North Carolina is for the birds!

By Susan Campbell, Research Affiliate- NC Museum of Natural Sciences

Brown pelican flying off the coast of Dare, NC. ©chucka_nc

Regardless of whether you are an expert birder or just a backyard bird watcher, North Carolina is a must-visit destination state when it comes to feathered fauna. Few others can boast the species richness found here during the course of the year. Over 460 species have been documented to-date with over half that number found breeding here. With the many diverse habitats from the mountains to the coast, there is an impressive array of avian species to be found in any season. But some would say that fall is the perfect time to grab your binoculars and check out a few of the numerous hotspots across the state. Here is a preview of what to look forward to during the 2016 Annual Conference in October.

The Hermit Thrush is a high elevation breeder in the N.C. mountains. ©Michael McCloy

Hermit Thrush ©Michael McCloy

North Carolina has many major migratory “highways” running north to south that provide ample birding opportunities. Hawkwatching along the Blue Ridge Mountains is possible at several locations including the Big Bald Banding Station in Mars Hill or at Grandfather Mountain. Thousands of hawks, falcons and even eagles ride the thermals daily. In addition to breath-taking views, enjoy a myriad of songbirds — even hummingbirds — that stream southward, especially after strong cold fronts in the fall.

More centrally located, parks along major rivers in the foothills and Piedmont provide trails and plenty of forest edges to scan for woodland birds. Consider a visit to Riverbend County Park along the Catawba River or Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center along the Neuse. You can be sure that scores of warblers, vireos, thrushes and flycatchers will be making their way southward through floodplain forests.

The hemispheres largest breeding colonies of White Ibis can be found on islands along N.C.'s southern coast. ©Lindsay Addison

White Ibis
 ©Lindsay Addison

Many bird lovers are drawn here specifically for North Carolina’s coastal birds. Whether it is a pelagic trip out to experience seabirds in the Gulf Stream or to view waterfowl and waterbirds during the colder months, there is much to see. Our estuaries, marshes, beaches and islands are a sight to behold especially as the mercury begins to drop. In the fall, countless birds migrate along our coastline, following the ribbon of sand southward for many miles. You may see familiar species such as Brown Pelicans soaring high above the water’s surface or fast-moving Common Loons passing by just above the waves. And the maritime forests can be full of Passerines.

Amazing avifauna awaits you in North Carolina. Looking for more tips on where to start your adventure? Check out our list of suggestions here. We can’t wait to see you in October. Happy birding!

As luck would have it, our state’s annual bird and wildlife festival, Wings Over Water overlaps with the conference! This festival runs from the 18th to the 23rd of October along the state’s northern coastal plain. Although much of the festival’s programs showcase our vast federal lands, state and private lands are also part of the week’s festivities. This is a premier birding event organized by the Coastal Refuge Society and supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Society and partner organizations as well as a very dedicated group of volunteers. It is the perfect time for the event since migration will be well underway. Warblers, vireos, sparrows and flycatchers should be pouring in as well as increasing numbers of waterbirds. We expect herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls and terns as well as lots of waterfowl in the area by mid-October. Dozens of birding trips as well as other wildlife watching opportunities will be available. In honor of our 20th year, our special guests are Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman. They will be with us all week, Not only will they assist with leading trips, but Kenn will give an after-dinner program Saturday, October 15, at the Gateway Center in Manteo.

For more information and to register online, go to