Last Updated: March 3, 2023
From vast forests to private backyards, birds are everywhere in North Carolina. Whether they are year-round residents or migrants, there is a long list of flying creatures in the state.
With the diverse geography, which includes the Atlantic Coastal Plain, Appalachian Mountains, and Piedmont Plateau, you can see a wide array of birds wherever you reside in North Carolina.
But then, with hundreds of species, North Carolina bird identification can be confusing. Read on and we’ll help you level up your knowledge of birds!
The Most Common Species of North Carolina Birds
1. Northern Cardinal
Listing down the birds of North Carolina is incomplete without mentioning the northern cardinal, which is also the official state bird.
Northern cardinals are small songbirds with an average length of 8.3 to 9.1 inches. The wingspan, meanwhile, is from 9.8 to 12.2 inches.
Looking for northern cardinals in the Tar Heel State? Make sure to check them out in dense forests, woodlands, suburban gardens, and thickets.
The diet of a northern cardinal is varied. They will eat insects, including true bugs, caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers. Their food also includes peanut hearts, millet, and sunflower seeds.
Female northern cardinals are amongst the few female songbirds that can sing. They do this while sitting on a nest, which also gives males an idea of where to bring food.
2. House Finch
The easiest way to identify birds from this family is through the color of their bodies. Male house finches have red breasts and heads. The rest of their bodies have brown streaks. On the other hand, females have brown streaks throughout the body.
It is common to see a house finch perching high in trees or collecting food at a bird feeder. If they are not in feeders, they can also feed on the ground.
If you want to attract house finches to your backyard, install bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds and Nyjer seeds. They also eat figs, blackberries, strawberries, plums, apricots, cherries, and thistles. They can also eat a few insects but only small ones like aphids.
While the house finch can live in hot climates, it needs a lot of water. It can consume more water than its body weight.
3. Song Sparrow
A widespread bird in North America and North Carolina, the song sparrow is known for its melodious song, which is where it got its name.
Song sparrows are medium-sized birds. They have thick brown streaks with white flanks and chests. The head is slaty gray and red-brown, although, you will not notice such unless you take a close look at the bird.
Those who would like to see song sparrows in North Carolina must look at open habitats, such as forest edges, overgrown fields, and marsh edges. They can even go to residential areas and build nests.
The song sparrow is a permanent resident in the western part of the state. Come winter, however, you will find them only in the eastern portion of North Carolina.
4. Dark-Eyed Junco
One of the most common backyard birds in North Carolina, the dark-eyed junco is also known as a snowbird. This is because of their backyard arrival in the winter when they migrate from mountain forests.
Dark-eyed juncos have round bodies and heads, short necks, square-ended tails, and short conical pink bills. As for the colors, eastern species are dark gray with white bellies while western birds have a jet-black hood, pink sides, and brown backs.
Small insects and worms make up to 60% of the diet of dark-eyed juncos. They can also eat nuts, seeds, and berries.
These migratory birds have high-pitched songs. Males use their songs to attract females during the breeding season.
5. Eastern Bluebird
Of the three bluebirds, the eastern bluebird is the most widespread. You can find them throughout the year in North Carolina.
The vibrant colors of eastern bluebirds make them easily recognizable. Males have deep blue back and reddish underparts. Meanwhile, females are grayer on the top with hints of blue on their wings.
Meadows, open woodland edges, golf courses, fields, and pastures are some of the most common habitats of eastern bluebirds. They can also be found in nest boxes.
Flying insects and mealworms are among the favorite foods of these tiny birds. In the winter, they will also consume berries.
Fun Fact: A male eastern bluebird can sing up to 1,000 songs in an hour as it attracts a mate.
6. Red-Winged Blackbird
Identifying red-winged blackbirds is easy because of their all-black bodies and red wing patches. The color of the wings, however, is brighter in males than in females. More so, females have brown streaks on their bodies.
The red-winged blackbird is a year-round resident in North Carolina. In the winter, it can migrate to Canada.
Male red-winged blackbirds are known for doing almost anything so that they will be noticed. They sit on high perches and will belt high pitches to attract females.
Fresh and saltwater marshes are the most common habitats of red-winged blackbirds. They are also common bird species on wet roadsides, water hazards in golf courses, and telephone wires.
In the summer, they will feed mostly on insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles. It is also possible to attract them to a bird feeding station with mixed seeds and grains.
7. White-Throated Sparrow
A small bird from the Passalidae family, the white-throated sparrow is most recognizable for one thing – its white throat.
Other defining physical characteristics include the white crown and black eye stripe. Males and females are almost alike in terms of size and color.
White-throated sparrows fly to North Carolina in early October. They can stay in the state until early May.
They are common birds in mixed woodlands and thickets. They forage mainly on the ground as they hunt for food, which includes mainly insects and seeds. In the fall, they will eat berries.
8. Red-Bellied Woodpecker
It is common for people to confuse a red-bellied woodpecker with a red-headed woodpecker since they both have red caps.
To distinguish red-bellied woodpeckers, look for a bold black and white line at the back. They also have white patches on the wingtips, which are most evident when they are flying.
Most of the red-bellied woodpeckers in North Carolina are in forests, especially those with large hardwood trees. In the Appalachian Mountains, they thrive at an elevation of up to 900 meters.
Attracting red-bellied woodpeckers is easy when you have bird feeders in the backyard. Fill them with sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. As is common with other woodpecker species, they also eat insects and plant materials.
9. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
From the name alone, you can already have an idea of what the bird looks like. However, the iridescent red throat is present only in males.
Both males and females are green on the back. The crown is green in males and brownish in females.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are known for their fast and straight flight with the ability to stop instantly. They also have exquisite control as they can abruptly change their position even when flying.
In the summer, it is common to see a ruby-throated hummingbird in woodland edges and flowering gardens. They are also frequent visitors to nectar hummingbird feeders with sugar water.
10. White-Breasted Nuthatch
With a maximum body length of 5.5 inches, white-breasted nuthatches are tiny birds. They are common in the temperate regions of North America, including the Tar Heel State.
The white-breasted nuthatch has a gray-blue back, frosty white under-part and face, gray or black cap, and chestnut lower belly. The tail is short while the bill is long and narrow. Meanwhile, the head is large and has almost no neck.
These birds are agile. You will see them creeping along large branches and trunks. They use their pointed and short bills to probe bark furrows.
The natural habitats of white-breasted nuthatches include mature woods and deciduous forests. They are also frequent in woodland edges, as well as open areas like wooded suburbs and parks.
11. Blue Jay
Native to eastern North America, blue jays have blue and black backs, white undersides, and blue crests.
These backyard birds are common near feeders. You will also see them in forests, especially when there are oak trees since they eat acorns.
If you want to see a blue jay in your garden, install a tray or platform feeder, which will allow them to exit quickly. They like to fly in, grab black oil sunflower seeds or peanuts, and leave. Installing a bird bath is also a great way to lure them.
One of the most interesting behaviors of a blue jay is that it rubs ants on its feathers. It drains formic acid out of ants before they are eaten.
12. Downy Woodpecker
The downy woodpecker is almost like the hairy woodpecker in terms of physical appearance, but it is smaller.
An easy way to identify downy woodpeckers is through their black and white bodies. They have black and white stripes on the head and white dots on the wings. The plumage color of males and females are alike, but males have a small red dot on the head.
These backyard birds in North Carolina eat insects, seeds, berries, nuts, and worms. They like suet feeders, although it is more common to see them in the latter during the winter as against summer.
Open woodlands and deciduous forests are the preferred habitats of downy woodpeckers. In human-occupied spaces, they can be present in orchards, backyards, and city parks.
13. Carolina Wren
Dark brown on top and light brown under the body, Carolina wrens have a length of 4.7 to 5.5 inches. In-flight, their wings can extend up to 11.4 inches. More so, they have an upright tail and a white stripe on the eyebrow.
Carolina wrens are recognizable because of their brown plumage, which is brighter than what you will find in most wrens. Meanwhile, the Carolina wren has white markings and patches on the shoulders and other parts of the body.
These NC backyard birds are dimorphic, which means that their appearance is different depending on gender. Males are heavier and bigger with a larger wingspan.
The diet of a Carolina wren is varied. In most cases, it will eat seeds and grains from small plants. They are also known for consuming small insects.
14. Tufted Titmouse
One of the year-round birds in North Carolina, the tufted titmouse has a gray crest and back, white underbody, and large eyes.
It is common to see a tufted titmouse in a flock along with woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. They can be assertive when they are around other small birds.
Do you want to see a tufted titmouse in the backyard? Such is possible by installing bird feeders with suet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.
In the summer, the tufted titmouse will eat mostly insects, including ants, wasps, beetles, and caterpillars.
15. Pileated Woodpecker
The pileated woodpecker is about the size of a crow. It has a pileated red cap, making these backyard birds easy to identify. This is one thing that separates them from other woodpecker species.
Typical of woodpeckers, they have a habit of digging holes in tree trunks. Their bills are strong enough to penetrate through the surface and leave distinct marks.
Pileated woodpeckers are frequent visitors of backyard feeders. They prefer suet, sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, safflower seeds, and mixed seeds. To increase the chances of attracting them, do not remove old and decaying trees.
It is common to hear pileated woodpeckers first before they are seen. They are vocal birds making clear and high piping calls.
16. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
The straight bill is one of the first things that you will notice in a yellow-bellied sapsucker. It also has long and stiff wings, which can extend up to the tip of its pointed tail.
With its name, you might expect that they have bright yellow bellies. However, the color is pale, which is almost unnoticeable.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are mostly black and white throughout their bodies. They have white wing bars and red foreheads. Males have red throats.
Insects, tree sap, and fruits make up most of the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s diet. They eat a wide array of ants, which they will take directly from tree trunks.
Hardwood and conifer forests are some of the most common habitats of these winter birds in NC. Their nesting sites include groves with small trees, especially aspens.
17. Mourning Dove
The mourning dove got its name from its mournful cooing, which is a familiar bird sound in many North Carolina backyards.
Aside from their sad songs, you can also identify mourning doves through their rusty brown plumage with some black spots on the wings.
These small birds are graceful with long tails and plump bodies. Males and females are almost the same in physical appearance.
One of the most common places where you can see a mourning dove is on telephone wires where it perches. They are also often seen on the ground as they forage seeds.
Up to 99% of the diet of mourning doves is seeds, especially cultivated grains. Occasionally, they eat snails.
18. Carolina Chickadee
A small Passerine bird, the Carolina chickadee grows only to an average length of 4.5 inches. It has a plump body, large head, short neck, dark bill, white cheeks, and black cap. The tail, wings, and back are dark gray. Meanwhile, the belly is whitish, and the sides are buff-colored.
This small bird does not come often to bird feeders in the backyard, unlike black-capped chickadees. Despite such, they can occasionally visit, especially when there are sunflower seeds.
In the winter, Carolina chickadees will eat more vegetable matter than they would in the summer. During the warmer months, caterpillars are its preferred food. It also eats aphids, beetles, true bugs, and moths, as well as small fruits and tree seeds.
19. Northern Mockingbird
While they were initially more abundant in the south, the population of the northern mockingbird has grown considerably in recent years. Today, they are widespread not just in the continental United States but even in Mexico and Canada.
These medium-sized songbirds have brown to gray bodies with a lighter-colored underbelly. They have round wings with white patches. As for the size, males are larger than females. Both genders, however, will have a wingspan that can reach up to 14 inches.
A northern mockingbird has a varied diet, which changes depending on the season. It feeds heavily on wild fruits and berries in the autumn and winter. Meanwhile, in the spring and summer, the bird eats insects, fruits, and seeds.
The Latin name of the northern mockingbird translates to a many-tongued mimic. The latter refers to the ability of the bird to learn up to 200 songs in its lifetime.
20. Brown-Headed Nuthatch
A quintessential southern bird in North Carolina, the brown-headed nuthatch is non-migratory. You can find it in the state throughout the year.
The brown crown is the most common physical feature of these birds. They also have bluish-gray backs and wings. The underside is creamy white. The length, meanwhile, is three to four inches, making them small.
Mature forests are the most common places where you will find these NC birds. They often excavate nests that woodpeckers leave behind. The most common nesting sites are tree cavities that you will find low on the ground.
One of their unique characteristics is that they carry a loose bar in their bill, which is what they use to pry tree bark in search of insects and spiders that they can eat.
21. American Goldfinch
The state bird of Washington, Iowa, and New Jersey can also be found in North Carolina. It is a year-round resident in the Tar Heel State.
You can quickly identify an American goldfinch once you find one. Adult males are bright yellow with a black forehead. They have black wings with white markings. Females, on the other hand, are olive-green above and dark yellow underneath. In the winter, both males and females have brownish feathers.
These birds in North Carolina are granivores. They eat mostly seeds, including sunflower, elm, and thistle seeds.
Since it is a diurnal bird, the American goldfinch is most active during the day. It is an excellent flyer with the ability to dip and rise in a wave-like pattern while soaring.
22. Red-Eyed Vireo
In North Carolina, the red-eyed vireo is a common bird in the summer. You will find them in the state from April to October.
Physically, red-eyed vireos have olive backs and white underparts. Their crowns are gray, and the eyes are marked with a distinct white stripe. They also have red eyes, which look dark from afar.
Like many of the other backyard birds on this list, the diet is varied, which will change depending on the season. They like insects in the summer, including treehoppers, cicadas, and wasps. Berries are also favorites.
23. Eastern Towhee
Seeing an eastern towhee is guaranteed to be a visual treat. It is about the same size as a robin. It has a striking appearance with a mix of red, brown, black, and white plumage. Other physical characteristics include the rufous undersides, red eyes, and a black tail with white spots.
The eastern towhee rummages in undergrowth most of the time. You can find them along thickets and forest edges. At times, they are also visitors to backyards in search of fallen seeds. It is possible to attract them in backyard feeders with cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds.
These birds are solitary. They make various threat displays to warn others that they should not enter their territories.
24. Wood Thrush
The pot-bellied body, large head, straight bill, upright stance, and short tail are some of the most common physical features of a wood thrush. The upper body is warm reddish-brown with black spots underneath. A white eye ring is also present.
A reclusive bird, the wood thrush is frequently seen hopping on the forest floor scavenging through leaf litter where it is looking for insects to eat.
Aside from their appearance, you can also detect the presence of these birds through their sounds. Males have flute-like songs that will echo in forests. Both sexes, meanwhile, will make alarm notes that sound like a machine gun.
If you want to see wood thrush in North Carolina, head to mixed and deciduous forests, specifically those with moderate understory and large shade. In the winter, they fly to Central America where they reside in lowland tropical forests.
25. Great Horned Owl
The great horned owl is the largest among the owl species that you will see in North Carolina. Statewide, they are in woodland habitats.
The long ear-like tufts of the great-horned owl are among the first things that you will notice when you see this bird. It has a rusty-brown facial disc, which gets paler around the eyes. The eyes are yellow with a blackish edge on the lids.
For the best chances of seeing a great horned owl in action, look for them during the colder months, specifically from November to March. You will hear them calling at twilight, just before dawn.
A great-horned owl has a varied diet, eating mostly birds and mammals. It will feed on skunks, opossums, rabbits, rats, ground squirrels, and ducks.
26. European Starling
A lot of people do not like the sight of European starlings in the backyard. They are invasive species. Their aggressive behavior will scare smaller birds in your backyard. Not to mention, they are also noisy.
Insects are the favorite foods of European starlings. They like caterpillars, flies, and beetles. They will also consume spiders and earthworms, as well as mulberries, holly berries, blackberries, seeds, and grains.
European starlings are known for their vocal mimicry. They can imitate the calls of other birds, including meadowlarks, wood thrushes, northern flickers, and American robins.
The European starling was first brought to North America in the 19th century by Shakespeare enthusiasts.
27. Great-Crested Flycatcher
A large flycatcher with a stout body, this bird has a length of approximately 6.8 to 8.4 inches. It has a big head and broad shoulders.
When it comes to color, great-crested flycatchers have reddish-brown upper bodies, brownish-gray heads, gray breasts and throats, and lemon bellies.
Open woodlands and woodlots are some of their most common habitats in North Carolina. Their breeding and wintering grounds are being threatened, which is a cause of concern for its future population.
Most of its diet includes insects, such as tree crickets, moths, butterflies, true bugs, and beetles. Small lizards, spiders, berries, and fruits can also be eaten by these birds.
28. American Crow
Throughout the United States, including North Carolina, the American crow is one of the most common birds that you will see.
Growing at a length of up to 21 inches, American crows are large birds with thick necks, long legs, and heavy bills. The body is all black. But when they molt, the feathers turn brownish.
American crows are omnivorous, feeding on almost anything it sees. Insects, mealworms, spiders, shellfish, small snakes, grains, seeds, berries, and fruits are some of its favorites.
During courtship, male American crows face females while fluffing their feathers and partly spreading wings and tails. They also do a short song to attract a mate.
In the winter, American crows gather in large flocks known as winter roosting. They do this around large trees and late in the day.
29. Eastern Screech Owl
With their short and pointed ear tufts, which are often raised, recognizing an eastern screech owl is easy. The bird is short and stocky with a neck that is almost inexistent. The body is mostly gray or reddish-brown. Meanwhile, their eyes are yellow.
Eastern screech owls are active at night. They are more often heard than they are seen. Listen to their whinnying or trilling song to detect their presence in a specific area.
If you want to see eastern screech owls in North Carolina, some of the best places to check out are those with trees. You will see them in riparian woods, woodlands, parklands, and deciduous forests. They are common even in areas with humans.
30. American Robin
For a songbird, American robins are large. They have long legs and tails and round heads. They are gray-brown with dark heads and warm-orange underparts.
The rich caroling of the American robin is one of the first songs that you will hear before the break of dawn in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, they can form massive flocks, specifically in areas where their food is.
You will often find American robins in lawns in North Carolina where they are pulling earthworms off the ground and gobbling them up.
If there are no worms on the lawn, you can install bird feeders to attract American robins. Fill them with peanut hearts, suet, and sunflower seeds.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common bird in NC?
The most common bird in North Carolina is the northern cardinal. Their beautiful colors are a familiar sight even in private backyards since you can easily attract these birds in feeders. It is also the state bird of North Carolina.
Where can I go birdwatching in North Carolina?
Some of the most popular Carolina birdwatching spots are Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, Carolina Beach State Park, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, and South Mountains State Park.
What are small brown birds in North Carolina?
If you see small brown birds in the Tar Heel State, then they are probably Carolina wrens. They are tiny, which makes them quite a challenge to identify. More than its physical appearance, it is easier to detect its presence through its rich and loud song.
Read Also: Hawks in North Carolina
Birders will love North Carolina! The state is home to over 400 bird species, including permanent and seasonal residents. While you can visit forests and parks for birdwatching, many will come to your backyard if you have the right bird feeder with their favorite food.
Are there other North Carolina birds that we missed? Leave a comment below!