Birds of North Carolina

Located in the southeastern part of the US, North Carolina becomes a popular destination for birders who want to observe or simply watch abundant bird species. Even though northern cardinal is chosen as the state bird, a long list of birds of North Carolina is ready to intrigue any birders.

No less than 469 bird species are recorded by the local bird committee, including waterfowls, cuckoos, pheasants, and others. Some birds are known as migrants, winter or summer visitors, and permanent residents. Here are adorable bird species you can find in North Carolina.

Northern Cardinal

Birds of North Carolina

Known as the state bird of North Carolina, cardinal is a mid-size songbird with vibrant red plumage. Male cardinals have distinctive crest on their head and a mask, allowing birders to identify them easily. Meanwhile, the female has reddish olive plumage without noticeable crest.

Northern cardinals are granivorous, which means they eat seeds and grains. But they occasionally feed on fruits and insects that can be found in woodlands, shrub lands, gardens, and wetlands. This explains why these cardinals make those places as their habitat.

During courtship season, male cardinals feed seed to their females bill to bill. During the breeding season, the females lay three to four eggs.

1. Red Crossbill

Birds of North Carolina

The red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is an unusual finch which has been sought after by birders for generations. The small passerine has distinctive mandibles that cross at the tips, allowing them to get seeds from fruits. Conifer cones, however, become their favorite menu.

Adult males have vibrant orange or red plumages while the adult females have yellow or green plumages. But birders should know that these crossbills have a wide array of colorations as well as sizes. They also have unique calls that may vary.

The red crossbills can be found in the mountain of North Carolina, in which they develop isolated breeding population. Even though crossbills can be seen year-round, finding them is not easy as they tend to move from one place to another. But Mount Mitchell State Park can be a great destination to find a flock.

2. Painted Bunting

Birds of North Carolina

As the name implies, painted bunting (Passerina ciris) has distinctive plumage as if they are painted. The passerine bird, especially male, has beautiful plumage with blue head, red breast, and green back. Meanwhile, the female has green or yellowish green plumage.

This bird is native to North America and yet it is recorded as one of birds of North Carolina. Their habitats include edges of woodland, shrub lands, and bushlands. Painted buntings are also found in suburban areas, agricultural areas, and gardens.

They are summer visitors to south regions including North Carolina. They commonly present in April and stay up to early fall, though some birds remain for winter. If you want to watch this bird species, you may head for Fort Macon State Park or Carolina Beach State Park.

3. Birds of North Carolina: Blackburnian Warbler

Birds of North Carolina

The blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca) is among birders’ favorite for their exciting visual. Male blackburnian has intriguing plumage with vibrant orange throat and head with black streaks. White accents on their wings make them easy to identify. Female blackburnian has similar look with buttery yellow throat.

This kind of warbler is recorded as long-distance migrants. They usually visit North Carolina in April and they will continue the flight to Andes to spend winter. However, breeding populations can be found in western mountains of the state. They prefer spruce-fir forests and woodlands.

Blackburnians are often found mixing with other flocks such as nuthatches or chickadees. But their distinctive plumage allows birders to identify them quickly. This warbler often hunts for insects in treetops but they prefer larvae during breeding season.

4. Prothonotary Warbler

Birds of North Carolina

The prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is one of birds of North Carolina with attractive appearance. It has distinctive olive back with blue-grey wings and yellow underparts that make it easy to recognize. The adult females have yellow head while adult males look like wearing bright orange hood on their head.

Prothonotary prefers cypress swamps and wooded swamps, though they can also be found in wooded edges of lakes and rivers. This kind of warbler nests in artificial or natural cavities such as old woodpecker holes. During breeding season, the female builds a nest and lays three to seven eggs.

As one of summer visitors, prothonotaries arrive in April and remain until August or September. During their visit, these warbler birds can be found in Lake Mattamuskeet and Merchants Millpon State Park.

5. Brown-Headed Nuthatch

Birds of North Carolina

The small brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) is among year-round birds of North Carolina. As a favorite of birders, this songbird can be found throughout pine woodlands and coastal plain. The distinctive colorations and markings of brown-headed nuthatch allow birders to distinguish from other nuthatches.

As the name implies, this bird has distinctive brown cap. Additionally, you can identify this nuthatch from the following features:

  • Gray back
  • White belly and cheek
  • Brown head
  • Pale spot on the nape

As with other nuthatches, this bird is fond of sunflower seeds but they also feed on insects. The brown-headed nuthatch is also friendly, even backyard birders can approach them. They nest in backyard birdhouses and natural cavities.

6. Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Birds of North Carolina

Listed as a songbird, the golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) is one of birds of North Carolina that spread throughout the state. The birds generally migrate during winter but they can be found year round in the mountain. Birders are recommended to visit the state in winter to see the kinglet in a large number.

Adult golden-crowned kinglets are characterized by white underparts and olive-gray upperparts. They also have short tails and thin bills with white bars on their wings. The crown-like orange patch on their head help birders recognize them even when they mix with flock of other species.

The birds are often found in shrubs or trees where they can find abundant spiders, insects and insect eggs. Birders can notice their presence through their distinctive, high-pitched calls. The golden-crowned kinglet are dauntless and they don’t fear human.

7. Peregrine Falcon

Birds of North Carolina

North Carolina is home to peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the local bird committee recorded at least half-dozen of them return each year to claim their spots. They prefer secluded mountain cliffs in the western part of the state with Pisgah National Forest as birders’ favorite.

As one of birds of North Carolina, the peregrine has a black head, blue-grey back and barred white underparts. The renowned speedy bird can reach over 200 mph during its hunting and birders assume that its long, pointed wings take part to this ability.

The bird feeds on medium-size birds including waterfowls, pigeons, doves, and songbirds. During the courtship season, males make courtship flight that includes acrobatics and steep dives. During breeding season, the females lay eggs in dead vegetation or shallow hollow.

8. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Birds of North Carolina

Despite the red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) is an endemic woodpecker to the southeastern region of the US, finding this bird is not easy. Birders have to wait for their nesting season in April or May to watch this small bird.

The woodpecker has distinctive markings with black and white stripes on their back. It also has black nape and cape that distinguish the bird from other woodpeckers. White patches on their cheeks and pointed bills make this bird easy to identify.

The red-cockaded woodpecker prefers beetles, caterpillars, insects, ants, and spiders as their diet. But they occasionally feed on fruit and berries.

The bird nests in natural cavities or dead trees but it favors older pine trees. In North Carolina, they can be found in Green Swamp area and Croatan National Forest.

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9. Tundra Swan

Birds of North Carolina

The tundra swan (Cygnis columbianus) is another species birders can enjoy in North Carolina. This waterfowl migrates to the state during winter and they can be found throughout the coastal plain. But a large number of tundra swans can be found at Lake Mattamuskeet.

The large bird is characterized by their bright white plumage, black bills and long necks. The graceful swan also has orange patch at base of bills which help easy identification. Immature swans have white-gray feathering which turns into entirely white as they are mature.

Also known as whistling swan, this one of birds of North Carolina prefers aquatic vegetation such as pondweeds and eelgrass. Tundra swans often stick their head underwater to obtain their diet. Additionally, they will not refuse leftover grains, grass on dry land, and a few crops.

10. Birds of North Carolina: Mallard

Birds of North Carolina

When visiting North Carolina, you shouldn’t miss watching mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). This duck species is a winter visitor and it can be found in wetlands, both salt and fresh waters such as rivers, lakes, parks, inlets, and coastline. Water bodies provide aquatic vegetation for mallards.

The mallards are generally omnivorous and their diet ranges widely including invertebrates, worms, seeds, and plants. During the breeding season, male ducks (drake) eat more plants than animal while laying females eat more animals than plants.

Identifying mallard, particularly the male one is quite easy. It has bottle-green head with white collar and iridescent speculum feathers. Yellowish bill with black tip also becomes a feature of male mallards. Meanwhile, the female mallard is mottled with various plumage variations.

11. Hooded Merganser

Birds of North Carolina

One of attractive birds of North Carolina is hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). The small duck has distinctive crest on the head which can be raised and lowered, both male and female. The short-distance migrants spend their winter in the United States, including North Carolina.

The hooded merganser is an excellent hunter. It can dive under water for fishes and aquatic insects. Their habitat includes ponds and estuaries where they can find aquatic vegetation. But they also inhabit larger wetlands, rivers, and impoundments in which abundant aquatic invertebrates can be found.

During breeding season that ranges between February and June, males and females form monogamous pairs. After the female selected a nesting cavity, it will lay egg and the male leaves her. A female duck can lay up to 15 eggs in a clutch.

12. Birds of North Carolina: Black-Billed Cuckoo

Birds of North Carolina

Four species of cuckoos have been recorded in North Carolina, one of which is black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus). This New World species can be distinguished from its black bill, red circle around eyes and brown head. The juvenile bird has yellow orbital ring around their eyes.

The black-billed cuckoo live in wooded area in North Carolina and other regions in the US though they may be hard to find during the breeding season. They can also be found in thickets and shrubs or wetlands with willow and alder. Some of them also inhabit more open areas such as residential parks and farmland.

These birds primarily feed on insects, caterpillars, and berries. Sometimes, they also eat snails and eggs of other birds. As with other cuckoo, the black-billed cuckoo is brood parasitism. It means they use other bird’s nest to lay egg and they don’t take care of their young.

13. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Birders might be interested to see ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). The local committee has listed this small creature as one of birds of North Carolina along with other eleven species such as Mexican viloletear, black-chinned hummingbird and buff-bellied hummingbird.

The ruby-throated has distinctive colorations with ruby red throat patch that helps birders identify this species. As with other hummingbirds, it has long, pointed bills to suck nectar from flowers. The males are typically smaller than their females and have shorter bills.

The ruby-throated hummingbird feeds on nectar and small insects. Small arthropods become important source of minerals and proteins for adult birds. They have a lot of skeletal and flight muscles which allow them to hover while sipping nectar or hunting insects.

14. Ring-Necked Pheasant

Birds of North Carolina

The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) has been recorded as a visitor in North Carolina. It is a popular gamebird during hunting season in some places. The male can be identified from blue head and white neck ring while the female has earth-tone coloration without a neck ring.

In a nut shell, North Carolina is a great place for birders who need to witness copious bird species. Birds of North Carolina vary widely ranging from year-round residents to winter or summer visitors. Whether you are a backyard or serious birders, this state is worth visiting.

Hopefully this article is useful and can broaden our horizons.

Sometimes, when people ask what I do to make a living, I can't think of a better word than "writer". I am a student, web maker, writer, bird lover ... and many more.

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