Bird watchers, or birders, are thrilled for what’s to come as migration guides birds into the High Country, which is one of the most diverse breeding areas in the eastern part of the country.

Birding, the form of wildlife observation as a recreational activity, can be performed by watching birds through the naked eye and binoculars or by simply listening for bird sounds, perfect for anyone of all ages interested in enjoying nature through watching birds. Birders learn to identify birds and understand what they're doing by watching them in their habitats, which range from backyards and local parks to lakes, mountain hikes and recreation areas.

According to Outdoor Foundation’s Outdoor Participation Report of 2013, bird watching ranks third in favorite outdoor activities by frequency of participation, behind running and biking.

A local community of bird watchers has been formed and continues to grow in the High Country as bird watching becomes more popular in the U.S.

Curtis Smalling, the director of the Land Bird Conservation at the Audubon Society of North Carolina, said that the area has long been a destination for birders because there is an abundance of birds with lots of variety and habits at differing elevations, which affects bird species distribution.

Another appeal is that the High Country offers widely available public access to areas that birds inhabit throughout the Blue Ridge Parkway, state and community parks and other sites where citizens can get out and enjoy birds.

The High Country has also been featured in guidebooks for birders and has several locations that are stops on the N.C. Birding Trail.

The region provides a home to about 160 breeding species of birds, with over 250 species appearing during their migratory routes, due to favorable conditions in the area. Audubon NC’s website said that habitat is a defining factor as to which places will have the most bird species: “Without good habitats, many birds are unable to find nest sites, locate enough food or have places to hide from predators.” The High Country possesses a range of elevations, which in turn houses a variety of birds.

Smalling added, “Almost anywhere in the High Country has dozens of species close by, and they advertise their presence to each other the same way we do, through sight and sound. So we can tune into them really easily.”

Naturalist Diane Porter reflected on that “birding is a quest. You set out to see birds — but the prize you come back with can only be described as happiness. Learning to bird is like getting a lifetime ticket to the theater of nature.”

For more information on birds, walks and meetings, contact the Watauga County Birding Hotline at (828) 265-0198.

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