Wildlife in Southeast Tennessee
Southeast Tennessee is world-renowned for its beauty, culture, and diversity of plant and animal life. Along its easternmost border is the Great Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and towards the western end of this region, the city of Chattanooga. The Appalachian Trail runs right along Tennessee’s Eastern border with North Carolina.
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation calls Tennessee “the most biologically diverse inland state.” The Tenessee Wildlife Action Plan’s website reports that the state has more than 325 species of fish, 89 mammals, 61 reptiles, and more than 340 birds that either inhabit or migrate through Tennessee. In addition, there is a treasure trove of invertebrate species such as land and aquatic snails, mussels, crayfish, and a multitude of insects. Wildlife in Hamilton County, where Chatanooga is located is abundant and easy to access.
Habitats of Southeast Tennessee
One of the reasons Tennessee has such a variety of animal life is the different habitats available for wildlife to thrive in. From wildlife in Chatanooga to wildlife deep within the Great Smoky Mountains, there’s plenty of habitat for all.
- Conifer or Boreal forests are comprised of high-altitude areas where the most common trees are firs, spruce, and hemlock. In this habitat, the climate and environment look more like upstate New York than the upper south with peaks, ridges, and valleys. Within this habitat are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. This is where moose, deer, elk, bears, and cougars roam along with smaller mammals such as raccoons and opossums.
- Deciduous forests of southeast Tennessee are comprised of oaks, maples, beech, walnut, and other hardwoods. This area is filled with deer, raccoons, opossums, and turkeys. It is a diverse habitat with much environmental variation, providing wildlife with ample places to create dens, find food, and access water.
- The Cumberland Plateau stretches north to south and is the southernmost section of the Appalachian Mountains and is the world’s longest breadth of hardwood forest. It is a long flat high elevation formation with cliffs formed over hundreds of thousands of years by ice age drifts and erosion. The Cumberland and Kentucky Rivers traverse this area as do many tributaries of the Tennessee River. The wildlife living here varies from bears and deer to skunks, raccoons, and an enormous variety of birds, amphibians, and mollusks.
Where to See Wildlife in Southeastern Tennessee
Southeastern Tennessee has an abundance of places to go and see wildlife. Basically, if you're in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, their trails will lead you through beautiful forests with wildlife. But here are a few places that stand out.
The Hiwassee Refuge
This refuge is located at the intersection of the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers. It is a well-known place to view bald eagles and the largest winter flock of sandhill cranes in the southeast, aside from Florida. There is an observation platform from which you get a sweeping view of fields and the shoreline.
The Riverpark is a paved greenway trail alongside the Tennessee River. It’s a great spot for watching beavers. The bird life is plentiful there including herons, egrets, ducks, and more.
Nickajack Lake & Cave
There are several good wildlife viewing locations around this lake. In particular, Nickajack Cave is home to over 100,000 gray bats that emerge each evening around sundown from the mouth of the cave. There is a boardwalk that leads you through the woods to the shoreline where an observation platform provides an excellent view of the opening of the cave.
Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the Smoky Mountains for viewing wildlife. Here you can see elk, black bears, coyotes, and smaller critters like raccoons, groundhogs, and skunks. There is an 11-mile loop circling the cove so you can drive around at a leisurely pace.
Nuisance Wildlife in Hamilton County
Urban and suburban areas of this region include the city of Chattanooga and many smaller cities and towns that dot the Great Smoky Mountains. These small critters have become used to living amongst people and have learned that where there are people, there is also easy access to shelter, food, and water.
While not designated wildlife areas, there are many small mammals such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, bats, and squirrels that can inhabit your home.
The Most Common Nuisance Wildlife in Hamilton County
2020 Year End Report on Nuisance Animal Damage Control, TWRA
There are challenging locations and structures in Hamilton County for safe wildlife removal. Building homes on the mountains in Southeast Tennessee create incredible views for homeowners but that can make certain parts of the home hard to access for wildlife removal. The popular cabin-style homes provide amble entry options for animals. According to Dallas Ellis, the district manager, we find nuisance wildlife under decks, in crawlspaces, nesting under or in storage sheds, and in attics.
Tennessee is home to fifteen bat species, including the federally endangered gray bat, which can be observed when they emerge from Nickajack Cave in Chattanooga for their evening feeding flight. While many people enjoy watching bats take flight, they can become quite a nuisance if they happen to create a roost inside your attic. If this happens inside your home, please contact Critter Control as soon as possible. And please do not try to remove a bat yourself as the state of Tennessee regulates bat removal.
Raccoons in Hamilton County are most likely to a be a problem in late winter through spring and late summer through fall.
The mild climate in Southeast Tennessee means squirrels are active year round. Squirrel maternity season is in the spring and fall. During this time, they are actively looking for a safe, secure place to build a nest for their babies. Attics are ideal locations for squirrel nests.
Whenever humans, buildings, and food come together, chances are rodents will join in the mix. If you happen to notice signs of rats or mice on your around your property, reach out to Critter Control as soon as possible before the number of rodents present multiplies.
Pigeons, starlings, and sparrows can be problems for homeowners. European starlings nest in bathroom and dryer vents. House sparrows nest inside small gaps in structures. Pigoes roosting over walk ways and patios create messes with their poop.
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