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In the state of North Carolina, 469 species of birds have been recorded. This number includes the bird species that have been sighted in North Carolina and are believed to be of wild origin. The North Carolina Bird Records Committee maintains the records for bird sightings in North Carolina and produce the list used by most birders to objectively evaluate species recorded in the state. The committee votes on the validity of new records of bird species in the state. The committee last met in 2009, On October 15, 2010 a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was located at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, while on April 20, 2011, a Cassin's Sparrow was observed in Scotland County. If either record is accepted, it will be the first recorded appearance of the species in the state.
Official bird lists are sorted by taxonomic sequence. The taxonomic treatment (designation and sequence of orders, families, genera and species) and nomenclature (common and scientific names) used by the North Carolina Bird Records Committee follows the conventions of the American Ornithologists' Union's (1998) Check-list of North American birds, the recognized scientific authority on the taxonomy and nomenclature of North American birds. The American Ornithologists' Union's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature, the body responsible for maintaining and updating the Check-list, "strongly and unanimously continues to endorse the biological species concept (BSC), in which species are considered to be genetically cohesive groups of populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups". Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy provides an alternative phylogenetic arrangement based on DNA-DNA hybridization.
Unless otherwise noted, all species listed below are considered to occur regularly in North Carolina as permanent residents, summer or winter visitors, or migrants. The following codes are used to denote certain categories of species:
Note: Birds marked with asterisk (*) not identified to species, but distinct enough to be considered as a separate entry
|Table of contents|
Non-passerines: Ducks, geese, and swans • Turkeys • Grouse • Pheasants • New World quail • Loons • Grebes • Albatrosses • Fulmers, petrels and shearwaters • Storm-petrels • Tropicbirds • Boobies and gannets • Pelicans • Cormorants • Darters • Frigatebirds • Bitterns, herons, and egrets • Ibises and spoonbills • Storks • New World vultures • Osprey • Hawks, kites, and eagles • Caracaras and falcons • Rails, gallinules, and coots • Limpkins • Cranes • Lapwings and plovers • Oystercatchers • Stilts and avocets • Sandpipers, curlews, stints, godwits, snipes, and phalaropes • Gulls, terns, and skimmers • Skuas • Auks, murres, and puffins • Pigeons and doves • Lories, parakeets, macaws, and parrots • Cuckoos, roadrunners, and anis • Barn owls • Typical owls • Nightjars • Swifts • Hummingbirds • Kingfishers • Woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and flickers
Passerines: Tyrant flycatchers • Shrikes • Vireos • Jays, crows, magpies, and ravens • Larks • Swallows and martins • Chickadees and titmice • Nuthatches • Treecreepers • Wrens • Kinglets • Gnatcatchers • Old World flycatchers • Thrushes • Mockingbirds and thrashers • Starlings • Wagtails and pipits • Waxwings • Longspurs and snow buntings • Wood-warblers • American sparrows, towhees, and juncos • Cardinals, saltators, and grosbeaks • Blackbirds, meadowlarks, cowbirds, grackles, and orioles • Finches • Old World sparrows
The family Anatidae includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These are birds that are modified for an aquatic existence with webbed feet, bills which are flattened to a greater or lesser extent, and feathers that are excellent at shedding water due to special oils. In North Carolina, 44 species have been recorded.
The Phasianidae is a family of birds which consists of the pheasants and their allies. These are terrestrial species, variable in size but generally plump, with broad relatively short wings. Many species are gamebirds, or have been domesticated as a food source for humans. In North Carolina, one species has been introduced. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of the beak, and a fleshy protuberance that hangs from the top of its beak called a snood. As with many galliform species, the female (the hen) is smaller and much less colorful than the male (the tom). With wingspans of 1.5–1.8 meters (almost 6 feet), the turkeys are the largest birds in the open forests in which they live and are rarely mistaken for any other species. One species has been recorded in North Carolina. Grouse inhabit temperate and subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere. They are game and are sometimes hunted for food. In all North Carolinian species, males are polygamous and have elaborate courtship displays. These heavily built birds have legs feathered to the toes. Most species are year-round residents, and do not migrate. One species has been recorded in North Carolina.
The New World quails are small, plump terrestrial birds only distantly related to the quails of the Old World, but named for their similar appearance and habits. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Loons are aquatic birds size of a large duck, to which they are unrelated. Their plumage is largely grey or black, they have spear-shaped bills. Loons swim well, and fly adequately, but, because their legs are placed towards the rear of the body, are almost hopeless on land. In North Carolina, three species have been recorded.
Grebes are small to medium-large sized freshwater diving birds. They have lobed toes, and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, they have their feet placed far back on the body, making them quite ungainly on land. In North Carolina, six species have been recorded.
The albatrosses are amongst the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses from the genus Diomedea have the largest wingspans of any extant birds. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
The procellariids are the main group of medium-sized 'true petrels', characterized by united nostrils with medium septum, and a long outer functional primary. In North Carolina, twelve species have been recorded.
The storm-petrels are the smallest of seabirds, relatives of the petrels, feeding on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. The flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like. In North Carolina, seven species have been recorded.
Tropicbirds are slender white birds of tropical oceans, with exceptionally long central tail feathers. Their long wings have black markings, as does the head. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
Pelicans are very large water birds with a distinctive pouch under the beak. Like other birds in the order Pelecaniformes, they have four webbed toes. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
Cormorants are medium-to-large aquatic birds, usually with mainly dark plumage and areas of colored skin on the face. The bill is long, thin, and sharply hooked. Their feet are four-toed and webbed, a distinguishing feature among the Pelecaniformes order. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
Darters are cormorant-like water birds with very long necks and long, straight beaks. They often swim with only the neck above water, and are fish-eaters. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Frigatebirds are large seabirds usually found over tropical oceans. They are large, black or black and white, with long wings and deeply-forked tails. The males have inflatable colored throat pouches. They do not swim or walk, and cannot take off from a flat surface. Having the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird, they are essentially aerial, able to stay aloft for more than a week. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The family Ardeidae contains the herons, egrets, and bitterns. Herons and Egrets are medium to large sized wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more secretive. Unlike other long necked birds such as storks, ibises and spoonbills, members of Ardeidae fly with their necks retracted. In North Carolina, 12 species have been recorded.
The family Threskiornithidae includes the ibises and spoonbills. They have long, broad wings. Their bodies tend to be elongated, the neck more so, with rather long legs. The bill is also long, decurved in the case of the ibises, straight and distinctively flattened in the spoonbills. In North Carolina, four species have occurred.
Storks are large, heavy, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long stout bills and wide wingspans. They lack the powder down that other wading birds such as herons, spoonbills and ibises use to clean off fish slime. Storks lack a pharynx and are mute. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The New World vultures are not closely related to Old World vultures, but superficially resemble them because of convergent evolution. Like the Old World vultures, they are scavengers. However, unlike Old World vultures, which find carcasses by sight, New World vultures have a good sense of smell with which they locate carcasses. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
The Osprey is a medium-large fish-eating bird of prey or raptor. It is widely distributed because it tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location which is near a body of water and provides an adequate food supply. It is the only member of its family.
The family Accipitridae is a family of birds of prey and include hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and Old World vultures. These birds have very large powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, powerful talons, and keen eyesight. In North Carolina, 14 species have been recorded.
Falconidae is a family of diurnal birds of prey, notably the falcons and caracaras. They differ from hawks, eagles, and kites in that they kill with their beaks instead of their feet. In North Carolina, four species have been recorded.
Rallidae is a large family of small to medium-sized birds which includes the rails, crakes, coots, and gallinules. The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps, or rivers. In general they are shy and secretive birds, difficult to observe. Most species have strong legs, and have long toes which are well adapted to soft, uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and be weak fliers. In North Carolina, nine species have been recorded.
The Limpkin is a large bird in a monotypic family. It is similar in appearance to the rails, but skeletally it is closer to the cranes. It is found in marshes and gets its common name from its appearance of limping as it walks. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back. Most have elaborate and noisy courting displays or "dances". In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The family Charadriidae includes the plovers, dotterels, and lapwings. They are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies, short, thick necks and long, usually pointed, wings. They are found in open country worldwide, mostly in habitats near water, although there are some exceptions. In North Carolina, eight species have been recorded.
Recurvirostridae is a family of large wading birds, which includes the avocets and the stilts. The avocets have long legs and long up-curved bills. The stilts have extremely long legs and long, thin, straight bills. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
The Scolopacidae are a large diverse family of small to medium sized shorebirds including the sandpipers, curlews, godwits, shanks, tattlers, woodcocks, snipes, dowitchers and phalaropes. The majority of species eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. Different lengths of legs and bills enable different species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food. In North Carolina, 36 species have been recorded.
Gulls are typically medium to large birds, usually grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills, and webbed feet. The large species take up to four years to attain full adult plumage, but two years is typical for small gulls. In North Carolina, 19 species have been recorded. Terns are in general medium to large birds, typically with grey or white plumage, often with black markings on the head. They have longish bills and webbed feet. They are lighter bodied and more streamlined than gulls, and look elegant in flight with long tails and long narrow wings. In North Carolina, 14 species have been recorded. Skimmers are tropical and subtropical species. They have an elongated lower mandible. They feed by flying low over the water surface with the lower mandible skimming the water for small fish. One species has been recorded in North Carolina.
They are in general medium to large birds, typically with grey or brown plumage, often with white markings on the wings. They have longish bills with a hooked tip, and webbed feet with sharp claws. They look like large dark gulls, but have a fleshy cere above the upper mandible. They are strong, acrobatic fliers. Five species have been recorded in North Carolina.
Alcids are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colors, their upright posture, and some of their habits; however, they are not related to the penguins at all, being able to fly. Auks live on the open sea, only deliberately coming ashore to nest. In North Carolina, seven species have been recorded.
Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks and short slender bills with a fleshy cere. In North Carolina, seven species have been recorded.
Parrots are small to large birds with a characteristic curved beak shape. Their upper mandibles have slight mobility in the joint with the skull and the have a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two back. In North Carolina, one extinct species has been recorded.
The family Cuculidae includes cuckoos, roadrunners and anis. These birds are of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. Unlike the cuckoo species of the Old World, North American cuckoos are not brood parasites. In North Carolina, four species have been recorded.
Barn owls are medium to large sized owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long strong legs with powerful talons. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Typical owls are small to large solitary nocturnal birds of prey. They have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak, and a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called a facial disk. In North Carolina, eight species have been recorded.
Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds with long wings, short legs and very short bills that usually nest on the ground. Most have small feet which are of little use for walking and long, pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically colored to resemble bark or leaves. In North Carolina, five species have been recorded.
The swifts are small aerial birds, spending the majority of their lives flying. These birds have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead only on vertical surfaces. Many swifts have long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Hummingbirds are small birds capable of hovering in mid-air due to the rapid flapping of their wings. They are the only birds that can fly backwards. In North Carolina, eleven species have been recorded.
Kingfishers are medium sized birds with large heads, long pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Woodpeckers are small to medium sized birds with chisel like beaks, short legs, stiff tails and long tongues used for capturing insects. Some species have feet with two toes pointing forward, and two backward, while several species have only three toes. Many woodpeckers have the habit of tapping noisily on tree trunks with their beaks. In North Carolina, nine species have been recorded.
Tyrant flycatchers are passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They superficially resemble the Old World flycatchers, but are more robust with stronger bills. They do not have the sophisticated vocal capabilities of the songbirds. Most, but not all, are rather plain. As the name implies, most are insectivorous. In North Carolina, 20 species have been recorded.
Shrikes are passerine birds known for their habit of catching other birds and small animals and impaling the uneaten portions of their bodies on thorns. A typical shrike's beak is hooked, like a bird of prey. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
The vireos are a group of small to medium sized passerine birds restricted to the New World. They are typically greenish in color and resemble the wood warblers except for their heavier bills. In North Carolina, eight species have been recorded.
The Corvidae family includes crows, ravens, jays, choughs, magpies, treepies, nutcrackers, and ground jays. Corvids are above average in size for the bird order Passeriformes. Some of the larger species show levels of learned behavior of a high degree. In North Carolina, four species have been recorded.
Larks are small terrestrial birds with often extravagant songs and display flights. Most larks are fairly dull in appearance. Their food is insects and seeds. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The Hirundinidae family is a group of passerines characterized by their adaptation to aerial feeding. Their adaptations include a slender streamlined body, long pointed wings, and short bills with wide gape. The feet are designed for perching rather than walking and the front toes are partially joined at the base. In North Carolina, seven species have been recorded.
The Paridae are mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. In North Carolina, three species have been recorded.
Nuthatches are small woodland birds. They have the unusual ability to climb down trees head first, unlike other birds which can only go upwards. Nuthatches have big heads, short tails and powerful bills and feet. In North Carolina, three species have been recorded.
Treecreepers are small woodland birds, brown above and white below. They have thin pointed down-curved bills, which they use to extricate insects from bark. They have stiff tail feathers, like woodpeckers, which they use to support themselves on vertical trees. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
Wrens are small and inconspicuous birds, except for their loud songs. They have short wings and a thin down-turned bill. Several species often hold their tails upright. All are insectivorous. In North Carolina, six species have been recorded.
The kinglets are a family of birds which are very small insectivorous birds in the genus Regulus. The adults have colored crowns, giving rise to their name. In North Carolina, two species have been recorded.
These dainty birds resemble Old World warblers in their structure and habits, moving restlessly through foliage while seeking insects. The gnatcatchers are mainly a soft bluish grey in color and have the long sharp bill typical of an insectivore. Many species have distinctive black head patterns (esp. males) and long, regularly cocked black-and-white tails. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The Thrushes are a group of passerine birds that occur mainly but not exclusively in the Old World. They are plump, soft plumaged, small to medium sized insectivores or sometimes omnivores, often feeding on the ground. Many have attractive songs. In North Carolina, 10 species have been recorded.
The Mimids are a family of passerine birds that includes thrashers, mockingbirds, tremblers, and the New World catbirds. These birds are notable for their vocalization, especially their remarkable ability to mimic a wide variety of birds and other sounds heard outdoors. The species tend towards dull grays and browns in their appearance. In North Carolina, four species have been recorded.
Starlings are small to medium-sized Old World passerine birds with strong feet. Their flight is strong and direct, and most are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. The plumage of several species is dark with a metallic sheen. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The Motacillidae are a family of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. They include the wagtails, longclaws and pipits. They are slender, ground feeding insectivores of open country. In North Carolina, three species have been recorded.
The waxwings are a group of passerine birds characterized by soft silky plumage and unique red tips to some of the wing feathers. In the Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings, these tips look like sealing wax, and give the group its name. These are arboreal birds of northern forests. They live on insects in summer and berries in winter. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.
The Wood Warblers are a group of small, often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most are arboreal, but some are more terrestrial, such as the Ovenbird. Most members of this family are insectivores. In North Carolina, 42 species have been recorded.
The Emberizidae are a large family of passerine birds. They are seed-eating birds with a distinctively shaped bill. In Europe, most species are named as buntings. In North America, most of the species in this family are known as Sparrows, but these birds are not closely related to the Old World sparrows which are in the family Passeridae. Many emberizid species have distinctive head patterns. In North Carolina, 26 species have been recorded.
The Cardinals are a family of passerine birds that are robust, seed-eating birds, with strong bills. They are typically associated with open woodland. The sexes usually have distinct plumages. In North Carolina, eleven species have been recorded.
The Icterids are a group of small to medium, often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World and include the grackles, New World blackbirds, and New World orioles. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. In North Carolina, 15 species have been recorded.
Finches are seed-eating passerine birds that are small to moderately large and have a strong beak, usually conical and in some species very large. All have 12 tail feathers and 9 primaries. These birds have a bouncing flight with alternating bouts of flapping and gliding on closed wings, and most sing well. In North Carolina, 11 species have been recorded.
Old World sparrows are small passerine birds. In general, sparrows tend to be small plump brownish or greyish birds with short tails and short powerful beaks. Sparrows are seed-eaters, and they also consume small insects. In North Carolina, one species has been recorded.