When visiting Cades Cove as well as other parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, be sure not to approach any of the wildlife too closely. GSMNP officials prohibit crowding, harassing and feeding wildlife in any part of the park. This they do to preserve a safe environment for the animals as well as a safe vacation for the Smokies tourists.
As a rule of thumb, if your presence in Cades Cove is altering an animals behavior, you are too close to that animal. This is never truer than when viewing the Smoky Mountain Black Bear. The Smokies bears are NOT pets, trained bears or well fed zoo animals. They are wild and only come out of their hiding places when they are hungry. Though park bears may appear cute and cuddly, even friendly at times, they also are capable of acting with aggression with lightning speed. Smoky Mountain black bears are omnivores eating mainly plant material, but they also eat animals and on rare occasions humans. Given the number of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park bear injuries are rare however bear related injuries do occur every year in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Given that fact and coupled with the recent bear related death in the park, it is wise to enjoy the bears briefly if you see them but watch from a safe distance or from the safety of your car. The woman who was recently killed by a mother bear and cub was found to have pictures to the offending bears in her camera. So again, enjoy the animals in Cades Cove and take comfort that they rarely attack humans, but at the same time respect their wildness and neither crowd nor feed them.
Bears In Cades Cove.
One of the smoky mountain visitor's greatest delights is seeing a bear while in GSMNP. Cades Cove represents perhaps the best chance to see one of these magnificent beasts. The bears are most likely to be seen spring through the fall as they become very sleepy in the winter, becoming semi-hibernating.
The Smoky Mountain black bear is not as dangerous or as large and aggressive as the Grizzly. However, precaution and common sense should be used concerning GSMNP bears as they are wild animals.
There is approximately one bear per square mile in the Great Smoky Mountain National park although they are rarely seen except in Cades Cove. The reason for this is somewhat of a mystery except for the fact that bears are not interested in being seen by humans. Another reason might be that bears spend much of their time in trees where people rarely look for them. Dens are often located about twenty feet up the trunk of large trees. Here the Smokies black bears sleep through much of the winter, the females giving birth to her cubs even before she shakes off her sleepiness in the spring. Smoky Mountain black bear cubs weigh only seven or eight ounces when newborn. The mother bear will leave her cubs to search for food for short periods of time and eventually will bring her cubs, teaching them the resources for food and water which are found in the park. The Smoky Mountain bears are omnivores which means they eat just about anything from berries to insects to fish and small animals.
Bears are commonly sighted in Cades Cove. Look for them especially in the morning around their favorite feeding places such as oak or fruit trees, streams and berry patches. Most bears avoid human contact, however, do not approach a bear if you see one. Despite their cuddly appearance they are extremely unpredictable especially if accustomed to humans.
Coming to Cades Cove in the evening or morning will increase your chances of seeing Smoky Mountain Black bears. The bears of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park feed in the morning and evening and are most visible to the tourist at that time. Look for bears around berry brambles in July, around fruit tree's in July and August, or by streams where bears may be fishing.
Bears are voracious eaters and grumpy when hungry. Need we say a wild grumpy bear is the last thing you want on your vacation to the Smokies? In addition, it is illegal to crowd or feed the bears in Cades Cove or other parts of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Both for your safety and that of the bears, the park enforces a stiff fine for bear infractions--up to $5,000 or six months in jail!
Bears who are frequently exposed to humans live shorter lives as they are susceptible to being hit by cars, ingesting toxins or injuring humans who think they are tame. Bears that injure humans are often killed to prevent further incident. In addition and most importantly don't approach the Smokies bears because a woman was recently killed and partially eaten in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park by a bear and her cub. The woman's camera contained pictures of the bears.
If a bear approaches a human it is usually to obtain food. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park recommends trying to scare bears away from campgrounds by making loud noises such as by banging campfire pots together and yelling. If that does not work seek safety in your car, not your tent. Food should be kept in a hardtop car or hung in trees according to the regulations of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. No food or food contaminated containers, napkins etc. should be left in the Cades Cove campground as they make scavengers out of the bears. In other words if you packed it into Cades Cove, pack it out when you leave.
Note: For more information about the Smoky Mountain black bear, Kate Marshall Graphics has produced an award winning video
production about the black bear. The video has been approved for educational content by the National Park Service and the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, and is now being offered for sale at the official Park visitors centers.
Bobcats are found in Cades Cove.
Bobcats are nocturnal and rarely seen in Cades Cove or other parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, however, be assured of their presence. Bobcats weigh eighteen to twenty pounds and are about three feet in length. They prey on fawns and other small game.
Foxes Prefer Cades Cove.
Both red and gray foxes are found in the Great Smoky Mountain National park and both prefer Cades Cove to just about any other place in GSMNP. The reason for this is the availability of both forest and open fields. The trees in the cove also provide foxes with added protection from coyotes and other predators. Red foxes are not only more beautiful but are also more aggressive that their cousins the gray-fox. Gray's are more common than red's in the Cades Cove, but are not as easy to spot as their fur blends in with the background so well. The red fox has red fur over most of it's body with black legs and a white tipped tail.
Coyotes are natural predators in Cades Cove.
Coyotes came across the Mississippi in the 1980's and migrated to GSMNP and Cades Cove around 1985. Coyotes are helping to control small animal populations of Cades Cove. They pounce on their prey, holding it with their front paws before make the kill with their teeth.
Coyotes are dog-like in appearance but with noticeably smaller feet, thinner legs and bushier tail. They are about two feet tall and four feet log including their tail. Their facial features are distinctive, having pointy ears, round inquisitive eyes and an overall appearance that looks a bit like a German Shepherd.
Cades Cove skunks are cute, but should be avoided.
Striped and spotted skunks both are common in Cades Cove with their highly recognizable bushy tail, petite legs, agile hands and silky black and white fur. Despite their cute appearance few visitors are glad to see them however due to their ability to spray a foul smell. Generally speaking, you are in no danger of being sprayed by a skunk while in Cades Cove. The exception might be if you happen to surprise a skunk or threaten it in some other way. Skunks can spray a distance up to fifteen feet. They spray when their tail is most attractive or in it's upright position. The eastern spotted skunk sometimes does a handstand with it's rear towards it's victim before it sprays. Therefore beware of all super cute skunks.
Skunk populations in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park are down due to distemper, although conditions are ripe for a comeback. Sometimes skunks cross the Cades Cove Loop with a litter of skunk kittens tagging along behind, so beware when driving and help the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's preserve it's skunk population.
Beavers are making a comeback in Cades Cove.
Once a common site in Cades Cove, beaver were all but eliminated from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The fashion of beaver hats at the beginning of the twentieth century once threatened many populations of beaver in the United States, including those in the Great Smoky Mountains. Fortunately, beavers are making a recovery in Cades Cove as they are migrating from an area of North Carolina where they were reintroduced into that ecosystem.
Weighing up to sixty pounds, beavers are the largest rodent in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Beavers including their flat tail can grow up to four feet long. They are covered with waterproof brown fur, except for their tail which is black and hairless. Their fur is a little lighter brown on their underbelly. The beavers legs are fairly short with clawed partially webbed feet in the front and fully webbed feet in the rear. They prefer slow wide waters which are near trees.
Beavers are known as the natural engineers in Cades Cove as elsewhere in the Smokies. The beaver in Cades Cove can dam streams into sizeable ponds, by cutting down trees with their sharp teeth. This they do in order to construct their lodges and for other purposes. You may hear beaver in Cades Cove make a loud noise by smacking their tail on the waters surface. That is done as a warning to the colony of danger. At that point the colony heads for the safety of the lodges or tunnels which are dug out in the stream bank.
Beavers are capable of digesting tree bark which is their primary food source. The incisor teeth of the beaver are highly specialized, being large, flat, chisel shaped and ever growing. Because their incisors grow constantly, they must chew wood to keep their teeth from getting too long.
One of the most charming of all the critters in Cades Cove is the raccoon. It is a furry gray omnivorous animal with a ringed tail and a black mask across it's eyes. Their diet consists of things such as crayfish, fish, baby rabbits, mice, eggs, fruit, nuts and other plant material, all plentiful in the Great Smoky Mountains. Intelligent, curious and inventive, raccoons pick up potential food objects with their hands to inspect them closely. In Cades Cove raccoons are often found in the dense forests that are near water. The animals like to turn rocks over that are near and in the waters edge in hopes of finding food such as insects, salamanders or crayfish. Raccoons make their dens in hollow trees, dense cattail stands, abandoned buildings, or dens abandoned by other types of animals.
Racoons are not visible to most Cades Cove visitors as they are nocturnal and are generally out only after dark and after the cove loop is closed. Park visitors who stay in cabins or chalets near the cove or in the Cades Cove campground may catch glimpses of raccoons hunting or playing once it is truly dark. Sometimes the raccoons will steal from campers and occasionally beg for tidbits of food.
Red Wolves are at home in Cades Cove.
Beautiful and shy, Cades Cove's red wolves are a treat to see, but look quickly. They almost always run away when humans are around.
The River Otter
Once commonly sited in Cades Cove, otters were all but eliminated from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the 1920's. The reason? Their beautiful pelts brought a pretty price in those days. What a shame as Cades Cove was once an especially safe haven for the funny semi-aquatic creatures. The Cherokee called Cades Cove "Tsiyahi" meaning otter place. Fortunately otters have come back to the cove. One hundred-forty otters were reintroduced into the ecosystem by the officials of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the 1980's. Under the protective rules of GSMNP, the otters are now well established, especially in Abrams Creek and Little River.
River otter belong to the same family as weasels, skunks and minks. The are playful, cute animals that spend a good deal of their time in the water. They have a face that vaguely resembles a seal with small eyes, ears and lots of whiskers. Their bodies are fur-covered and they have short legs, webbed toes and a thick tail. Being nocturnal, they are rarely seen by the Smokies visitor.
Cades Cove's population of mountain lions is gone.
There are rumors of mountain lions in Cades Cove, but biologists studies have shown this not to be true. However, before the 1920's, the mountain lion ranged over the entire Great Smoky Mountain area. Before the park was formed, hunters depleted the population down to zero. The mountain lion that once made his home in Cades Cove is the eastern cougar. The eastern cougar was one of two species of felines in GSMNP, the other being the bobcat which still exists within the park boundary.
Touch of Mink in Cades Cove
The Mink is another animal in Cades Cove which is nocturnal and rarely seen but biologists agree there is a healthy population within the cove. Known for it's slender body and exceptionally beautiful dark brown fur, the mink is a semi-aquatic animal that makes it's home in burrows usually along stream and river banks. Minks burrows generally have several openings allowing them to appear unexpectedly close to prey, although they may leave the burrow for extended periods of time to hunt prey not available near the lair. Minks are carnivores and are quite agile when catching fish, crayfish, frogs, etc found in the streams of Cades Cove. They are also effective hunters of birds, chipmunks, field mice and other small creatures found in the cove and elsewhere in GSMNP. Minks pair up during mating season with females giving birth to litters as large as ten. The female is capable of giving birth to seventy five young or more over the space of her lifetime which can extend to ten years.
The eastern chipmunk is at home in the Cove.
The eastern chipmunk is of the same family as squirrels and woodchucks. It is considered a ground squirrel as opposed to a tree squirrel such as the common gray squirrel. Quick and feisty, this little critter can be entertaining to watch. The Chipmunk is five to seven inches long and covered in reddish-brown fur that sports two black stripes and two white stripes down each side of it's body. It's tail is short and perky. Cades Cove chipmunks have very light tan underbelly and is an avid lover of acorns and other mast as well as small seeds and fruit found in the cove. It also eats slugs, insects and eggs if he can find them. He stores nuts, seeds and other long lasting food in his home, a burrow in the ground. Look for Cades Cove chipmunks on vertical surfaces such as a rock faces or fallen logs and abandonded stone fences. The holes or burrows have no dirt mound around them and lead to the chipmunks bed, which is lined with feathers, moss, etc and to other chambers containing his winter food storage. Smokies visitors who camp in Cades Cove may see Chipmunks in the campground except in winter when the Chipmunks stay in their burrows do a little eating and a lot of sleeping. Their natural enemies include bobcats, coyotes, hawks, weasels and snakes.
Squirrels in Cades Cove and other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains are most active a couple of hours after sunrise and i the late afternoon. Smokies visitors can best observe them at those times of day. The gray squirrels of Cades Cove are arboreal or tree squirrels and live in nests high above the forest floor. They have a dark gray undercoat and a light gray top coat that gives them a fuzzy grizzled look. The underbelly is white with a tail about as long as the squirrel itself. The tail is covered with bushy gray fur making the tail appear as large as the squirrel itself. The squirrel's head is accented with whiskers. Individual gray squirrels are non-territorial and have large overlapping home ranges with other squirrels with population densities quite high in stands of trees where sufficient food is available. Though the gray squirrels of Cades Cove eat a wide variety of herbs on the forest floor, the presence of acorns, hickory or walnuts will assure a high squirrel population for a given territory.
The Cades Cove gray squirrels are completely at home in the trees and are often seen jumping from the tip of one tree to the tip of another with great dexterity. Deaths from falls are rare for this extremely strong, for it's size, and agile creature. Baby squirrels are born in dreys, or nests which are built by it's parents out of trigs, and lined with moss, bark, feathers and other soft natural materials. Squirrels have small summer platform dreys, and much larger winter dreys which are highly visible and waterproof. Tree dens are also used by gray squirrels. Typically a gray squirrel lives 5-7 years with females producing two small litters annually, once in the spring and again in winter.
Red Squirrels & Fox Squirrels are also present in Cades Cove.
Red squirrels have a wide variety in their diet, and if a Smokies visitor observes a squirrel eating insects or bird eggs, chances are they are looking at a red squirrel. If the Smoky Mountain visitor sees a squirrel a bit larger than the ones they are used to seeing back home, they may be looking at a fox squirrel instead of the more common gray squirrel. The Fox Squirrels of Cades Cove are a good bit larger, 15-20%, than the gray squirrel and has fur that are tipped with tawny brown instead of silvery gray.
Look for the flying squirrel in the cove.
The southern flying squirrel is one of the more interesting small animals found in Cades Cove. The flying squirrel is blessed with the ability to fly, or glide fifty yards or more by the means of a membrane of skin and fur that connects the wrist of the front paw to the ankle of the hind leg. The flying squirrel will leap from one tree, stretching itself with all four legs to the side to catch the air. By this action the flying squirrel causing glide to it's desired destination with great accuracy, manuvering around branched and other obstacles. It's flight is aided by the flying squirrels small size as it guides itself with a broader tail than is common in most squirrels. The body fur of this Cades Cove resident is soft and grey or brownish in color with a whitish underbelly. It's eyes are large and round to aid it in nighttime and it's ears are a bit larger than most squirrels. There are also northern flying squirrels in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park which are found in Cades Cove.
Woodchucks are common in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, especially in Cades Cove.
Typically seen in the grassy areas of GSMNP, with sighting most commonly along roadways, woodchucks live in tunnels. This they do to avoid their natural enemies the bobcat and coyote, both of which prey upon woodchucks in Cades Cove. Woodchucks were considered pests by the farmers of Cades Cove as they ate some of the farmers crops and dug holes which could injure the legs of their farm animals if they stepped in a burrow.
Woodchucks in Cades Cove are the same as are found in many other places and by other names such as groundhogs or whistle pigs. They are two feet long, weigh approximately ten pounds, and are covered with gray fur, especially their bushy tail. One of their favorite activities is burrowing. This they do using the sharp claws on their front feet while kicking the dirt out of the hole with their back feet. Their digging activity goes on in areas throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National park as woodchucks make burrows in open flatland as well as mountainous forested land. The woodchucks are so industrious at burrowing that they not only create homes for themselves but their abandoned burrows gives shelter to many other Cades Cove animals such as foxes and weasels. GSMNP has woodchuck burrows that are 20 feet deep and more.
Cottontail Rabbits in GSMNP's Cades Cove.
Rabbits and their bunnies are quite at home in Cades Cove. Timid and fleeting, cove rabbits take refuge in the tall grasses. Sightings are most often made along the shoulders of the Cades Cove loop.
The eastern cottontail is the specie of Rabbit which resides in Cades Cove. The eastern cottontail has brown and grayish fur, and characteristic long ears and powerful hindquarters. Their identifying cotton-like tail is perhaps the most common sight of Cades Cove's wild rabbits when they bound and leap away.
Cades Cove provides a unique chance to view white-tailed deer.
All of the Great Smoky Mountain National park is a haven for white tailed deer, but there is no better place to view deer than Cades Cove. Smokies visitors commonly see two hundred deer if visiting the cove at sunrise. Though timid, the deer have learned to tolerate motorist stopping along the Cades Cove loop to watch them browse. Often, the deer are only ten to twenty yards away.
Depending on conditions, deer population in and around Cades Cove has reached as high as a thousand. Obviously numbers like that have a negative effect on Cades Cove's ecosystem. For instance oak tree sprouts are a deer delicacy. High numbers of deer prevent the sprouts from becoming saplings which grow into the great oak trees. The oak trees of the Cades Cove provide the acorns so necessary to the survival of many cove species. The over browsing by deer makes themselves more susceptible to disease and starvation for acorns are an important part of deer diet. If the deer's typical food disappears in the cove, the deer rely upon less nutritious foods such as rhododendron.
To counteract deer over browsing by a natural means, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park service introduced coyotes and red wolves into Cades Cove in the 1980's and 90's. The coyotes remain to this day but the red wolves had to be relocated. Smoky Mountain black bears have always preyed upon fawns and therefore help to maintain the delicate balance of nature found in Cades Cove.
Smoky Mountain visitors who visit Cades Cove in the late summer and early fall will get to see bucks with full antlers. Each year after mating season is over, the antlers fall off, usually in mid-winter. In the spring, the antlers begin to grow again and by August and September the antlers are ready implements of battle. The battles of course are between males over mating rights to Cades Cove's does. Except for the first birthing season, fawns are usually born to the does in twos. The fawns are able to walk at birth and can be weaned in six weeks. The average life cycle of the deer in Cades Cove is approximately ten years.
Wild Boars are present in Cades Cove but are not native.
European wild boars were introduced incidentally to the Smoky Mountain and Cades Cove area in the early 1900's. The boars were brought to Appalachia as a game animals but escaped their enclosure. Sows are capable of birthing twelve piglets each breeding cycle, so the boars spread quickly throughout the Smokies area. The boars are controversial to Smokies officials since they are non-native and compete with the native species for food and territory in Cades Cove and elsewhere in the park. For this reason, officials of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park try to limit the boar population but with limited success. There are about five hundred wild boars in the park today and seem entrenched into the Smokies eco-system.
Most snake species in Cades Cove are not poisonous.
The non-poisonous snakes of Cades Cove include garter, black rat, and water snakes. You can find garter snakes sunning themselves on rocks while the black rat snakes prefer trees. Water snakes like to fish and so can be found around water. Occasionally they are mistaken for cottonmouth snakes.
There are two species of poisonous snakes in Cades Cove, the timber rattler and the northern copperhead snake. However, GSMNP officials report that few snake bites occur in the park. However, park officials warn people to be cautious in abandonded buildings and around old stone fences, both favorite hangouts for snakes. Staying in well traveled areas of Cades Cove, such as along established hiking trails is also a good idea. Snakes, like everything in Cades Cove are protected by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Snakes: There are many snake varieties in Cades Cove but only two, the Copperhead and the Timber rattlesnake are poisonous. Bites are rare but it is a good idea to be wary of night hiking when the snakes are most active or of climbing around piles of rock, tall grass, abandoned buildings, etc. Well traveled trails may be safer from snakes as snakes try to avoid humans.
Birding in Cades Cove
There are over two hundred species of birds (eastern bluebird, right) in the varied habitats of Cades Cove and here's a word about a few of them. Summer birds include yellow warblers, indigo buntings, eastern kingbords and barn swallows. Golden eagles visit Cades Cove in the autumn. In addition there are night flying barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, sparrows, bluebirds, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, crows, and mourning doves.