After rain, dirt roads are extremely slippery and caution must be taken. Never take risks while driving in and birding this area.
  • IBA Shelby Farms Park

    WebpageSatellite View
    Shelby Farms Park and Shelby Farms Greenline are open from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year.
  • IBA WMA Bark Camp Barrens

    WebpageSatellite View
    The site is a significant grassland habitat and one of a very few in the state where parts are specifically managed for grassland birds. About 1,078 acres of the 2,700 acres is suitable for grassland species. Many grassland species, including several of species of conservation species, occur at Bark Camp Barrens. A gray male and female (brown) Northern Harrier, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, have been present during the breeding seasons of 2004-2006. No nest has been found, yet. At least 50 territories of Henslow's Sparrows, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, were counted in 2004-2006. This represents one of the largest concentrations of Henslow's Sparrow know in Tennessee. Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, and Eastern Meadowlark occur regularly, with fewer Grasshopper Sparrows in 2006. Prairie Warblers occur commonly in the reforested mitigation bank, however populations will likely decline as succession continues.
  • IBA WMA Tigrett

    WebpageSatellite View
    Species associated with ponded swamp wetland habitat highlight this site. Mississippi Kite, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, averages 20 individuals and a maximum of 50 individuals using the site during the breeding season (1993-2004). Bald Eagle, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, averages 4 birds and a maximum of 8 birds during the winter (1993-2004). In spring 2005, one pair of eagles nested on the site. Shorebirds occur in small numbers. From 1995-1998, point counts were conducted and a total of 65 species were detected. Prothonotary Warbler was the most common neotropical migratory songbird, followed by Indigo Bunting, Acadian Flycatcher, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Great crested Flycatcher, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Large numbers of wading birds occur during migration. Waterfowl occur commonly after hunting seasons.
  • NP Great Smoky Mountains

    WebpageSatellite View
    Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America's most visited national park.
  • NR Owl's Hill Nature Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    125 species of birds have been recorded on site through population surveys performed by the National Audubon Society. Nearly all mammals native to Middle Tennessee are in residence at Owl’s Hill.
  • NWR Hiwassee

    WebpageSatellite View
    This site has the largest winter flock of Sandhill Cranes in the southeast United States outside of Florida. Waterfowl and gull numbers are good for the area of the state. Great Blue Heron numbers are substantial in winter. On the Hiwassee CBC in the period 2001-2005, there was an average of 192 birds with highs of 253 birds (January 1, 2003) and 244 birds (January 1, 2004). Bald Eagle numbers in winter rank among the top five in the state. In the period 2001-2005, Hiwassee CBC counts of Bald Eagles were: January 1, 2001 (20); January 1, 2002 (20); January 1, 2003 (26);January 1, 2004 (15); and January 1, 2005 (20); for a 5-year average of 20.2 birds. One pair of Bald Eagles nest on the refuge and several pairs nearby.
  • NWR Reelfoot Lake

    WebpageSatellite View
    Reelfoot Lake offers year-round wildlife viewing with habitats that attract river otter, white-tailed deer, beaver, coyote, as well as the great blue heron, great and cattle egret, osprey, insects, and songbirds in profusion. Hundreds of bald eagles winter here, with peak numbers occurring December through February; look for them perching along lakeshore, or following commercial fishermen. A smaller number of eagles are year-round residents.
  • NWR Tennessee

    WebpageSatellite View
    The Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge encompasses over 50,000 acres on and around Kentucky Lake in northwest Tennessee. The refuge's three units, Big Sandy, Duck River, and Busseltown, stretch for 65 miles along the Tennessee River. Established in 1945, the refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an important resting and feeding area for wintering waterfowl, as well as, many migratory birds and resident wildlife
Sightings, News & Forums
  • ABA Tennessee Bird News

    Sightings posted in date order...

    TN-bird is a birding communications network covering the entire state of Tennessee where you can: * report and receive rare bird sighting information
  • Tennessee Birding

    This forum is a place for birders that are interested in birds seen in Tennessee.
  • Tennessee Rare Bird Alert

    The report below shows observations of rare birds in Tennessee. Includes both unreviewed and reviewed/approved observations.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    Birding Ecotours, a leader in small group and custom-made birding adventures worldwide, offers an amazing tour to the Great Smokey Mountains in May to witness spring migration, and seek out challenging species such as Eastern Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow!
  • Mountain Inn Birding Package

    Tour Operator
    Whether you are a first time bird watcher or a seasoned ‘birder’, come explore some of East Tennessee’s richest natural treasures. ENJOY A BIRD WATCHING EXPERIENCE in the “Valley Beautiful” Unicoi County, TN
Trip Reports
  • 2016 [05 May] - Bruce Wedderburn - SE USA

    This was a two-month trip to southeast USA for Yvonne and myself, from late March through to late May, with a focus on the Spring migration, in particular the highly varied and colourful warblers. The trip commenced in Dallas in early Spring and involved touring through Texas along the Mexican border, following the Gulf of Mexico around to Florida as far south as Key West, then heading north up the east coast of the USA, then inland to the Appalachian Ranges in North Carolina, before heading west for our return trip to Dallas. Qantas has direct flights from Sydney to Dallas which avoids flying on any internal flights within the USA.
  • 2018 [05 May] - Geoff Upton

    PDF Report
    ...Memphis is not a birding city, but it was interesting to stroll over the bluff to the river early morning. In Jefferson Davis Park and around the cobblestones were many American robins, common grackles, chimney swifts and purple martins. A couple of Forster’s terns were fishing near the quay, where there were a few hirundines – rough-winged, cliff ad barn swallows. In the city streets were various signs highlighting sites of historical interest – often music-related. We visited the superb Stax soul museum, in the out-of-town building where Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd made their classic recordings...
  • 2020 [02 February] - Kevin Burke

    We started our tour off on Friday afternoon at the Hiwassee Crane Viewing area. We were immediately greeted with a large raft of CANVASBACK in the pond below. GREEN-WINGED TEAL, GADWALL, and WOOD DUCKS were also present in the slough. We kept hearing SANDHILL CRANES flying over and had a few views of them in the air, but unfortunately none landed nearby. Five SAVANNAH SPARROWS landed in a tree in the field and allowed scope views. We next travelled to another part of the refuge called the Cherokee Removal Park. This area overlooks Chickamauga Lake and the Hiwassee River. It gives great Bluff views of a wide area. We had many more SANDHILL CRANES in the area flying around, but again not the views were hoping for. Our first of many BALD EAGLES soared over the water searching for one of their favorite food items the AMERICAN COOT, of which there were plenty. We ended the day trying to get better views of the slough, but to no avail.
  • 2022 [03 March] - Gary Brunvoll

    In total 40 species were observed, including numerous Wilson Snipe and a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Places to Stay
  • Iron Mountain Inn

    You can spa under the stars at the chalet for a romantic rendezvous on our wrap around deck
  • Bird Feeder Hub

    Hi! We’re Melanie and Jesse, the masterminds behind Thanks for visiting our about page! We are just two normal people that enjoy feeding birds and learning about them.
  • Chatta Nooga

    A Guide to Chattanooga's Unique Birding Opportunities - A wide range of protected habitats makes Chattanooga an exciting destination for bird watching. Seasoned birders have likely heard of the area’s Sandhill Crane festival, but the city and surrounding region also offer unique bird viewing opportunities year-round. Whether you’re in search of easy-to-spot wildlife or more elusive feathered friends, there is an incredible amount of diversity to be found in Chattanooga’s migrating and resident birds.
Photographers & Artists
  • Artist - Wes & Rachelle Siegrist

    Discover inside our available paintings and miniatures of wildlife art, fact-filled newsletter, Artist's statements, step by step paintings, personal photos, upcoming exhibits and insights into our world. View Wes's paintings of the Florida Panther used to illustrate a Nature Conservancy Habitat book. Join our rapidly growing family of online visitors and collectors.

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