Our study of bird presence in White and Habersham counties began
in 2003 with an emphasis on backyard birds, their seasonal occurrence,
and what vegetation, food, or other habitat feature attracts them.
Several birdwatchers submitted backyard species lists, some accrued
over several years. The longest list, 80+ species, not surprisingly
came from a lakefront location having a large variety of vegetation,
including a wooded area, and a large variety of commercial bird
feed and homemade suet. Even without these special habitats and
amenities, however, backyard bird watching here can yield impressive
numbers of species, with some new observers reporting more than
40 species and longer-term watchers more than 60 different birds.
Native serviceberry, rough sunflower, and dogwood, as well as planted
nandina and red-flowered herbs and shrubs are said to be particularly
attractive to backyard birds.
Some of our backyard and neighborhood bird data comes from participating
in annual wintertime bird counts organized by Cornell University
Ornithology Lab in partnership with the Audubon Society:
Feeder Watch (www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/),
which monitors changes in feeder bird populations over the winter
and years, November 11-April 6 each year.
Christmas Bird Count (www.audubon.org/bird/cbc), which
occurs one calendar day between December 14 and January 5.
Backyard Bird Count (www.birdsource.org/gbbc), which is conducted
Friday-Monday of Presidents’ Day weekend in February.
We participate most consistently in Cornell’s GBBC, which,
though still most interested in backyard data, has expanded to
local parks, reservoirs, sea shores and other public places. GBBC
observations are reported by zip code so that local, regional and
national bird population trends can be documented.
In addition to GBBC data, our bird study includes many other observations
beyond the backyard. Productive birding sites include Demorest
Lake at Piedmont College, Moccasin Creek State Park in northern
Habersham County, and Smithgall Woods and Unicoi S.P. in White
County. Smithgall and Unicoi naturalists conduct slide show programs
and bird walks each spring. Recorded bird songs are played to aid
in identifying more-often-heard-than-seen birds, such as warblers.
The programs are in the evening, the walks in the morning; pre-registration
is required. For 2007:
Smithgall Woods: 706-878-3087; Friday, April
27, 7 pm; Saturday, April 28, 8 am.
Unicoi S.P.: 706-878-2310; Friday,
May 11, 7 pm; Saturday, May 12, 8 am
To date, more than 190 birds have been recorded from White and
Habersham counties. Some of these are year-round, permanent residents
that may move from locale to locale but do not migrate to summer
or winter ranges. Many more are birds that come through in spring
and/or fall on their way to distant or nearby seasonal ranges.
For still others, our area is within their summer or winter range,
and they migrate in to stay for the season. This annual turnover
gives birdwatchers something to look forward to, whether that is
the return of a familiar favorite or a new bird to add to a personal
list. It also makes bird watching interesting throughout the year.
here to access our list of Habersham and White County birds <<<
of Interest by Season
Note: Photographs below (except the Chipping
Sparrow) are courtesy of Eugene Kelley, SNCA birder and professional
photographer, and should not be reproduced without permission
Area lakes attract several overwintering ducks and other water
birds, with Lake Burton at Moccasin Creek S.P. consistently having
the greatest numbers. Unicoi and Demorest lakes also have winter
ducks, and a flotilla of 11 uncommon Redhead at Demorest Lake was
a highlight observation during the GBBC of 2004.
The area around Demorest Lake is habitat for the Fish Crow, an
uncommon year-round resident differentiated from the abundant American
Crow by its call: a short, nasal “ca” rather than a
long “caaw”. The Red-shouldered Hawk and Belted Kingfisher
live there, and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is present in winter.
However, bird presence at this site probably will be affected by
the expansion of Piedmont College across the lake, where trees
have been removed and construction of buildings is underway.
Twenty-nine bird species were observed at Moccasin Creek during
the 2006 GBBC. The Pine and Yellow-rumped warblers were seen, along
with Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, and Pied-billed Grebe, among
other water birds; Wood Duck were observed on a smaller lake nearby.
The Pine is our only documented year-round warbler, and the Yellow-rumped
is one of four warblers known to winter here; the others are the
Palm, Orange-crowned, and Chestnut-sided, all reported from Unicoi
and/or Smithgall Woods.
A wintertime bird walk at SNCA and adjacent pastures produced
a flock of American Pipits, as well as several Killdeer, Phoebes,
Bluebirds, and two Red-shouldered Hawks. A fairly common winter
resident in fields over most of Georgia, the pipit is a highlight,
rare observation in mountainous areas; it is distinguishable from
similar looking sparrows by an up-and-down bobbing tail and a tendency
to walk rather than hop while foraging.
Two reports of the Red Crossbill, from Sautee Nacoochee and Clarkesville,
also are special highlight observations. Called a nomad by bird
experts, this orange-red finch has no regular seasonal patterns,
only occasionally wandering southward into Georgia and breeding
even in winter. Like the pipit, it has not been reported from our
Our backyard sparrow presence increases significantly in winter,
with numerous Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows competing
with omnipresent Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals for seeds
dropped from hanging feeders. Less numerous but fairly easily spotted
among these ground feeders are White-throated and Song sparrows.
Two large, distinctive sparrows that may be present, the Fox and
White-crowned are highlight observations for the backyard bird
A close sparrow relative, the Purple Finch, is a colorful addition
to our wintertime feeders. With darker and more extensive red coloring
than the more common permanent resident House Finch, the Purple
is probably best distinguished by the absence of bold breast stripes.
Both females lack red color and have breast streaks, but the Purple
has bold white stripes above and below the eye.
Our smallest winter residents are the Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned
kinglets. These tiny (4 inches or less) woodland birds occasionally
visit backyard feeders or shrubs and can be spotted by their size
and propensity to flap their wings when foraging.
Spring and Fall
Most migrants through our area have been observed during both
spring (March-May) and fall (August-November) flights to their
respective summer and winter ranges. Others may have been missed
during one or the other, or some may take different routes in spring
and fall. Our designation of migration-time presence, like that
of abundance, is based both on observation and reports in the literature,
primarily bird lists from Unicoi S.P. and Smithgall Woods. As mentioned
above, spring bird walks at these parks emphasize birding-by-ear,
which allows identification of species hidden by foliage. A popular
rest area for migrants, especially warblers, is in the Chattahoochee
National Forest of Union County, along Ivy Log Gap Road, where
early spring foliage is not so dense and most birds can be spotted
as well as heard.
As indicated on our bird list, several species, many warblers,
are reported from the state parks but have not been seen there
or elsewhere by our bird group. However, we are able to report
a warbler not recorded at the parks: a single sighting of the Prothonotary
Warbler at a residence in Sautee Nacoochee in spring 2005.
The White-eyed Vireo, possibly our most common spring migrant
and occasional summer resident, is a smallish (5 inches) bird that
inhabits dense undergrowth and can best be spotted in early spring.
Its call begins and ends with a “chick”, with “adooweeoo” in
Numbers of migrating water birds visit our lakes. Uncommon Lesser
Scaup and American Wigeon were spotted at Unicoi in mid-March,
and 25 American Coot, 25 Blue-winged Teal, and a rare, lone Common
Loon were seen there in early April. A loon also was observed in
a backyard lake, where the rare Northern Shoveler and Virginia
Rail, as well as a number of Least Sandpipers also have been recorded.
Migrating Sandhill Cranes have been seen flying over Blue Creek
and Sautee Nacoochee communities.
Migrants making fleeting stops at backyard feeders include two
particularly pretty birds, the Blue Grosbeak and the colorful red,
white, and black Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Both usually are seen
in late April and again in October, although the Rose-breasted
has been seen as late as mid-December. The Blue Grosbeak is distinguished
from its equally pretty relative, the somewhat smaller Indigo Bunting,
by a thicker bill and two rusty-colored wingbars. Both may arrive
here at the same time, but the bunting commonly remains for the
summer, while the grosbeak rarely does.
Two highlight observations during August 2003 that could be considered
accidental to our area were the American Golden Plover, sighted
at a farm on Hwy 197N, and the Swallow-tailed Kite sighted farther
south on a farm on Hwy 255. The plover’s fall migration route
to South America from eastern Canada, usually direct, makes it
the more likely to be observed, and it is recorded statewide except
in the mountains. The kite, a large (22-inch), striking black and
white raptor that summers in Florida and along the eastern Gulf
Coast and the southernmost Atlantic Coast has been reported from
Sautee Nacoochee in the past (August,1982); its migration routes,
both south, make it an unlikely visitor here, but a group of 11
In addition to the entertaining and unique Ruby- throated Hummingbird,
summertime brings the Purple Martin, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Gray
Catbird, and Wood Thrush to many backyards. The thrush, noted for
its melodic song, generally stays hidden in wooded areas unlike
its relative, the larger and less shy Brown Thrasher.
Summer nights may be noisy with the calls of the Chuck–will’s–widow
and the Whip-poor-will. The Chuck is more common here than the
Whip but sometimes is mistaken for the Whip because the “chuk” part
of its call may be difficult to discern. The best distinction is
the “broken record” effect of the Chuck’s serial
repetition of its call, which can be a source of consternation
to light sleepers.
The colorful Scarlet Tanager, rare in summer here, appears to
be at the southern limit of its summer range and is considered
primarily a migrant. Its kin, the Summer Tanager, is a more common
summer resident. Both are rarely seen and can be mistaken for each
other. The male Scarlet has distinctly black wings and tail, while
the Summer is entirely red, though darker on the wings and tail.
Either is a highlight observation for the backyard observer.
Two large (8-9 inches) flycatchers, the Great Crested and Kingbird,
join the somewhat smaller permanent resident Eastern Phoebe to
help control our abundant summertime flying insect populations.
The Kingbird is so-called because he aggressively chases larger
birds out of his established one-acre territory, leaving him “king
of the roost”. He can be recognized by a black back and head,
white breast, and white-tipped tail feathers. The more common Great
Crested sometimes may be located by homing in on his distinctive,
loud whistled “wheeap”. The Phoebe announces its presence
by calling its name.
More than half of our recorded warblers may be found here during
summer. Although most of our summer warblers occur over much of
the state, five of them appear to be at the southernmost limit
of their summer ranges. Smithgall Woods reports these as summer
residents: the Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cerulean,
Canada, and Blackburnian. The rare Cerulean appears to be the latest
species to expand its summer range southward.
Most of our permanent residents are well known and present in
our yards and pastures at some time or another. The Blue Jay, Cardinal,
Towhee, Chickadee, Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Brown Thrasher, Mockingbird,
Robin, Bluebird, and Goldfinch are among our most common backyard
Larger visitors to backyards may include the Red-bellied Woodpecker,
Flicker, and Pileated (Woody) Woodpecker, whose loud series of “kee-o,
kee-o” announces his presence, or maybe his flight from one
tree to another. Competing with the Red-bellied for suet are our
smallest woodpecker, the Downy, and the White-breasted Nuthatch.
Occasionally, a Red-shouldered or Red-tailed Hawk may be seen
swooping down for prey, but more often they are spotted in bare
trees or on utility lines. Colorful Kestrels can be seen there
also; they and the drab Black Vulture frequently can be seen on
Hwy 105 near Old Cleveland Road in Demorest – the vultures,
of course, feeding on road kill.
Of particular interest to the bird hunter are Bobwhite, Wild Turkey,
and Ruffed Grouse. Anecdotal evidence and our observations indicate
a significant decline in Bobwhite in this area, and according to
Georgia Fish and Game personnel, the trend is statewide. The Ruffed
Grouse is observed most often in northern parts of our area, with
reports from Hwy197N, Sautee Nacoochee, and the state parks; it
also appears to be extending its historical range southward. Wild
Turkey are our most widespread game birds; they can be seen darting
across roadways or, in numbers (40+) sometimes, in a field on Hwy
115 across from the elementary school in Clarkesville.
The most recent information on birds that may occur in our study
area is found in two publications:
Parrish, J.W., Jr., G. Beaton and G. Kennedy. 2006. Birds
of Georgia. Lone Pine Publishing International.
A comprehensive field and reference guide, with numerous drawings,
including illustrations of each species, many with both sexes;
range maps; physical descriptions; habitat and behavior characterizations;
and anecdotal information. Available at Smithgall Woods and Unicoi,
as well as bookstores.
Beaton, G., P.W. Sykes, Jr. and J.W. Parrish, Jr. 2003. Annotated
Checklist of Georgia. Occasional Publication No.16.
A checklist of resident, migrant, and accidental birds, with
reference to their presence in the state, as well as specific
records of unusual occurrences.
Several field guides to North American birds, as well as those
covering only eastern N.A. birds, are available. Most bookstore
websites list bird publications, and some have user reviews along
with abbreviated descriptions.
Birding optics can be found at nature stores, sporting goods outlets
and some camera stores. Not much is needed: binoculars and a field
guide will go a long way toward establishing a birding habit.
Please call Audrey Moylan, 706-348-6363, for additional information,
or if you have additional information about bird presence in our