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Would you like to learn more about the birds of North Carolina? Grab your binoculars, and let’s go birding.
Thanks to diverse habitats and ecosystems, North Carolina is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse birds in the United States. From the fantastic hummingbirds, bald eagles, and migratory shorebirds to the stunning painted buntings.
Whether you’re an avid birder or just starting, you will discover many birds to add to your birding life list. Perhaps you like to know how and when to see them. Either way, I’ve covered you with insider knowledge gained from studying birds for several years.
This guide will give you an overview of 21 types of birds commonly found in North Carolina, along with detailed information about their appearance, behaviors, identification, and much more.
Bottom Line Up Front
North Carolina is home to 479 species of birds. Some are migratory, seen only in spring and summer, and others are residents you can easily see all year round. Although I haven’t covered all the birds found in North Carolina, these 21 bird species will ignite your passion for birdwatching.
Common Birds of North Carolina at a Glance
Here is my list of 21 of North Carolina’s common birds transcending different sizes. You can read them in their order or click on your favorite bird.
- Coralina chickadees
- American Goldfinch
- House Finch
- Carolina Wren
- Tufted Titmouse
- Eastern Bluebird
- Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- American Robin
- Blue Jay
- Mourning Dove
- The Eastern Towhee, or just the towhee,
- The Northern Cardinal
- Northern Mockingbirds
- Brown Pelicans
- Great Blue Heron
- Bald Eagle
- Barred owl
- Wood Duck
- Wild Turkey
- American Crow
The Amazing Teeny Birds of North Carolina
Fewer birds have captured my imagination more powerfully than the smaller species. For they possess incredible aeronautical abilities and consume food twice their body weight to fuel their veracious metabolisms.
To better understand and appreciate these amazing birds, let’s look at a couple of them.
If you’ve ever lived in North Carolina, you’ve probably seen the Carolina chickadee. It is one of the most common and social birds you’ll ever encounter, often flocking in groups of 8 to 10 birds.
Their friendship extends beyond their kind because you will encounter them in mixed flocks with warblers, titmice, and nuthatches. Mixed flocking benefits other birds who depend on Carolina chickadees to alert them to food sources. Such a generous little cute bird.
- Length: 3.9-4.7”
- Weight: 8-12 g
- Wingspan: 5.9-7.9”
It is easy to identify Carolina Chickadee, especially from its distinctive call, “chick-a dee-dee-dee.”, which gives it the name. The male and female look almost identical, with light grey tails and wings, black caps, white cheeks and backs, and short legs.
Chickadees are small enough to fit into your palm and cute enough to make you want to keep them around.
American Goldfinch is another common bird found throughout the year in North Carolina but occurs in high numbers during winter.
It is easy to identify the American Goldfinch from its yellow plumage with a black tail, head, and wings. The black tail and wings have white patterns. The males, however, have brighter colors than the females.
American Goldfinch likes to hang out in open woods and weedy fields foraging for thistles, sunflower, and aster plants. You can also spot them in thickets, parks, backyards, and residential areas.
It is one of the easy birds to attract to your backyard. Simply plant milkweed and thistles. They also frequent bird feeders and prefer nyjer and sunflower seeds.
- Weight 11 – 20 gms
- Body length 11 – 13 cm
- Wingspan 19 -22 ccm
The House Finch is another common bird in most parts of North America throughout the year. It is hard to miss them as they always flock together in a large, noisy group.
House Finch is a type of finch native to North America with strong sexual dimorphism. The male house finch is mainly brown-streaked with a red head and throat, while the female is brown-streaked all over.
Initially, from the western states, conservationists introduced it to the eastern states, where they flourished and even edged out the purple finch.
House finches eat buds, seeds, and fruit, including cactus, thistle, apricots, cherries, figs, plums, strawberries, and blackberries.
To attract house finches to your backyard, provide them with a suitable birdhouse and feeds like black oil sunflowers.
- Length: 5.1-5.5″
- Weight: 16-27 g
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.8″
Carolina wren is a tiny, shy bird with light brown color on the belly and dark brown on top.
They are residents across Southeastern and Eastern states all year round. They love thickets and woodlands. And closer to your home, Carolina Wren often visits backyard feeders and birdhouses.
Add sunflower seeds or peanuts to their feeds to attract the Carolina Wrens to your backyard feeders.
You can quickly identify Carolina wren by:
- White eyebrow stripe
- Upright tail
- Loud teakettle song
- Wingspan 11.4″
- Length 4.7 – 5.5.”
- Weight 18 – 22 g
If you’re looking for a bird to make you smile, look no further than the Tufted Titmouse. They are tiny birds with grey backs, white bellies, and their large eyes and cute grey crest will surely melt your heart.
They often flock with woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees.
- Length: 5.5-6.3″
- Weight: 18-26 g
- Wingspan: 7.9-10.2″
They are common in parks, backyards, and woodlands. But despite their cool appearance, tufted titmouse can be aggressive against smaller birds.
If you would love to attract Tufted Titmouse to your backyard, provide them with bird bath bowls. Include also sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.
You can spot Easter bluebirds in North Carolina throughout the year, but they migrate from the north to the southern states during winter.
The bright blue male eastern bluebird with reddish breasts and bright blue head, back, and wings is a magnificent sight. However, females are less conspicuous, with grey backs, bluish wings and tails, and brownish breasts.
It is a cavity nester, so attracting them to your backyard is simple because eastern bluebirds readily inhabit birdhouses. Adding mealworms to bird feeders will make the eastern bluebird frequent visitors to your backyard.
- Length: 6.3-8.3″
- Weight: 28-32 g
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.6″
Eastern bluebirds live in meadows, and you will easily spot them perched on posts, wires, and low branches, hunting for insects.
At only between 3 – 6 grams at full growth, the Ruby-Throated hummingbird is the smallest migratory bird in North Carolina.
Except for a ruby throat, both male and female ruby-throated hummingbirds are similar. While females have a white throat, males have a ruby throat, hence the species’ name.
Every other physical appearance is the same. Both sexes have a metallic green head, flanks, back, tail and wings.
It breeds in Tar Heel nesting homes from late March to late September before migrating to its wintering grounds in Central America.
Despite their diminutive size, Ruby-Throated hummingbirds are the perfect embroilment of biological artistry and engineering at their best. These miraculous birds are blazingly fast, with an average wingbeat per second (bps) of 50 to 60, which hit 200 bps during courtship.
They average 25 miles an hour cruise speed and 50 miles an hour during dives. And they even hover on the same spot or easily fly backward as they search for nectar.
To attract ruby-throated hummers to backyards so that you can always marvel at nature’s epic creation is simple. You will need hummingbird feeders and deep-throated wildflowers like coral honeysuckle and cardinal flower.
- Length: 2.8-3.5”
- Weight: 2-6 g
- Wingspan: 3.1-4.3″
Medium-sized Birds of North Carolina
Medium-sized birds measure 9 to 20 inches long and weigh between 30 and 150 grams. Here are some of the common medium-sized birds of North Carolina:
The red-billed woodpecker is one of the common woodpeckers found in NC. You can easily identify it by its rounded head and red belly. Check for a black-and-white striped back, rusty underpart, and a flashing red nape and head.
Notably, the red-bellied woodpecker has black and white wings with a white patch near the wingtip visible during flight.
The red-bellied woodpeckers make a distinct, loud rolling call, making it a bird you can easily identify before seeing.
To distinguish it from the hairy woodpecker, you must focus your binoculars on the red belly mark to identify it positively.
The female red-bellied woodpecker differs slightly from the male. She lacks the red cap but only has the red color on the back of her neck. In addition, they have faded red belly markings, which you can easily miss unless you are keen.
Red-bellied woodpeckers eat spiders, insects, nuts, fruits, and seeds and sometimes may eat nestlings.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are keystone species because they excavate nests in dead trees later used by other organisms. Abandoned red-bellied woodpecker nesting holes are perfect nests for swift, bluebird, small owls, and cavity-nesting wood ducks. Small mammals and reptiles make use of the abandoned nesting holes too.
- Length: 9.4″
- Weight: 56-91 g
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.5″
Red-bellied woodpeckers prefer mature deciduous woodlands with dense vegetation, preferably closer to streams or rivers. And if you live close to woodland, you can easily attract it to your backyard with bird nests, feeders, and food.
The American Robin is a small passerine bird in the thrush family, found all year round in North Carolina.
To identify the American robin, check for a yellow breast, an orange beak, and a brown back. Look also for a short square tail and long, graduated wings that are dark above and pale beneath.
And like most birds in North Carolina, the male differs from the female. The male has a red patch of bare skin on the side of his head.
- Length: 7.9-11.0″
- Weight: 77-85 g
- Wingspan: 12.2-15.8″
American Robins easily adapt to various habitats, including woodlands, forests, mountains, parks, fields, and lawns. Their diet comprises earthworms, snails, insects, and fruit. At home, you can see it on lawns foraging for worms.
Blue jays are medium-sized birds that are also common in North Carolina.
They are mostly blue with white faces and bellies. Most bird watchers identify this bird by its upright blue crest, white underside, and blue and black back.
They have bluish tails and wings and a black ring around their face. You may mistake that blue jays wear striped shirts because their wings have black bars.
You will probably see a blue jay in the backyard, park, and woodland areas.
Blue jays are omnivores feeding mainly on insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, and crickets. They also eat nuts, seeds, and berries.
Blue jays will sometimes hoard food for later use by burying it or storing it in crevices in trees.
- Length: 9.8-11.8″
- Weight: 70-100 g
- Wingspan: 13.4-16.9″
Since childhood, mourning doves have been one of my favorite birds.
This graceful bird is medium, with a distinct body shape and color, making it easy to identify. First, it has a small head with a plump body and a long tail. Second, it has a light grey-brown upper and pink breast with distinctive dark spots on the wings. Cooing for hours at a time makes it easy to recognize before seeing it.
Both sexes are similar, but males are slightly larger.
Mourning doves are monogamous, mating for life; if a partner dies, it will not find another—what a true definition of love.
They lay two eggs, and both males and females take turns incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.
You can easily spot a mourning dove in backyards, fields, forests, parks, and woodlands around NC. In urban areas, mourning doves are common on rooftops, branches, poles, walls, and power lines.
- Length: 9.1-13.4″
- Weight: 96-170 g
- Wingspan: 17.7″
You can see mourning doves throughout North Carolina year-round, but they’re most common in the spring and fall seasons. During the summer, their population decreases as some migrate south for the winter months.
The Eastern Towhee, or just the Towhee
It is a medium-sized bird of the new world sparrow family and is also common all year round in North Carolina.
About the size of a robin, the towhee is a spectacular bird with contrasting colors: from black head and throat to reddish flanks to white belly. Females differ slightly from males as they lack a white belly and are brown instead of black.
Their reddish-brown flanks contrast with their white bellies, often streaked with brown. Their wings and long dark tail have white edges.
Watch out for Eastern Towhee along forest and thicket undergrowth foraging for fruits, seeds, and invertebrates.
Eastern Towhees have a variety of vocalizations.
A common one is a low-pitched repeated “tow-hee, joree or chewing,” louder than most birds. Other calls include an often-heard trill similar to that of House Sparrow; and a series of high-pitched note sounding “chip chip chip.”
The Northern Cardinal
The northern cardinal is one of the most beautiful and most frequently spotted birds in North Carolina.
The Northern Cardinal is sexually dimorphic; like most birds, the male is more beautiful. The males have bright red bodies, striking red beaks, and crests. They also have a black band around the eyes, beak, and throat, breaking up the bright red feathers around their faces. During the winter, the bird’s colors look spectacular against a backdrop of white.
Females are also attractive but not as stunning as males—females don brown plumage, red beak, brown crest, and red highlights across their bodies. Instead of a black mask around the face, females have a grey one.
Northern cardinals have 16 distinctive calls, but a loud metallic chip is the most common. And when the northern cardinal sings, you will hear a sharp “chee-chee-chee” or “birdie-birdie-birdie” song.
As an NC resident, you will spot the state bird all year round, often seen in high populations in both summer and winter.
- Length: 8.3-9.1″
- Weight: 42-48 g
- Wingspan: 9.8-14.2 “
They eat insects and fruit but will also eat seeds and berries.
Despite their cool appearance, northern cardinals are very territorial birds and will defend their territory against other cardinals and other birds.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Northern Cardinal was the darling of pet bird owners, but the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 outlawed its trade as a caged pet bird in the US.
If you appreciate wonderful songs, you will love the Northern Mockingbird. This songbird can entertain you with beautiful songs throughout the day and even at night.
Mockingbirds often mimic different birds simultaneously—which is one way to identify them. Some will mimic up to 15 songs, and adult mockingbirds can learn up to 200 songs in their lifetime.
Contrary to its massive melodic tunes, the mockingbird is slender, with a long tail, thick neck, and small head. They have greyish or brownish upper sides and pale underbelly. Their wings and tails are also grey, with white patches visible during flights and courtship displays.
Mockingbirds are mostly seen on utility lines, shrubs, branches, or poles. They also enjoy hopping on lawns as they forage for food but will rarely visit bird feeders.
They are highly territorial, living in pairs or solitary. And often display aggressive behavior towards other birds invading their territories.
Their diet consists mainly of insects and fruits, which they forage in grasslands, shrubs, and forests.
- Length: 8.3-10.2″
- Weight: 45-58 g
- Wingspan: 12.2-13.8″
The Larger Birds of North Carolina
North Carolina has larger populations of small and medium-sized birds, but you will also spot larger ones.
Dwellers of North Carolina all year, Brown Pelicans prefer the eastern part of the state, primarily along the waterfront.
Brown pelicans, as the name suggests, have greyish-brown bodies and short black legs with webbed feet.
They nest on islands and peninsulas along the coast and roost on sandy beaches.
During the breeding season, adult males develop a patch of red skin on their bill called a gular pouch or “gular sac.” The pouch attracts females during courtship displays by inflating it to make it look like a balloon.
None breeding, juvenile, and breeding pelicans exhibit significant differences.
Non-breeding adult Brown Pelicans have long yellow-brown bills. Their heads are white with yellow foreheads.
Juveniles have long, bluish-grey bills. Except for the light brown underbelly, the juvenile’s head, including the rest of the body, is brown.
While brown pelicans are classified into five subspecies, two of them are found in North Carolina: Atlantic and Pacific brown pelicans.
Both the Atlantic and Pacific subspecies are similar.
During breeding seasons, brown pelicans’ heads turn from brown to white, and their foreheads turn bright yellow. Their napes change, too, to dark brown.
Differences between Atlantic and Pacific brown pelicans occur during breeding seasons.
During the breeding seasons, the Atlantic brown pelican’s throat pouch turns brown. And the Pacific brown pelican’s throat pouch turns red.
- Length: 48 – 50″
- Weight: 3718 g
- Wingspan: 78 – 84″
Mealtime for pelicans is a matter of diving into the water and capturing food items in a pouch. And as they resurface, they release water out of the pouch, leaving the catch for swallowing. They feed on fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other marine invertebrates.
You can find Brown Pelicans in almost any coastal habitat, from marshes to beaches to open water. They prefer shallow water, where they can easily walk on land to wade into deeper water for food or rest.
Great Blue Heron
You will spot this bird in wetlands across the US, but they’re most common in North Carolina.
The Great Blue Heron is an enormous bird—it can grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet long from head to tail. It weighs about 9 pounds. Their long necks and legs allow them to wade into deep water while searching for prey.
Male and females appear similar but have slight differences. The male has bluish-gray feathers, while the female has brownish feathers on her back and head.
Brown pelican has a thick bill with a black tip on top and yellowish streaks below it. The neck feathers are pale gray-blue with black tips at their base.
These birds also have distinctive white plumes on their backs which help them stand out from other species when flying overhead or perched on branches.
- Length: 36–54″
- Wingspan: 66–79″
- Weight: 1.82–3.6 kg
The bald eagle is a symbol of strength and freedom. And also one of the success stories in conservation efforts.
In 1782, America adopted the bald eagle as the symbol of their country. Yet, it was nearly extinct in the 1970s and 1980s because of hunting, habitat destruction, and DDT chemicals.
But thanks to conservationists, you can now easily spot them soaring over the state of North Carolina.
Bald eagles are very distinctive because of their white heads and tails. The rest of their body has brown feathers.
This powerful bird has a hooked beak, sharp talons, and a massive 7 feet wingspan. Coupled with a cruising speed of 40 mph and over 100 mph dive speed, the bald eagle is one of the most formidable flying predators in the world.
Bald eagles mate for life and return to the same nest each year to raise their young.
They are very territorial as well.
They may nest near another pair but will not tolerate other pairs nesting within their territory. Once a pair has established its home range, it remains for life.
Bald eagles build large nests on tall trees or cliffs that offer an unobstructed view of the surrounding area.
North Carolina is also home to the Barred Owl, another large bird living in forests and woodlands.
Also known as a hoot owl, striped owl, or northern barred owl, the barred owl has brownish-grey feathers with white stripes on its face and belly. It has an enormous head, a round facial disc, and dark brown markings. The body feathers are mostly gray, with barred markings on them.
As territorial birds, barred owls defend their territory against other intruding birds.
Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, such as mice and voles. They also eat birds, insects, and other invertebrates.
Owls have excellent night vision, and special feathers for silent flight make them efficient nocturnal hunters. Some farmers like them as they help to control rodents on farms.
Barred owls have a wide range of calls, with the common being a hoot-sounding “ok-ok-ok-ok buooh.” Some include hoots that sound like “who cooks for you?” as well as screeches that sound like “kreeee” or “kee kee kee.”
If you’re looking for a larger bird of North Carolina, the Wood Duck, a perching duck, is probably at the top of your list.
The Wood Duck is one of the largest ducks in North America. And also one of the most colorful waterfowl, with both males and females having crested heads.
And like most birds, a wood duck male is more attractive.
The adult male has great rainbow-colored feathers, red eyes, and a white band around the neck. The female is less colorful; It has a white eye-ring, dull colors, and a whitish throat.
Wood ducks are not so vocal.
The male produces a whistling sound, “jeeeeee” Females, on the other hand, produce a raspy surging squeal, “do weep-do weep” when flushed, and when alarmed, they utter a sharp cr-r-ek, creek.
The Wood Duck is an omnivore eating by dabbling or grazing in open fields. Their diet comprises seeds, insects, and berries.
They prefer shallow water in marshy ponds, creels, swamps, and lakes.
Unlike most duck species, a wood duck has sharp claws for climbing and perching on trees.
Wood ducks create nests high up in tree cavities close to wetlands and readily move into nesting boxes placed in such locations.
Wild turkeys are native to the northern United States and are the ancestors of domestic turkeys.
America’s founding father, Benjamin Franklin, once described the wild turkey as a “courageous and respectable bird even better than the Bald Eagle.”
Franklin’s opinion is now widely held by millions of Americans who sacrifice turkeys annually on Thanksgiving day. It has also become America’s game bird.
In the 1900s, wild turkey populations declined dramatically due to hunting, habitat destruction, and heavy predation. Decades later, conservationists restored their populations, and now you can see wild turkeys in all 100 counties of North Carolina.
You will see them in various habitats, including forests, woodlands, wooded swamps, and grasslands.
Adult wild turkeys have black or brown feathers, featherless heads, and a red wattle on their neck.
Wild turkey exhibits sexual dimorphism. Gobblers are larger with black and white feathers, a redneck, and wattles. The hens are brown and have slate-colored feathers. In addition, gobblers have beards on their breasts, while hens do not.
Wild Turkeys are heavy birds, with gobblers weighing over 20 pounds and hens weighing 10 – 12 pounds. Despite the massive weight, wild turkeys have powerful wings with a 7 feet wing span that propels the bird to fly at 50mph.
In most cases, wild turkey predators travel and escape hunters and predators by walking or running. But when startled, the wild turkey will fly.
Nuts, bulbs, leaves, roots, grass, seeds, fruits, berries, and bulbs make up the wild turkey’s diet. But as predators also feed on insects, spiders, frogs, salamanders, and small rodents.
The wild turkey has close to 30 different vocalizations. However, only males gobble or tom to attract mates during the fall and spring in an elaborate courtship display/
The American Crow, also raven, is an all-black bird with an unmistakable hoarse, cawing voice. It has glossy black feathers, and even the legs and beaks are black.
The crow is a social bird; you may see them moving in pairs or flocks of up to thousands. But despite their social lifestyle, crows are aggressive towards other birds and will even chase away larger birds, including owls, herons, and hawks.
Crows are intelligent birds and can recognize human faces and use tools to get food. For instance, many have witnessed crows raiding trash cans and overturning dumped food containers.
They are also “stunt flyers” and often perform barrel rolls and fly upside down.
American crows can produce different vocals and even mimic different animals and birds. But its common call is “Caaw-Caaw-Caaw”. Crows usually move their heads up and down as they make the sound.
Birds of North Carolina: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: The rare birds of North Carolina are a list of the state’s most delicate, exotic, and endangered species. The list includes birds, all of which are listed as either rare or endangered on the IUCN Red List.
North Carolina has some of the rarest birds in the world. Here are just a few of them.
• Painted Bunting
• Sedge when
• Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
• Least bitter
• Ross’s Goose
• Eastern Screech Owl
• Parasitic Jaeger
• Upland sandpiper
• Black-capped Chickadee
• White-breasted nuthatch
• Orchard oriole
• Red-tailed hawk
• Cave swallow
• Worm-eating Warbler
• Brown Creeper
• Henslow’s sparrow
• Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Answer: There are several ways to identify birds, but always keep these tips in mind.
• Size: size is always the first thing I consider when identifying a bird. Birds come in different sizes, but they can either be small, medium, or large.
• Body shape: The next step to consider is the bird’s silhouette and drawing its outline. Note its tail, body shape, and wings.
• Body color: Check the bird’s colors from the head, wings, and tail. Next, are there special markings such as bands, highlights, or spots on the bird
• Habitat: birds occupy different habitats, from forests and grasslands to wetlands. The habitat should give you a clue about the bird species.
• Behavior: observe the bird’s behavior and note any special characteristics such as solitary or flocking.
• Technology. Unlike in the old days when birders relied on birds’ field guidebooks, nowadays, it is a breeze to identify a bird with the click or swipe of an app like ebird.
Answer: The state bird of North Carolina is the Northern cardinal, a small, red songbird with a black face mask and a long tail. North Carolina state chose the cardinal as its state bird in 1943 for its huge contribution to agriculture. Northern cardinals feed on weed seeds and insects, which are detrimental to farming.
In the Tar Heel state, winged wonders abound with 479 bird species. From the tiniest hummers to the mourning dove and to America’s bird symbol, the bald eagle. Some are rare; others are common only during the summer or in specific habitats.
In whatever state or habitat in NC, you will always hear beautiful birds singing, see them soaring up in the sky, or just hanging out in your backyard.
I hope this guide on common birds of North Carolina helped you identify more species—and learn about their habitats, habits, and other fascinating characteristics.
And as you continue to update your birding life list and appreciate birds even more. Why not recognize their contribution to our ecosystem?
The marvelous little hummingbird will forever top my favorite bird lists. I can’t help but marvel as I admire it, collecting nectar while hovering at the same spot or flying backward in my garden.
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