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20 Most Common Birds of North Carolina (Wild & Backyard)

North Carolina Birds

North Carolina is an exciting haven for birds and birders. 483 birds in North Carolina sing and soar over 53,819 square miles of barrier beaches, marshes, forest, fields, and farmlands!

Swamps are brightened by glowing golden Prothonotary Warblers, Bald Eagles lord over wetlands, and hundreds of other birds wait to be seen.

Although the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parakeet, and Passenger Pigeon disappeared from North Carolina decades ago, most of the birds in this southeastern state are common and easy to see.

We bet you have seen a lot of birds of North Carolina but could you identify all of them?

Our up-to-date list of the most common backyard and wild birds in North Carolina will help!

 

Most Common Birds of North Carolina

There are a lot of birds in North Carolina but which are the most common ones? To make an accurate, up-to-date list of the most common birds, we used the latest set of bird sightings in North Carolina on eBird.

We ordered those bird species from most common to least common and, to help recognize them, we also included information about behavior and identification.

PS! Keep in mind that the birds at the bottom of this list of the TOP 20 species are common birds too.

 

Northern Cardinal (Is The Most Common Bird Of North Carolina)

Birds of North Carolina - Northern Cardinal

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Length: 8.75 inches
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Wingspan: 12 inches
Song:
pichew-pichew-pichew, chew,chew,chew,chew,chew

Northern Cardinals are medium-sized songbirds with a perky crest and big orange-red beak. Males are bright red with a black throat and face, and have dusky red on their back, wings, and tail.

Female Northern Cardinals are grayish-brown and buff with some black on their face and throat. They also have red highlights in their crest, wings, and long, rounded tail.

This species has short, rounded wings and seems to bounce up and down as they move through the air. In flight, Northern Cardinals also make sharp chip notes.

The Northern Cardinal is a bird of second growth, gardens, and parks. It eats seeds, insects, and some fruit and is a regular visitor to bird feeders. They forage on and near the ground but males sing from a prominent perch.

This beautiful bird occurs in pairs and nests in bushes and low trees. It is common in the eastern and southwestern USA, southern Ontario, and in Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Crested bird with a conical orange-red beak and a black face. Males are red, females are grayish-brown and buff.
  • Forages for seeds and insects on and near the ground.
  • Makes a cup-shaped nest in bushes and low trees.
  • Sings a clear, whistled song of repeated notes. They can sound like “cheer, cheer, chew, chew, chew, chew” or a quick “birdee,birdee,birdee,birdee,birdee“. They also make loud, sharp chip notes.

Northern Cardinals are one of the most beautiful common birds in most states, including North Carolina. They happen to be the state birds of NC state too (along with six other states – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

 

Carolina Wren

Second popular bird in North Carolina - Carolina Wren

Scientific name: Thryothorus ludovicianus

Length: 5.5 inches
Weight: .74 ounces
Wingspan: 7.5 inches
Song: 
teakettle, teakettle, teakettle

The Carolina Wren is a small, reddish-brown and buff bird with a long, sharp, slightly decurved beak. It has a long, narrow, white eyebrow, a white throat, and some white mottling on its face. Males and females are similar and have black barring on their short wings, long tail, and under the tail.

Juveniles are similar but have paler underparts. This animated and vocal little bird forages for bugs in vine tangles and other dense vegetation. It usually occurs in pairs that can easily hide in the dense vegetation they prefer.

Carolina Wrens build a domed, cup nest made of sticks and soft vegetation. There is a side entrance and it can be placed in cavities and crevices of stumps, bushes, trees, potted plants, and other structures.

The Carolina Wren lives in vegetated gardens, second growth, parks and similar habitats in much of the eastern USA, parts of southern Ontario, and parts of eastern Mexico. They are one of the most common birds of North Carolina.

Key Identifications:

  • Small reddish-brown and buff bird with a long beak and long white eyebrow.
  • Feeds on arthropods in dense, tangled vegetation.
  • Makes a domed cup nest with a side entrance in crevices, tree cavities, and human-made structures.
  • Carolina Wrens fill the garden with loud and melodious songs. One common song sounds like, “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle“. They also make trilled sounds and harsh, nasal calls.

The Carolina Wren is a vocal species of gardens and second growth. Pairs use their long beaks to catch bugs and insects and aren’t shy about nesting near people. Many of these friendly birds have nested in such places as old shoes, potted plants, and abandoned cars.

 

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

Scientific name: Poecile carolinensis

Length: 4.75 inches
Weight: .37 ounces
Wingspan: 7.5 inches
Song: 
see-dee, see-dew

The Carolina Chickadee is a small, cute, grayish and buff bird with a black cap, black throat, and white face. Males and females look the same and have stubby black beaks, strong, blue-gray legs and feet, and some pale edging on the feathers in their wings and tails.

This small bird mostly feeds on insects and seeds. It finds food by foraging with flocks of other small birds and picking small bugs and other items from bark, foliage, and twigs. Carolina Chickadees often hang upside down from twigs while foraging and are regular visitors to bird feeders.

These fun little birds nest in tree cavities and nest boxes, and live in parks, woodlands, and other habitats. As long as enough trees are present, they also commonly live in urban areas.

The Carolina Chickadee is a permanent resident from Maryland and Ohio west to Texas and south to northern Florida.

Key Identifications:

  • The Carolina Chickadee is a small gray and buff bird with a smart black cap, black throat, and white face.
  • Feeds on small insects and seeds. A regular visitor to bird feeders.
  • Nests in tree cavities and nest boxes.
  • Carolina Chickadees are vocal birds that make nasal “chick a dee dee dee” calls, and a high-pitched, “see-dee, see-dew”.

The Carolina Chickadee is a small grayish bird with a black cap and throat. They usually occur in small flocks that forage for insects and seeds as they chatter and move through woodlands and park-like habitats. This species uses its excellent memory to recall where it keeps hidden bits of food.

 

American Crow

American Crow

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos

Length: 17.5 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Wingspan: 39 inches
Song: 
Caw, Caw, Caw!”

The American Crow is a large, black bird with a stout, slightly hooked beak. In some lighting, this species is also highlighted with metallic blue and purple iridescence.

Male and female American Crows resemble each other, have feathers on part of their bills, long, broad wings, and a broad tail.

This big bird can fly for several miles with steady wing beats. These social and complex birds typically occur in flocks, and are very intelligent.

American Crows usually feed on the ground and are omnivores that will eat almost anything they find.

This varied diet can include everything from dead animals to nuts, fruit, carrion, insects, and small animals. As with other members of the Corvid family, crows won’t hesitate to feed on the eggs and nestlings of other birds.

It makes bulky stick nests in trees and occurs everywhere except in deserts and high elevations.

American Crows range from Alaska to Canada and south to Texas.

Key Identifications:

  • Large, hefty, black bird with long, broad wing and a broad tail.
  • An omnivore that feeds on carrion, seeds, insects, fruit, and small animals.
  • Makes bulky stick nests.
  • The American Crow is a loud and noisy bird. They are capable of making all sorts of sounds but their most frequent call is, “Caw! Caw! Caw!”.

American Crows are big, black birds with long, broad wings. They are social and easily seen in towns, on farms, and many other habitats. This species is very smart and can even be taught to mimic human speech.

 

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor

Length: 6.5 inches
Weight: .75 ounces
Wingspan: 9.75 inches
Song: 
peter peter peter

The Tufted Titmouse is a small, crested, blue-gray bird with a white face. Males and females look the same and have a small black mark above their stubby black beak. They also have pale underparts with peach-orange flanks.

These cute little birds occur in small groups that forage for insects and seeds in parks and woodlands. They move through the trees and use their bills to pick food from leaves, bark, and branches. Tufted Titmouse are also regular visitors to bird feeders.

These small birds nest in woodpecker holes and other cavities in dead trees, and can also use nest boxes. They are one of the most common birds of North Carolina.

We find the Tufted Titmouse in hardwood forests and forested urban areas. They are often heard before they are seen, and flock with other small birds. When they see a predator, they are some of the first birds to harass it.

The Tufted Titmouse occurs in the eastern USA and some parts of southeastern Canada.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, crested blue-gray bird with pale underparts and a white face.
  • Feeds on seeds and insects and visits feeders.
  • Nests in tree cavities and nest boxes.
  • The Tufted Titmouse is a very vocal bird. It gives constant whistled calls over and over, “peter peter peter“.

The Tufted Titmouse is an easily recognized bird that lives in parks, gardens, and woodlands. It occurs in small flocks, often visits feeders, and needs dead trees or nest boxes to breed. This species lines its nest with mammal hair including fur from Raccoons, Opossums, and other animals.

 

Blue Jay

blue jay

Photograph © Alan Wilson.

Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata

Length: 11 inches
Weight: 3 ounces
Wingspan: 16 inches
Song: 
Nyeah! Nyeah! Nyeah!

The Blue Jay is a fairly large, crested bird with a straight black bill. Both sexes look alike and are blue above and gray and white below. They also have some small black lines on their faces and a narrow black necklace that goes up to the side of their face and crest.

Blue Jays also have some white markings and black barring in their wings and on their tail. Young birds look like adults but are duller blue.

They make messy cup nests at various heights in a variety of trees.

These social and intelligent birds feed on acorns, nuts, insects, and other small creatures. Like other members of the jay and crow family, they eat the eggs and nestlings of other birds.

The Blue Jay is a common bird of woodlands, forest, and towns east of the Rocky Mountains in the USA and central and southern Canada.

Key Identifications:

  • Crested, fairly large bird with bright blue above and gray below.
  • Feeds in trees and at feeders. Eats acorns, nuts, insects and many other food items.
  • Makes a messy cup nest of sticks in a tree.
  • Very vocal. In flight, Blue Jays often call as they swoop through the trees. They make a variety of sounds and mimic some other birds. Common calls include a nasal and complaining “Nyeah! Nyeah! Nyeah!” and various whistled calls.

The Blue Jay is a common, intelligent, and noisy bird. They make their presence known with their loud calls and can visit feeders. Ironically, when communicating with each other at close quarters, this species makes much softer and quieter calls. It’s almost as if they are talking with each other!

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus

Length: 9.25 inches
Weight: 2.2 ounces
Wingspan: 16 inches
Song: 
Qwerr!

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are medium-sized with black and white barring on their back and wings. They have a long beak and pale gray underparts with a small red patch on the belly.

Males have red on the head from the bill to the back of the neck (the nape). Females have an orange-red spot above their bill and red on the back of their head. Both sexes have a mostly white rump and central tail feathers.

This woodpecker species has long wings and “undulating” flight where it moves up and down as it flies. In flight, Red-bellied Woodpeckers show a small white patch in their wings.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker lives in wooded habitats. It eats nuts, seeds, insects, fruit, and can attack nestlings of other species. It also visits bird feeders.

This striking woodpecker occurs in pairs and nests in tree cavities high above the ground. It is common in the eastern USA and parts of southern Ontario.

Key Identifications:

  • Grayish woodpecker with black and white barring above, and red on the top of the head and back of the neck.
  • Forages for seeds, nuts, insects and other food on trunks and branches.
  • Nests in a tree cavity, high overhead.
  • Makes a loud exclamation, “Qwerr!“. It also makes other, briefer and quieter “chug” calls.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common and adaptable birds. As long as big trees are present, we see them in urban areas as well as wilder places. They also visit feeders and have a very long tongue. When extended, it sticks out 2 inches past the tip of its bill!

 

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Scientific name: Zenaida macroura

Length: 12 inches
Weight: 4.2 ounces
Wingspan: 18 inches
Song: 
hooOOA, hoo, hoo, hoo”

Mourning Doves are medium-sized, grayish-brown doves with long tails. They have small black spots on their wings and a small head with a slender, dark beak.

Males and females also have narrow gray eyerings, a black mark on the face, and pale iridescent gold on the sides of their necks. They look alike except for males having more gray on the head and neck, and more iridescence.

This dove has fairly long wings and swift, direct flight. When flying, it shows black and white in its tail.

The Mourning Dove occurs in woodlands, gardens, on farms, and in urban areas. This common feeder visitor eats seeds and grains. It also forages in open situations, picking food from the ground.

This pleasant dove species can visit a feeder on its own or forage in small flocks. It builds an unkempt stick nest in bushes and trees and is very common throughout the USA, southern Canada, and Mexico. They are common in North Carolina.

Key Identifications:

  • Plain brown and gray dove with a long, pointed tail.
  • Feeds on seeds at feeders and on the ground in open areas.
  • Makes a small, messy nest of sticks in trees.
  • Sings a sad and owl-like “hooOOA, hoo, hoo, hoo”.

The Mourning Dove is the common garden dove in most of its range. It often visits feeders and its cooing song is commonly mistaken for an owl. This species has a short lifespan, with many adults only living for a couple of years or less.

 

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Scientific name: Sialia sialis

Length: 6.3 to 8.3 inches
Weight: 1.0 to 1.1 ounces
Wingspan: 9.8 to 12.6 inches
Song: “tu-a-wee

Male Eastern Bluebirds are brick-red or rusty on their breast and throat and are a deep, vivid blue above. How blue these birds look fully depends on the lighting at the time. From a distance, males often look like a dull gray-brown. Female Eastern Bluebirds are a subdued orange-brown on the breast, grayish above, and have bluish wings and tails.

Eastern Bluebirds inhabit open country around trees. However, these locations have sparse ground cover and little understory. These birds primarily consume insects on the ground; some of the prey they consume include beetles, caterpillars, crickets, spiders, and grasshoppers.

Key Identifications:

  • These birds are deep blue above and brick-red or rusty on their breast and throat.
  • When Bluebirds are perched, the tips of their wings reach the base of their tail.
  • Eastern Bluebirds are the size of a large sparrow but have a more upright posture.
  • They have short necks, rounded heads, and short, thin bills.

Eastern Bluebirds are common birds that can be found in all parts of North America. They’re usually year-round residents of the southern portions of the country. They’re commonly seen in nesting boxes and old woodpecker holes, up to 50 feet off the ground. You can attract these birds to your yard by offering a smaller birdhouse because they prefer to nest in snug, tight spaces.

 

Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

© Alan D. Wilson

Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens

Length: 6.75 inches
Weight: .95 ounces
Wingspan: 12 inches
Song:
Pik! Ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch!

The Downy Woodpecker is a small black and white woodpecker with a short, black beak. They are patterned black and white above and have white backs and white underparts. Both sexes look alike except that males have a small, bright red patch on the top back part of their head.

Young birds look like adults but have a reddish patch on the top of their head. Downy Woodpeckers also have a few small black marks in their white outer tail feathers, and a small white tuft at the base of their beak.

This woodpecker eats insects, other small creatures, seeds, and small fruits. It pecks into live and dead wood and often forages on smaller branches and twigs. These friendly little woodpeckers are also common feeder birds.

They nest in tree cavities and live in gardens and a wide variety of woodlands. We see Downy Woodpeckers in much of Canada and the USA but not in arid habitats.

Key Identifications:

  • Smallest woodpecker in North America. Mostly black and white with a short, black beak.
  • Forages on trees, in bushes, and at feeders for insects, seeds, and suet.
  • Nests in tree cavities.
  • The Downy Woodpecker makes sharp “pik!” calls and also has a trilled call, “Ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch,ch!“.

Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest woodpecker species in North America and usually occur in pairs. They can also forage with other small birds and often visit feeders. This species takes advantage of its size to peck into the stems of weeds and other plants too small for larger woodpeckers to perch on.

 

American Robin

Female American Robin

© Tom Grey

Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos

Length: 10 inches
Weight: 2.7 ounces
Wingspan: 17 inches
Song: 
“cheery, cheery, cheery, cheery, cheer, cheer

The American Robin is a familiar and common thrush that is dark gray above and brick red below. It also has an orange-yellow bill, a blackish head with white markings around the eyes and on the throat, and a white belly.

Both sexes of this thrush species are similar but males are darker above and more reddish on the underparts. Young American Robins have more white marks on their faces and spotting on orange underparts.

In flight, this common thrush in North Carolina also shows white corners in its outer tail feathers.

American Robins on summer forage on the ground for worms, insects, snails, and other small creatures. In winter, these common birds flock together and perch in trees and bushes to eat berries and fruit.

The American Robin makes a cup nest in trees and lives in parks, woodlands, towns, and many other habitats. They reside in Alaska, most of Canada, the USA and in Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Fair-sized songbird that is dark gray above, and brick red and white below.
  • Forages for worms and bugs on lawns and other open grassy areas, also flocks together to feed on fruiting trees in the winter.
  • Makes a cup nest in trees.
  • The American Robin is quite vocal and makes a loud, sharp, “yenk!” call and quieter “check,check,check” calls. It also has a lovely cheerful song of caroled phrases, “cheery, cheery, cheery, cheery, cheer, cheer”.

The American Robin is a common, handsome thrush. It forages for worms and bugs on lawns and other open, grassy spots, and also eats berries.

 

House Finch

House Finch

© John Hansen

Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus

Length: 6 inches
Weight: .88 ounces
Wingspan: 10 inches
Song: 
chip,chip,chiprididip,ZREEYachip”

House Finches are sparrow-sized birds with dark, rounded beaks and fairly long wings. Males are orange-red or rose-red on their head, throat and breast, and have some red on their rump. They also have brownish streaks on their back, flanks, and white belly.

Like the male, female House Finches have two white wing bars on long, gray-brown wings. However, they lack red and are mostly streaked, dull brown-gray birds.

House Finches feed on seeds, buds, fruit, and flowers. They often visit feeders in North Carolina but also forage on the ground, and in bushes and trees.

We see these pretty birds in deserts and arid zones, and in parks, farmland, urban areas, and other semi-open habitats.

The House Finch makes a soft cup nest built on a tree, building ledge or other spot with some overhanging cover. They often occur in small groups and live in southern Canada, most of the USA, Mexico, and Hawaii.

Key Identifications:

  • Reddish or plain gray-brown, streaked, sparrow-like bird.
  • Eats seeds, flowers, buds, and fruit. Can visit feeders but also forages on the ground and in bushes and trees.
  • Makes a soft cup nest in trees, on building ledges, and other places.
  • The House Finch often makes a soft, “fidip” call. Males also sing a warbling song from prominent, high perches. It sounds like, “chip,chip,chiprididip,ZREEYachip”.

House Finches are sparrow-like, reddish or brownish, streaked birds. They live in arid zones as well as in parks and urban areas. All of the millions of House Finches that live east of the Rocky Mountains are descendants of birds released on Long Island in 1939.

 

Northern Mockingbird

Mockingbirds are known to replicate the songs of other birds

© Alan D. Wilson

Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos

Length: 10 inches
Weight: 1.7 ounces
Wingspan: 14 inches
Song: 
kerdee, kerdee, kerdee…jirdle,jirdle,jidrle…

The Northern Mockingbird is a pale gray and white bird with a long tail. Around the same size as an American Robin, it has a dark line through a pale eye, a short, slender beak, and two white wing bars.

Both sexes look alike, are gray above, and white and buff below. In flight, this bird shows a blackish tail with white outer feathers and a big white wing patch.

Northern Mockingbirds feed on insects and berries. They forage in open grassy spots, on the ground. These animated birds run and pick bugs from the ground and fly up to catch insects in flight. In winter, they also perch in bushes to feast on berries.

The Northern Mockingbird lives in towns, parks, and other semi-open habitats, and builds cup nests in bushes and low trees. Northern Mockingbirds are common garden birds in much of the eastern and southern USA, southern Ontario, and Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Vocal, gray and white bird with a small bill, white wing patches, and a long, black and white tail.
  • Feeds on the ground in open areas and in bushes. Mostly eats insects and berries.
  • Makes a cup nest in a bush or low tree.
  • Very vocal. Sings many phrases and mimics many other birds. Some of the more regular phrases sound like, “kerdee, kerdee, kerdee…jirdle,jirdle,jidrle…. These are interspered with the calls of Blue Jays, woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, and various other bird species.

The Northern Mockingbird is a common and conspicuous bird. They are often seen on lawns and sing from rooftops. This species can mimic the calls of 35 bird species as well as mechanical sounds.

 

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Scientific name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Length: 6.8 to 8.2 inches
Weight: 1.1 to 1.8 ounces
Wingspan: 7.9 to 11.0 inches
Song: “drink-your-tea

Male Eastern Towhees are prominent with their bold sooty black on the breast and above. Additionally, they have white on the belly and warm rufous sides. Female Eastern Towhees have the same pattern but are dark brown, where the birds are black.

Eastern Towhees are common residents of forest edges, thickets, overgrown fields, scrubby backyards, and woodlands. The most important qualities of their habitat seem to be plenty of leaf litter and dense shrub cover. Eastern Towhees can be seen in the Appalachians to about 6,500 feet.

Towhees in North Carolina consume a wide variety of foods, including insects, seeds, snails, fruits, spiders, centipedes, etc.

Key Identifications:

  • These birds are a sooty black above and on the breast as well as warm orange on the sides and belly.
  • Eastern Towhees are around the same size as the American Robin.
  • They have thick, triangular bills, chunky bodies, and long, rounded tails.
  • Eastern Towhees have oval-shaped eggs that are grayish, pale, or creamy white and can be dotted with gray, red-brown, or brown markings.

Eastern Towhees are abundant in the eastern portions of the United States. Listen carefully for their scratchy call when in their habitat. These birds won’t directly visit bird feeders, but they may feed directly below the feeders, picking up fallen seeds off the ground. They like cracked corn, millet, oats, and milo.

 

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch on a branch

© Alan D. Wilson

Scientific name: Spinus tristis

Length: 4.3 to 5.1 inches
Weight: 0.4 to 0.7 ounces
Wingspan: 7.5 to 8.7 inches
Song: “po-ta-to-chip”

Adult male Eastern Goldfinches have black foreheads, black wings with white markings, white patches both above and below the tail, and are bright yellow overall in the spring and early summer. Adult female Eastern Goldfinches are paler yellow underneath and olive above. In the winter, both males and females are unstreaked brown, drab, and have blackish wings with two faint wing bars.

American Goldfinches inhabit overgrown areas like open floodplains and weedy fields, especially thistle, aster, and sunflower plants. They feed off of these plants and use trees and shrubs for nesting. It’s not uncommon to see these birds in backyards, parks, and suburbs as well.

Eastern Goldfinches primarily consume seeds; it’s rare to see them consume anything else. The main types of seeds they eat include thistle, sunflower, grass seeds, and asters.

Key Identifications:

  • Male birds have black foreheads, black wings with white markings, white patches both above and below the tail, and are bright yellow overall in the spring and early summer.
  • Male and Female American Goldfinch look similar. Females are paler yellow underneath and olive above. Both males and females look the same in the winter.
  • These birds are smaller than Tufted Titmice.
  • The Eastern Goldfinch is a small species of finch. They have short, notched tails, short, conical bills, long wings, and a small head.

Eastern Goldfinches are very acrobatic and active birds. You can commonly see them balancing on thistle seedheads, dandelions, and other plants to pick seeds. To encourage these finches to visit your yard, it’s highly recommended that you plant native composite plants like thistles and milkweed.

 

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Scientific name: Melospiza melodia

Length: 4.7 to 6.7 inches
Weight: 0.4 to 1.9 ounces
Wingspan: 7.1 to 9.4 inches
Song: 2 to 6 phrases that usually start with well-spaced, abrupt notes and finishes with a trill or buzz.

Song Sparrows are streaky brown overall and have thick streaks on their flanks and white chest. When taking a closer look at these birds, we can see that their heads are an attractive mix of slaty gray and warm red-brown. It’s important to note that these shades, as well as the amount of streaking, can vary significantly across their range in North America.

Song Sparrows are found in a wide range of open habitats, including suburbs, tidal marshes, forest edges, arctic grasslands, lake edges, desert scrub, chaparral, and aspen parklands.

In the summer, Song Sparrows consume a lot of different insects and other invertebrates. Year-round they consume fruits and seeds. Some of the prey they consume include grasshoppers, weevils, caterpillars, craneflies, earthworms, and spiders.

Key Identifications:

  • Song Sparrows are streaky brown overall and have thick streaks on their flanks and white chest.
  • Their color and amount of streaking can vary significantly in North Carolina and across their range in North America.
  • These birds are slightly larger than a Chipping Sparrow.
  • These sparrows are fairly bulky. They have short, stout bills, somewhat rounded heads, broad wings, and long, rounded tails.

Song Sparrows are one the most familiar sparrows in North America. However, there are 24 recognized subspecies of Song Sparrows. Northern and coastal birds are streakier and darker, while desert and southern birds have duller plumages. These birds regularly visit bird feeders as long as cracked corn, sunflower seeds, or safflower is offered.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

white-breasted nuthatch

Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis

Length: 5.1 to 5.5 inches
Weight: 0.6 to 1.1 ounces
Wingspan: 7.9 to 10.6 inches
Song: “wha-wha-wha

White-breasted Nuthatches have frosty white underparts and faces as well as gray-blue backs. Additionally, under the tail and the lower belly are chestnut brown, and the cap and neck are either black or gray.

White-breasted Nuthatches inhabit mature woods and are most commonly found in coniferous and deciduous forests. You can also find them in open areas with large trees and at woodland edges.

Nuthatches primarily consume insects. Some of the prey they consume include tree hoppers, beetles, weevil larvae, ants, wood-boring beetle larvae, and caterpillars. They also eat nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds and acorns.

Key Identifications:

  • White-breasted Nuthatches are smaller than a Tufted Titmouse.
  • White-breasted Nuthatches have frosty white underparts and faces and gray-blue backs.
  • These birds have large heads, almost no necks, narrow, straight bills, and very short tails.
  • White-breasted Nuthatches can be easily identified by their habit of sneaking up and down tree trunks.

White-breasted Nuthatches are widespread, agile little birds. They visit bird feeders and will readily consume mealworms and meaty, large seeds. White-breasted Nuthatches are known as the “upside down” bird. This is because it’s not uncommon to see them creeping headfirst down the trunk of a tree in search of insects.

 

Turkey Vulture

turkey vulture

Scientific name: Cathartes aura

Length: 26 inches
Weight: 4 pounds
Wingspan: 67 inches
Song: 
hisss

The Turkey Vulture is a big, dark brownish-black raptor with a small red head and long, broad wings. Males and females look alike and also have a longish tail.

In flight, the way Turkey Vultures soar is one of the best ways to recognize them. They fly with their wings held in a “V” shape and, when gliding, often rock back and forth.

Their flight feathers are also paler than the rest of their wings but they lack the Black Vulture’s white wing patch.

Turkey Vultures are scavengers and most of their diet is carrion. They eat road kill and a wide variety of dead animals. This species forages over every type of habitat and can also fly over urban areas.

It lays two eggs on the ground in caves and hollow logs.

The Turkey Vulture lives in southern Canada and in most of the USA south to southern Argentina.

Key Identifications:

  • Big, dark raptor with a small red head that soars with long wings held in a “V”.
  • Feeds on dead animals.
  • Nests on the ground in caves and hollow logs in secluded areas.
  • Turkey Vultures rarely call and mostly make hissing sounds at their nest.

The Turkey Vulture is commonly seen flying over every type of habitat. They are often seen on their own but can occur in flocks, especially during migration. Unlike most other birds, this species uses its amazing sense of smell to find dead animals.

 

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

© Alain Daigle

Scientific name: Spizella passerina

Length: 4.7 to 5.9 inches
Weight: 0.4 to 0.6 ounces
Wingspan: 8.3 inches
Song: “Zeeeee” or “see-see-see-see

In the summer, Chipping Sparrows look crisp and clean. They have pale faces, frosty underparts, black lines through the eye, and bright rusty crowns. In the winter, Chipping Sparrows are duller. They have darkly streaked upper parts and are buffy brown overall. The black lines through the eyes are still visible, and the cap is a paler reddish brown.

Chipping Sparrows inhabit woodlands, parks, grassy forests, essentially any areas that have trees. They tend to gravitate toward evergreens when they’re available. However, they’ll also use eucalyptus, aspen, oak, birch, and pecan trees.

These sparrows primarily consume seeds of a wide variety of herbs and grasses. During their breeding season, they’ll hunt for insects that are rich in protein. Additioanlly, Chipping Sparrows will occasionally consume small fruits like cherries.

Key Identifications:

  • In the summer, Chipping Sparrows have pale faces, frosty underparts, black lines through the eye, and bright rusty crowns. In the winter, Chipping Sparrows have darkly streaked upper parts and are buffy brown overall.
  • These birds are smaller than a Song Sparrow.
  • Chipping Sparrows have relatively long tails and medium-sized bills.
  • Chipping Sparrows can be found around trees, and they favor evergreen trees.

Chipping Sparrows are common in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America (being one of the most common birds in North Carolina. Their bright rufous cap makes adults relatively easy to identify and provides a splash of color. You can attract these birds to bird feeders by offering white millet and mealworms. You’re best bet, though, is to sprinkle the food on the ground, directly below the feeders.

 

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicollis

Length: 6.75 inches
Weight: .91 ounces
Wingspan: 9 inches
Song: 
Ohhh Canada Canada Canada”

The White-throated Sparrow is a chunky, gray and brown sparrow with a white throat, and black and white stripes on its head. It has dark streaks on its back, a gray rump, and a bit of yellow in front of its eyes.

Males and females look the same and have reddish-brown wings with two white wing bars. Young White-throated Sparrows and some adults are duller brown with tan stripes on their heads and a dingy white throat.

White-throated Sparrows forage for seeds and insects on the ground, and also eat fruits in short trees and bushes. They reveal hidden food items by using their feet to scratch and kick away leaves.

This sparrow breeds in northern forests and builds a cup nest with grass and twigs. They construct the nest at the edge of forest, on or close to the ground, in dense vegetation.

These sparrows usually occur in flocks and winter in the eastern and southwestern USA and parts of California.

Key Identifications:

  • Large sparrow with a white throat and bold black and white or tan stripes on its head.
  • Scratches leaves on the ground to find seeds and insects. They also eat berries.
  • Makes a cup nest of grass, bark, and twigs, on the ground, under dense vegetation.
  • Flocks of White-throated Sparrows often make sharp “tink” calls. They also sing a clear, whistled song, “Ohhh Canada Canada Canada” or, “Ohhh, Cana, Cana, Cana”.

They breed in northern forests and flock together during the winter in various woodland habitats. The yellow pigment in the patches in front of their eyes comes from eating colorful berries during fall and winter.

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Birds Of North Carolina

How many bird species are native to North Carolina?

483 species are native to North Carolina and on the official list. On the eBird platform, 489 species have been recorded for the state.

What is the most common bird in North Carolina?

The most common bird in North Carolina is the Northern Cardinal. This species has been found more often on breeding bird surveys and in eBird than any other bird species in North Carolina.

What is the largest bird in North Carolina?

The Trumpeter Swan is the largest bird in North Carolina. This species is 60 inches long, has an 80 inch wingspan, and weighs 23 pounds. Other large birds in North Carolina include a similar-sized bird, the Mute Swan, and the huge American White Pelican. This pelican species has a nine foot wingspan.

What is the smallest bird in North Carolina?

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the smallest bird in North Carolina. This tiny bird is just 3.75 inches long!

What is the fastest bird in North Carolina?

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest bird in North Carolina. This fastest of all birds can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour when diving after prey.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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