12 Birds of the Appalachian Trail

What is the Appalachian Trail?

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world.©Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. It spans from Georgia to Maine and is a grueling six-month journey. Despite the difficulty, people from all over the world come to complete a thru-hike of the beautiful mountain journey.

Part of that journey includes spotting wildlife, a favorite pastime of many! For birdwatchers across the world, the Appalachian Trail is a hot spot for rare and unique birds. The differing habitats and elevations make perfect homes for a variety of species. Although we can’t cover every bird on the Trail, we have a few listed that you could possibly see while hiking.

Not all of these species are rare (although some are), but all of them are unique and a true beauty to behold. The American goldfinch, for example, is a common backyard bird that can be seen on the Appalachian Trail. Still, despite its “commonality,” seeing a vibrant yellow bird swooping low over a grassy bald in the North Carolina spring is what makes the trail so special.

A list of the coolest birds you could see on the Appalachian Trail

Here is our list of unique, surprising, rare, or cool birds you may see while on the trail!

Bald and golden eagle

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
Golden and bald eagles live across the Appalachian Trail.©Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.com

Many people have no idea that the bald eagle is a resident of the App Trail! Bald eagles are majestic and represent freedom and strength. You are most likely to see them during the winter, as they spend the cold months in the mountains of Appalachia. These birds can be seen soaring through the air with their characteristic white head and brown-black bodies or perched on a tall tree.

The larger cousin of the bald eagle, the golden eagle, also calls the App Trail home. Golden eagles are rarer but are just beginning to take parts of their historic range back. Currently, the most southerly place to see them is North Carolina, with populations present everywhere else north.

Wild turkey

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
The wild turkey is found across the entirety of the Appalachian Trail.©iStock.com/Jens_Lambert_Photography

The turkey is an important bird for many humans in the US! It’s hunted for sport and game but is also bred all over the country. The modern domesticated turkey is a far cry from its wild counterpart, and few people ever get a chance to see the elusive wild birds. Still, wild turkeys are present through most of the range of the trail. They can often be seen in groups, but good luck catching them! They also rarely let humans get anywhere close to them.

Wild turkeys are mostly brown, but males have a distinctive tail display and splashes of red and blue on their neck, head, and bodies.

Peregrine falcon

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal in the world and lives in the Appalachian Mountains.©TPCImagery – Mike Jackson/Shutterstock.com

The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet. Additionally, it is the most widespread raptor on the planet! The peregrine can be found through most of the App Trail and can be seen diving from insane heights into valleys and rocky areas. These falcons are quite spectacular to see, but forested areas are likely to keep you from sighting one. The best place to see them is in wide-open areas like fields, lakes, or valleys.

Barred owl

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
Barred owls are more often heard than seen.©Malachi Ives/Shutterstock.com

The barred owl is one of the larger owls on the east coast and happens to live across the Trail. These owls are nocturnal, like other owls, and you are more likely to hear them than see them! Still, it’s quite possible you catch one hunting in an open area at night as they search for mice and other rodents.

The white face of the barred owl can be startling at night, but it’s a great tell as to what you are looking at. Additionally, barred owls are brown with white bellies and “barring” patterns down their chest and belly.

Belted kingfisher

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
The kingfisher is a unique bird that hunts near aquatic habitats.©Gualberto Becerra/Shutterstock.com

The belted kingfisher is a special little bird on our list. It’s incredibly cute and is known for its tenacious ability to hunt! These aquatic birds always live near water and hunt animals like frogs, salamanders, and small fish. They have long, sharp beaks and their bodies are usually blueish-green. Their heads often look like they have a small mohawk, giving them a distinctive look. The best place to see them is near rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams.


12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
There are six different species of woodpecker that live along the App Trail.©rhfletcher/Shutterstock.com

These birds all have different levels of rarity, although all are quite a sight to see regardless. Most of them are black and white with some red on their heads. Some species have totally red heads, and others have yellow plumage across their bellies.

Purple martin

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
The purple martin is the largest member of the swallow family.©iStock.com/Jeff Huth

The purple martin is a member of the swallow family and is known for being the largest species in the group. Purple martins are beautiful to see due to the iridescent blue-purple plumage they have across their body. These birds are totally dependent on human-supplied nestboxes in Appalachia, so be on the lookout for any signs of these migratory birds near anything that looks like a human-made birdhouse!

Scarlet Tanager

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
Scarlet tanagers are bright red and quite hard to miss!©Stubblefield Photography/Shutterstock.com

The scarlet tanager is hard to miss. With vibrant red plunge and black wings, these beautiful birds are a sight to see. They breed across the entirety of the App Trail and migrate down to the southern US and Central America when temps drop. They prefer to nest in trees and forest, so deep in the trail is a good place to spot them.

Indigo bunting

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
Indigo buntings use the stars to navigate while they migrate.©John L. Absher/Shutterstock.com

The indigo bunting is a shockingly blue bird that is found across the entire Appalachian Trail. These small songbirds navigate during the night and have been proven to use the stars as their guide! Generally, indigo buntings nest in open woodlands and shrubs.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
Ruby-throated hummingbirds have a distinct red patch on their necks.©Palantirian/Shutterstock.com

American goldfinch

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
American goldfinches are common feeder birds that are seen across the App Trail.©iStock.com/impr2003

American goldfinches aren’t a new sight for some birdwatchers, but they are always wonderful to see. They are known for a characteristic swooping motion as they fly close to the ground, looking for food. These bright specks of gold can be seen along the App Trail year-round, even in the cold parts of Maine. They usually prefer open woodlands, of which there are plenty along the trail.

Purple finch

12 Birds on the Appalachian Trail
The purple finch is an uncommon bird that lives across most of the App Trail.©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

The Featured Image

A male indigo bunting perched up on bare branch against a green background. As it's name suggests, the bird is vivid blue.
© John L. Absher/Shutterstock.com


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