South Carolina Birds Guide

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Common and Uncommon Birds of South Carolina

It seems like all I see these days are Robins, Wrens, Cardinals, Goldfinches, Chickadees, and those ever-present, persistent Mourning Doves that insist on making a nest on my balcony! I’m not complaining because out of all those birds; the Mourning Doves let me get the closest to them (even if they have a dead stare with their matte black eyes).

South Carolina’s climate is warm enough, and the geography is mixed enough to play host to over 400 bird types, but I will not try to cover that many. I will consider more common birds, but I will also discuss birds that aren’t frequently seen. Often, these rarer sightings are the breathtaking moments we all love to talk about!

An exceptional fact to note is that the Sandhill region of South Carolina, a small strip of land between the Piedmont and Coastal areas, has the largest diversity of birds, with almost 200 species in the unique habitats offered in that region. The huge dunes are millions of years old and used to be the ocean floor as the coast was much farther inland.

carolina chickadee

Personal Anecdote

I made an unscheduled pit stop for my son during a road trip last year, and when I got out to stretch at the rest area near the Blue Ridge Mountains in SC, I wandered out back and thought I saw a White-Winged Dove! I say “thought” because I didn’t have my camera, and the bird was gone when I returned after getting it.

It was on the ground, picking away and bobbing its head. I didn’t see any blue ring around its eye, but the edge of the feathers was all white compared to the muddy brown color overall, and it looked fatter than my balcony Mourning Dove (if that’s possible). I saw other doves in the background but couldn’t tell what kind they were – I didn’t see any white streaks. I was so frustrated that I didn’t see it flying! I better have my camera attached to me at all times.

Most Common Types of Birds in South Carolina

landform regions

To be specific about South Carolina birds, I must first be specific about the diverse habitats South Carolina offers. Unlike some states, mostly deserts, mountains, or flat agricultural land, South Carolina boasts a myriad of enticing regions for all birds to covet.

Is it any wonder that hundreds of species of birds like to call South Carolina home? (At least as a second residence, anyway!)

The organization, Exploring Nature has compiled a list of all the birds you may see in the vibrant ecosystems of South Carolina.  While I will not touch on all of them, this immense list is important for reference. Click here to see the list of all species.south carolina habitats

South Carolina Regional Birds

Region Description Habitat Some birds that call this region home (for an exhaustive list, click here
Blue Ridge A sliver of the northeast corner that is home to some of the Appalachian mountains Mountain areas with steep hillsides, rocky cliffs, ravines and streams, and valley Blackpoll, black-throated green, and blackburnian warblers; broad-winged hawk; ruffed grouse; common nighthawk; eastern phoebe; common raven; and rose-breasted grosbeak
Piedmont Mostly foothills, with shallow, thin soil made up mostly of clay with forests of oak-hickory woods, dogwoods, sugar maple, and small fruit shrubs Mountain foothills, elevated plateaus, forests, and overgrown land that has been extensively farmed for hundreds of years Killdeer, whippoorwill, horned lark, cliff swallow, and Cape May warbler
Sandhills Millions of years ago, the coast was once located where the Sandhill region is, with towering dunes Towering dunes that once were the coast  Included birds have many types listed under them, but I have only listed the general name. To see a complete list of almost 200 species in the Sandhills, click here  


Loons, Heron, Egrets, Vultures, Chickadees, Geese, Ducks, Bald Eagle, Hawks, Golden Eagle, Quail, Coots, Cranes, Sandpipers, Gulls, Pigeons, Nightjars,  Hummingbirds, Swallows, Martins, Nuthatches, Wrens, Bluebirds, Thrushes, Robins, Warblers (30), Sparrows (13), and Finches

Coastal Inner and outer coastal plains with varying wetland habitats that include freshwater and saltwater, with pine-oak forests, cedar and willow swamps, and different mosses Divided by inland, outer and direct shore and are typified by lowlands and terraces with slow-moving streams and broad rivers forming swamps Pied-billed grebe; common loon; cormorant; anhinga; bitterns; egrets; herons; night herons; white ibis; black-throated green warbler; prothonotary warbler; painted bunting; sparrows; bobolink; and the boat-tailed grackle

Most Sighted Birds of South Carolina

Based on actual bird sightings from observations on ebird, the Northern Cardinal is the most common bird in South Carolina, with more than 60 percent of birders seeing it on any given day. That means if you took a group of five people to watch birds in South Carolina for a day, 3 of them would see a Cardinal.

Most Observed Birds in North Carolina (according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Northern Cardinal Tufted Titmouse Blue Jay Yellow-rumped Warbler Eastern Towhee
Carolina Wren American Crow Eastern Bluebird Pine Warbler Red-winged Blackbird
Carolina Chickadee Northern Mockingbird Downy Woodpecker American Robin Brown Thrasher
Mourning Dove Red-bellied Woodpecker House Finch American Goldfinch Eastern Phoebe

A Few of the Most Common Birds of South Carolina

balcony speaker as a platform birdhouse
Picture of my precious female Mourning Dove friend on my balcony speaker!

I could not talk about the backyard birds of South Carolina without at least a few words about my friend, the Mourning Dove.  This gentle bird is everywhere, literally, and is very social with humans and other birds, if not terribly intuitive about where not to set up a home.

My bedroom’s balcony was host to a lovely mourning dove that wasted no time configuring a messy nest atop my high speaker in the roof corner. This is the second year it has flown through my trellis that covers the open sides or gone under the railing of the two open sides, ducking its head and then flying up to the speaker nest to brood.

I love their cooing song that haunts me (in a good way), and their adaptability to urban areas and their trusting nature win big points with me, even if they are occasionally annoying with their “your home is my home” mantra!

Though these are fairly rotund birds, they can fly 55 mph easily, and you can attract them with black oil sunflower seeds and millet on the ground. I almost had my Mourning Dove in my hand one day when I had a fistful of seeds on my balcony. The bird flapped and fluttered around me so much I thought it would land on my head, but it didn’t. I put the seeds on the chaise lounge and went back inside, and within minutes the dove had eaten them! I will keep trying until I get it!

My other friend is the ever-elusive Goldfinch that I catch on tall vines and thickets everywhere, but it won’t stay long enough for a good picture! See my picture below!

Notice also, there is a red bird below the Goldfinch at 7:00.  I think it is a Summer Tanager.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

  • Listen to the Carolina Wren here
  • State bird of South Carolina
  • Attract them with suet, shelled peanuts, peanut butter, and berries in the winter

carolina wren bird

Carolina wren on a branch

Carolina Wren

  • Oldest bird: 8 years
  • Average Size: 4.5 – 5.5 inches
  • Average weight: 0.6 to 0.75 ounces
  • Wingspan: 10 – 11 inches
  • Identifying Traits:
      • Long thin white streak from the top of the eye across the side of the face and neck
      • Cinnamon rust coloring with the buff underside
      • Wings are darker auburn with black edging
      • Upright tail kept slanted at almost a 90-degree angle
      • The tail is cinnamon and has thin black-and-white stripes

These birds are so small and fat that they make me laugh whenever I see them. Being round and pudgy doesn’t seem possible, with their weight being about half an ounce and their wingspan being 11 inches!

The Carolina Wren is unique to all other wrens due to the solitary song of the male. Other wrens have both males and females singing different parts of the song, but not the Carolina Wren! However, these wrens mate for life, and pairs will move around their territory together, foraging and perching. Carolina Wren pairs stay on their territory year-round.

It seems like everywhere I walk on the greenway, I see wrens darting about, crossing the trail, and flitting among the thorns and tall grass. It’s hard to get a pic of these shy birds, and they are gone as soon as I see them! Carolina Wrens love bushy areas of undergrowth along fields or edges of woods where they can play hide and seek, dodging in and about like a feisty child in garment racks – you can hear them, but you can’t see them!

Sounds like “tea…kettle, tea…kettle” and “meemoo” will come blasting out from a thick vine grove that is impossible to penetrate with your eyes! The Carolina Wren is the largest North American wren, is non-migratory, and it has ten subspecies, all featuring cinnamon brown bodies with ecru undersides and a long white streak from the top of the beak over the eye and side of the head.

Carolina Wren

  • Breeding Season: March through September
  • Nest location: Nest is squeezed into dense scrubby vines/weeds/saplings from two to twelve feet off the ground
  • Nest description: Made of twigs, bark, grasses, and leaves, avg. of 4″ across and 3″ high
  • Average eggs/brood: 4 – 6 eggs
  • Average broods/season:  2 – 3 broods
  • Incubation: 12 – 16 days
  • Nestling period: 12 – 14 days
  • Fledging Age: 14 days

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

  • Listen to the Cardinal here (this bird boasts over 16 different calls)
  • State Bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia
  • Attract them with Black oil sunflower seeds, berries, and nuts in hopper or tray feeders

northern cardinal range map

Female Cardinal


male cardinal
Male Cardinal


  • Oldest bird: 15 years
  • Average Size: 8.5 inches
  • Average weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 10 -12 inches
  • Identifying Traits:
      • Brilliant red color (reddish tinge on the drab brown body for female)
      • Long tail, stout cone-shaped beak
      • Black messy facial ring around the base of the beak
      • Distinct crest

I love this bird because it is one of the only North American birds where the male and the female sing.  The female often sings when she is brooding and gives information to the male on when to bring back food. That is my kind of partnership! The Cardinal is known for having one of the best voices of all the songbirds, with much effort put into their singing!

I have seen Cardinals flying into windows repeatedly in an attacking manner, but I have never stayed watching them until they stopped. They go for hours, and my attention span was about ten or fifteen minutes watching them hurl themselves – at themselves!

This was disturbing and bizarre for me until I learned that Cardinals are consumed with the need to protect their territory during the breeding season. When they see their reflection on any surface, the male and female immediately fight it until it no longer appears to be a threat. I find that admirable and akin to human behavior, especially the “mama bear” syndrome.

Interesting to note that if Cardinals completely changed their diet, their plumage would not be red but brown! All the carotenoids serve to trigger their pigment production to create their beautiful red color, but baby birds only get insects for the protein they need to grow. (Babies won’t be red until they can eat an adult’s diet!)

female and male cardinal

Cardinals don’t like to fly and prefer to hop from vine to vine, scouting for seeds on the ground. Short, direct flights make up most of the airborne time!

Dense scrubby vegetation, bushes, and shrubs overgrown with weeds and thickets are a favorite nesting site for Cardinals, who sing loudly from high perches and build their nest two to twelve feet off the ground. Rose, blackberry, honeysuckle, hemlock, grape bushes, and vines are all prime home areas.

These birds are the definition of functioning pair, as they fly around together with nesting material in their beaks and assess various locations to raise their family. They chirp to each other while relaying information about each site!

The nest-building process is a workout for the female, focusing on breaking and splintering twigs until they are flexible enough to weave into more twigs.  She hops in the middle of the nest and pulls the twigs around her, using her feet to push them out into a cup shape.

She also builds the nest four layers deep, with leaves and moss camouflaging the outer wall, then the twigs and random trash material, the third layer of bark from a grapevine or similar plant, and she makes the fourth interior layer soft, with grass, flower stems, baby roots, and pine needles. Total construction takes about 7 to 9 days!

All that work, and then the nest is only used for one breeding season!

The perfectly conical bright red beaks of the female Cardinals stand out against their pale greenish-brown coloring, and the short, stout nature is almost comical!

For identifying female Cardinals, look for a reddish tinge on the body, as well as the black (or gray) ring around the base of the beak. Female Cardinals also have a muddy reddish color for their tail and wings, with gray strips at the ends.


  • Breeding Season: March through September
  • Nest location: Nest is squeezed into dense scrubby vines/weeds/saplings from two to twelve feet off the ground
  • Nest description: Made of twigs, bark, grasses, and leaves, avg. of 4″ across and 3″ high
  • Average eggs/brood: 3 – 4 eggs
  • Average broods/season:  2 broods
  • Incubation:  11 -13 days
  • Nestling period: 9 – 12 days
  • Fledging Age: 10 – 13 days

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

  • Listen to the Goldfinch here
  • State bird of Washing, New Jersey, and Iowa

american goldfinch map

The male feeds the female just like he feeds the babies during brooding!


  • Oldest bird: 11 years
  • Average Size: 4.5 – 5 inches
  • Average weight: 0.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 8 inches
  • Identifying Traits:
      • Black cap on the head
      • Small cone-shaped beak
      • Black and white banded wings and tail

The American Goldfinch is one of the most beloved sights in the United States with its brilliant yellow and shiny black and white trimmings. Look for the forked tail and cone-shaped beak that resembles a party hat! This bird is present year-round in most of the lower 48 states. For South Carolinians, the Goldfinch is a staple that shows up at feeders and birdbaths everywhere and all the time!

The Goldfinch may be more difficult to identify during non-breeding months, as the brilliantly vivid coloring is turned down several notches, and its body takes on a light brownish-gray hue that is drab, but there is no streaking. The head becomes a muddy yellow color, and the tail and wings become more white with black band striping instead of glossy black with shiny white bands.

These are energy-filled active birds with bouncy flight and supreme balancing skills that have a diet of seeds from sunflowers, thistles, asters, and various grass and trees. They hop on the ground and balance on dandelions to glean seeds, and they are content on a feeder swaying in the wind! Very sociable birds, the Goldfinch flocks with other groups of birds to perch and eat.

The Goldfinch prefers open land with low, scrubby vegetation, floodplains overgrown with weeds, and some smaller trees for nesting.

To attract the Goldfinches in your area, plant low shrubs, thistle and milkweed, and small, leafy trees with widely spaced branches. I love that Goldfinches don’t nest and brood until mid-summer when they know flowers and weeds have “run to seed” (the end stages of a plant’s life when the leaves stop growing and the energy is focused on producing flowers and seeds instead).

  • Male and female Goldfinch partners have calls and songs that almost replicate each other and that other goldfinches can identify!


  • Breeding Season: June, July, and August
  • Nest location: Open setting, in a small tree or bush
  • Nest description: Made of roots, plant fibers, and spider silk (can hold water), avg. of 3″ across and 3″ high
  • Average eggs/brood: 2 – 7 eggs
  • Average broods/season: 1 -2 broods
  • Incubation: 12 -14 days
  • Nestling period:  14 days
  • Fledging Age: 13 – 16 days

Uncommon Birds of South Carolina

Here are a few of the most popular and least-seen birds of South Carolina.  The Painted Bunting is many people’s favorite for its tropical coloring and strong, protective personality. The White-Winged Dove is also the favorite of many people simply because of Stevie Nick’s song featuring the bird as she talks about visiting her uncle as he was terminally ill.

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

  • Listen to the Painted Bunting here
  • The Painted Bunting is not a state bird
  • Attract Painted Buntings with sunflower seeds, nyjer, millet, and bark butter

painted bunting map

painted bunting

Painted Bunting

  • Oldest bird: 12 years
  • Average Size: 5.5 inches
  • Average weight: 5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 9 inches
  • Identifying Traits:
      • Bright Red body underside
      • Cerulean Blue head
      • Vivid Yellow-green shoulders
      • Reddish/Rust colored back
      • Wings are soft gray hues

This bird is like a palette of primary colors, almost too vivid to exist in three dimensions! You may catch a glimpse of these wild colors in “maritime coastal areas to the agricultural areas of the inner coastal plain,” according to the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture.

Habitats like wooded dunes, farmland, thickets, open areas with scrub bushes and sparse trees, overgrown pastures, and stream banks are preferable homes, and rare sightings of this bird center around coastal water. Listed as a priority for conservation efforts by numerous regional organizations, it is not considered nationally threatened.

To go along with their dramatic coloring, the territorial behavior of Painted Buntings is almost histrionic, with males becoming extremely aggressive during the breeding season and defending up to 3 acres of land! This fighting is so brutal that it occasionally ends in death. Males also attack females who are not their mates if they wander into his kingdom!

An admirable trait of Painted Buntings is the care and speed with which they construct their nest. Finding a site in dense foliage from three to thirty feet high near an open foraging area, the female builds a tightly anchored incubation tank for the impending eggs.

In as little as three days, a strong nest firmly attached to a tree or bush is completed with mosses, barks, twigs, rootlets, leaves, and possible miscellaneous items such as rag bits or tissues. This is tightly bound with yards of cobwebs and lined with warm, soft fibers, such as horsehair.

Painted Buntings are ground-foraging creatures, scouting seeds from bushes, trees, and flowers that have dropped. During the breeding season, they change to a diet of mostly insects and spiders to maximize their health and that of the babies.

In French, the Painted Bunting’s name is synonymous with “unequaled” and refers to the brilliant colors covering this bird.  In truth, the same beauty that awes many people also causes their vulnerability to illegal capture and trade in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. As early as 1840, American naturalists were alarmed enough to begin documenting the thousands of Painted Buntings sold illegally on the streets.

Painted Bunting

  • Breeding Season: March through July
  • Nest location:  Usually below six feet in densely overgrown vines or thicket, but can be up to 30 feet high
  • Nest description: Mosses, twigs, barks, plants, and cobwebs form a tight cup shape that is 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep
  • Average eggs/brood: 3 -4 eggs
  • Average broods/season: 1 – 3 broods
  • Incubation: 11 -12 days
  • Nestling period: 9 days
  • Fledging Age: 9 – 10 days

White-Winged Dove (Zenaida Asiatica)

  • Listen to the White-Winged Dove here
  • The White-Winged Dove is not a state bird
  • Attract White-Winged Doves with sunflower, saffron, and corn seeds

white-winged dove map

I would never have thought to call pigeons/doves “gorgeous” until I saw this picture of the White-Winged Dove in flight.


Mourning Dove in Flight
Just like the name says, this is an angelic “White-Winged Dove.”

White-Winged Dove

  • Oldest bird: 15 years
  • Average Size: 12 inches
  • Wingspan: 20 – 22 inches
  • Identifying Traits:
      • Metallic blue “eyeshadow” rimming both eyes
      • Edges of wings are white when perched; in flight, the underside body and wings are pure white.
      • The tail is brilliantly colored with brownish gray for the first half, and the bottom half is pure white.

What I love about these birds is that both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young! This is uncommonly good! Another amazing thing about this bird is that it has a special esophagus cell that starts making highly nutritious “pigeon milk” (or crop milk) in males and females several days before the eggs hatch! Wow, no wonder both parents sit on the eggs – I wonder if dad incubating the eggs triggers this cell.

Flamingos, penguins, pigeons, and doves are the only birds to produce this anti-oxidant, immune-boosting liquid, and it is fed to the chicks directly from the parents’ throats for at least ten days after hatching.

While White-Winged Doves are very similar to the ever-present Mourning Doves, the primary distinguishing feature that is most visible is the white edging of its wings. Next in line for distinguishing features is the blue facial stripe that surrounds the eyes and stretches out to the base of the mouth. Another identifying mark is the lack of spots on the body.

Rock Pigeons feeding each other “pigeon milk.”

The mating behavior of the male is more complex in White-Winged Doves than in other doves, with the male climbing to a great height and descending in a wide circle for the female. Males also sit near females, spread their tale slowly, and then quickly snap it shut, supposedly showing off the brilliant white striping!

In addition to seeds and grains, they are often seen eating the fruits and flowers of cacti and getting water through desert plants like the saguaro.

Their nests are rather messy, built loosely of sticks, but what they lack in housekeeping skills, they make up for with their smooth, deliberate “whoooo, whoooo, whooo” that soothes even the most ruffled feathers!

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cliched Stevie Nicks song that is one of my ultimate favorites – you guessed it, “White Winged Dove” (actually Edge of Seventeen).

White-Winged Dove

  • Breeding Season: March through September
  • Nest location: An indelicate array of sticks high in a tree, shrub, or cactus (up to 28 feet off the ground)
  • Nest description: Made of twigs, bark, grasses, and leaves, avg. of 4″ across and 3″ high
  • Average eggs/brood: 1 – 2 eggs
  • Average broods/season: 2 – 3 broods
  • Incubation: 13 -19 days
  • Nestling period: 15 – 16 days
  • Fledging Age: 16 days


Question: What birds are native to South Carolina?

Answer: White-breasted Nuthatch, House, Song Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Goldfinch, American Crow, Robin, Cardinal, Red-Winged Blackbird, Mourning Dove, Carolina Wren, and many more! Because of the wide array of habitats offered by South Carolina, the state can boast of serving a community with more than 400 bird species!
For a full list of South Carolina birds, check out this article at Exploring Nature Organization. You can also check out Cornell’s ebird page for South Carolina’s list of bird sightings.

Question: What birds can I see in South Carolina in the winter?

Answer: There are too many to list with all the different habitats offered by South Carolina. Some frequent winter flyers include the Crow, Blue-Jay, Goldfinch, Vulture, Vireo, Thrasher, Robin, Nuthatch, Chickadee, Wren, Sparrow, Woodpecker, Towhee, Bluebird, Cardinal, Finch, Mourning Dove, Mockingbird, Flicker, Warbler, and the Titmouse. Audubon of South Carolina offers a more comprehensive list with information for each.

Question: What birds will use my feeders in South Carolina?

Answer: The Cardinal is the number one South Carolina bird that will eat at backyard feeders, followed closely by the Chickadee, Titmouse, Carolina Wren, House Finch, Mourning Dove, and Goldfinch. Other birds regularly using your feeder in South Carolina are Nuthatches, Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds and Eastern Bluebirds, Sparrows, Warblers, and Robins.
Though the greatest percentage of South Carolina birds eat insects for their primary diet, the “feeder birds,” or birds that visit backyard feeders, eat mostly seeds (40%). Birds that will eat at backyard feeders are generally more adaptable and have a wider spectrum of food they eat, including seeds and grains.
This may be due to the foraging strategies of insect-eating birds that catch flying critters in the air or perched on plants. These birds may not associate bird feeders with their next meal; however, they make up 30% of the birds using backyard feeders!

blue jay
Blue jay

Parting Thoughts

If you’re lucky enough to live in South Carolina, you already know the wild beauty that surrounds you is seemingly endless. Whether birds, mammals, flowers or fish, the great disparity of geography sustains thousands of species. More than 400 bird species can be found in South Carolina, and narrowing it down is a difficult, if not impossible, task.

I am never tired of seeing the variety of birds I come across, and just this morning, a male and female Cardinal were flitting from tall plants in a nearby thicket, teasing me to follow them through the brambles and branches. You will surely see Cardinals at your backyard feeder during all seasons in South Carolina, followed by the Chickadee and the Carolina Wren.

I’ll leave you with a pic of my favorite balcony bird – can you find her?

balcony bird

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