The Upper Blue Ridge Mountains IBA follows a long but narrow (~2-10 miles wide) forested corridor lying in a northeast/southwest orientation along the spine of the Blue Ridge escarpment. This mountain ridge overlooks the Virginia Piedmont to the east and the Shenandoah Valley to the west. Rugged peaks range in elevation from about 1000 feet to over 4000 feet and are primarily composed of resistant rocks such as granites and greenstone.

{link:For a fact sheet on this IBA, including a map, click here|}

Ornithological Summary

The Upper Blue Ridge Mountains IBA supports an incredible abundance and diversity of bird species throughout the year. Virginia?s only known Appalachian breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons nests on Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Several prominent rocky outcrops in this region played an historical important role in maintaining Peregrine populations prior to their demise in the 1950?s due to DDT. Northern Saw-whet Owls are also known to breed in the IBA and likely exceed thresholds. Dry ridges and cove forests support what is likely the largest population of Cerulean Warblers in Virginia. The large extent and diversity of forest communities support significant populations of Neotropical migrants such as the Wood Thrush, Canada Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush as well as a suite of mature deciduous forest species of regional responsibility. Due to the shape and orientation of this IBA along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the site is not only important for breeding birds but also as a movement conduit for both passerines and raptors. It is one of the most significant fall raptor flyways in Virginia, supporting thousands of raptors each year and also serving as important stopover habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating passerines.

Conservation Issues

The primary threat to this IBA is the widespread invasion of non-native species. Beginning with the loss of the American Chestnut in the early 20th century to Chestnut Blight, the forests of the Appalachians have been increasingly threatened by an onslaught of non-native plants, insects, and diseases. Non-native plants currently comprise over 23% of the flora in some portions of the IBA, threatening to permanently alter the composition and availability of quality habitats for birds. Prescribed burns are implemented in the George Washington National Forest lands and in Shenandoah National Park to help control invasive species. Additionally, manual removal of invasive plant species by staff and volunteers should help maintain the diversity of the natural plant community. Several TogetherGreen volunteer events have been held in the IBA to support these efforts. The invasive hemlock woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect from Japan, has infested the majority of the hemlock stands in the area, all but ensuring their loss. Although hemlock forest communities comprise a relatively small proportion of the IBA, the loss of these forests will have a locally significant effect on bird species that depend upon or are associated with hemlocks such as the Acadian Flycatcher, Blackburnian Warlber, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Canada Warbler. Overbrowsing of the forest understory by white-tailed deer, which reduces nesting substrates for ground nesting birds, is also a significant problem throughout the IBA.


Approximately 40% of the migration corridor falls within the George Washington National Forest, 35% falls within Shenandoah National Park, less than one percent is owned by Sky Meadows State Park and another 1% is owned by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in two Wildlife Management Areas - Rapidan and G. R. Thompson WMAs. The remainder of the site is a mix of private, municipal and other ownerships.


Base-rich soils and a wide range of topgraphical gradients support diverse forests of mixed oaks and hickories throughout much of the IBA that give way to northern red oak forests at the highest elevations. In sheltered areas on moist, eastern-facing slopes, rich cove forests develop that contain a mixture of hardwoods such as basswoods, ash, and tulip poplar with lush herbaceous undergrowth. These areas also support local communities of eastern hemlocks.

Land Use

The majority of the land within the Upper Blue Ridge Mountains IBA exists under some kind of protection status that either directly or indirectly benefits wildlife. Shenandoah NP contains large Wilderness Areas (~40% of the park) that are maintained for wildlife and both state WMAs are managed for wildlife conservation. The large tract of the George Washington National Forest is primarily managed for timber and wildlife. All protected areas of the IBA allow low-impact recreational activities such as hiking, wildlife photography or horse-back riding in certain parts of the area. Privately owned land exists in a mixture of agriculture, residential and urban development, and undeveloped forest.

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