Important Bird Areas

Cumberland Mountains


The Cumberland Mountains extend from northern Tennessee to West Virginia. They lie in a heavily forested region representing one of the largest blocks of primarily hardwood forest in Tennessee. The landscape is nearly 93% forested and includes three significant publicly owned tracts--Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area, Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area, and Sundquist WMA. Within the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee, mixed mesophytic forest covers moist slopes. The watersheds of the New River and Emory River transect this area providing additional riparian habitats for birds. The area also contains one of the densest beaver populations in eastern Tennessee, providing local concentrations of forested wetland habitats.
Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area (12,570 acres [8,620 acres Class I natural area and 3,950 acres Class II natural area which is everything below 1600' elevation contour and that includes the state park]), near Wartburg, Morgan County, is an excellent example of what presettlement conditions might have been hundreds of years ago. The mountains here are some of the highest in Tennessee west of the Great Smoky Mountains, with 14 mountain peaks eclipsing 3,000 feet, the highest being Frozen Head Mountain at 3,324 feet. The name "Frozen Head" drives from the peaks that are often capped with snow or ice in winter. The lowest elevation is at the Flat Rock access at 1,340 feet.
Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area (50,000 acres), Campbell and Scott counties, and the Sundquist WMA (73,000 acres), Anderson, Campbell, and Scott counties, are 35 miles north of Knoxville. The habitat of these mountain forested areas is similar to the Frozen Head area, but has been mined and logged years ago, providing more open and edge habitat.
Clearcutting for the reintroduced elk population is a large threat to the integrity of the area.

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Ornithological Summary

The bird-life of the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee is particularly rich. While current and past surface mining and even-aged forest management have compromised the quality of the forest in some areas in the Cumberland Mountains, it still provides extensive habitat for the entire suite of forest interior species that are identified by Partners in Flight as priority species because of declining population trends.
It is estimated that 80% of the global population of Cerulean Warblers, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, nest in the BCR 28 (Appalachian Mountains). The Tennessee portion of the mountains harbor as much as 15 to 20% of this population. Point count routes in mid-aged to mature hardwood forests recorded the species on over 50% of points during sampling from 1995-1997. During the Cerulean Warbler Atlas Project from 1997-2000, more Cerulean Warblers were reported from the Royal Blue WMA than at any of the other 73 sites surveyed. Nowhere else in the specie's range do breeding densities exceed those found in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee with 6 to 10 territorial males per 10 hectares recorded. The Cerulean Warbler habitat model predicts that 39% of the Cumberland Mountains is potential breeding habitat for as many as 44,000 breeding pairs. A Cerulean Warbler Survey in Frozen Head State Natural Area has been conducted 1993-2005. Cerulean Warbler data from a 10-mile (16-kilometer) walking transect in the natural area reveal a decline of 60% from 1994 to 2004. The reduction in numbers has been fairly steady over the decade in question; the reduction is most noticeable at lower elevations (1,500-2,500 feet) and less noticeable at higher elevations (2,500-3,300 feet).
The Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee harbor one of the most important concentrations of Golden-winged Warblers, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, in the southeastern United States. In 2001, surveys in the counties of Anderson, Campbell and Scott for the Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project totaled 69 Golden-winged Warblers. Golden-winged Warblers occupy a variety of early successional habitats within the mountains but are primarily associated with abandoned and reclaimed strip mines.
The avifauna of the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee includes disjunct nesting populations of species typically associated with higher elevation forests of the Southern Blue Ridge. This species suite includes Veery, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The most common species detected on point count routes conducted in the Cumberland Mountains from 1996-2000 included Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Indigo Bunting, species expected to be associated with a heavily forested landscape.