Tennessee & Kentucky2020-11-24T17:13:16-05:00

Tennessee & Kentucky

Chris Sloan

This region comprises two biogeographically similar U. S. states. Both are bounded by the Mississippi River in the west and the Appalachian Mountains in the east. Despite being landlocked, the transition from the low-lying floodplains in the west, through the central plateau, to the high elevations in the east creates a rich diversity of habitats, particularly for breeding songbirds In addition, the Mississippi River is one of the continent’s four major migratory flyways, which brings not only large numbers of diverse migrant species, but also a number of vagrants throughout the year.

The Gulf coastal plain reaches its northern terminus in the western part of the region, and correspondingly features the region’s only breeding populations of species like Anhinga, Mississippi Kite, Painted Bunting, and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. At the opposite extreme, the highest elevations of the Appalachian Mountains feature the southernmost patches of boreal forest, bringing with them breeding populations of Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Alder Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Veery, and other species otherwise only known as migrants or winter visitors.

The Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi river systems create an abundance of wetlands; however, the TVA hydroelectric dams regulate the water levels very precisely. Thus, the region has a number of large manmade lakes (and only one sizable natural one, Reelfoot Lake) which hold significant winter populations of waterfowl, but somewhat ephemeral and unpredictable conditions for shorebirds and marshbirds.

Despite a long history of logging and surface mining, large tracts of forest rich in Eastern forest breeding songbirds remain throughout the region. Of particular note, the foothills in the eastern part of the region represent a crucial breeding stronghold for the threatened Cerulean Warbler.

With tourist destinations like Nashville and Memphis and their music scenes, Louisville and the Kentucky bourbon trail, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the U. S., the Tennessee–Kentucky region has a lot to offer for both birders and non-birders alike


The ABA gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Kentucky & Tennessee Regional Editor Chris Sloan to promoting knowledge and understanding about the birdlife of the continent.

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