One of the true signs of fall in our beautiful state are the sights and sounds of a group of hawks, ducks or warblers soaring overhead on their way south to warmer climates, longer days, and more plentiful nesting and feeding areas. It’s the perfect time of year to get out the binoculars, get outdoors and get birding!
Why We Enjoy Birding
What is it about birding that is so appealing to some people? If you’re outdoorsy and adventurous, birding is a great reason to go out and spend some quality time in nature. And if you’re with a group, you’re learning from one another, socializing and sharing a common passion – all of which will likely benefit your health, your spirit and your overall enjoyment of life. Birding is a great way to explore areas you may not be as familiar with, and to grow your knowledge in such a way that lets you appreciate the beauty of nature even more than you already do.
How to Identify Birds, and the Fun of Keeping a Birding Diary
Learning to identify birds seems like a daunting task, but purchasing a good field guide and keeping a diary or journal is a good start. Start by taking notes of the birds in your area by using these standard birding characteristics –
Color Pattern – Colors, even among the same species of bird, vary tremendously, but color patterns are highly indicative of certain species of birds. Look for the boldness of a bird’s markings (how colorful it is), or the shade of its feathers (light vs. dark), or how finely patterned its feathers are.
Size and Shape – Most birding guides will tell you to make this first observation of a bird – how large is it, and what sort of a silhouette does it have? You’ll soon start to compare the bird you’re viewing to others you’ve identified, and others within the same birding area. A critical part of this step is looking at the size and shape of individual parts of the bird – its bill, body, tail and wings, for instance.
Behavior – Each bird has its own individual way of moving, flying, chirping and sitting. Most people will only start picking up on some of these aspects of a species by carefully observing them over a period of time. What is the bird’s posture? How does it feed? Does it seem to be an “independent” sort of bird, or one that moves in a flock?
Habitat – The environment in which you are observing a bird is one of the biggest indicators of what sort of species your bird MIGHT be. Think about the geography of the area, and the time of year in which you’re making your observations. You might see a bird that looks an awful lot like a certain species, yet if it isn’t common for the area, especially during a certain season, chances are it is a different species entirely.
Habitats from the mountains to the sea in our state offer some of the best birding opportunities in the country.
- Wonderful birding opportunities exist year-round at the 215-acre Lake Crabtree County Park, in Raleigh-Durham. Shorebirds and waterfowl are attracted by the 520-acre lake, and miles of hiking trails around the lake offer lots of great viewing.
- A 915-acre tract of land known as Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve, between Pinehurst and Fort Bragg, features an area of longleaf pine forest that offers a beautiful habitat for nesting birds such as hawks, woodpeckers, warblers and wood ducks. Four miles of walking paths wind their way through this outstanding preserve.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway, operated by the National Park Service, is a scenic route winding its way through almost 500 miles of prime birding land form North Carolina to Virginia. Overlooks and recreation sites make it easy to stop and view owls, sapsuckers, peregrine falcons, ravens, nuthatches and thrush – many species of which are rarely found elsewhere in the state.
Red-Tailed Hawk, Mallard, Pine Warbler, Northern Gannet
Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival – Each October, NC’s non-profit Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society (CWRS) hosts a festival featuring birding activities, paddling, photography and art, and natural history-focused events in multiple wildlife refuges throughout 6 northeast North Carolina counties. In December, a follow-up session called Wings Over Water (WOW) is held just for birding, which offers additional opportunities to spot large flocks of migrating birds and waterfowl. https://www.wingsoverwater.org/
Swift Night Out – Statewide, various “Swift Night Out” events celebrate the seasonal fall migration of chimney swifts. The unique phenomenon of thousands of the small birds swirling around and then dropping down inside large chimneys to roost for the night on their way south is becoming more and more rare as the number of very large chimneys or smokestacks in existence is continually diminishing. https://nc.audubon.org/news/find-swift-night-out-event-near-you
World Migratory Bird Day – As part of this national day to raise awareness of issues surrounding migratory bird populations, each May North Carolina’s Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores offers programs to teach visitors all about the migratory birds found within the area – primarily, those in the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area along the shores of Bogue Sound. https://reservations.ncaquariums.com/pineknollshores/Info.aspx?EventID=1024
North Carolina Birding Clubs and Other Informational Groups and Sites
The largest birding club, focused on birding activities in both North and South Carolina, is the non-profit Carolina Bird Club. This organization supports research on birds and their habitats as well as the protection and conservation of birds, and the group provides plenty of opportunities for birding enthusiasts to enjoy and share information on birding in the Carolinas. https://www.carolinabirdclub.org/
The Piedmont Bird Club, with activities involving birding trips, meetings, and informational talks in the Piedmont area, also hosts outreach events to educate the public about birding and conservation. http://www.piedmontbirdclub.org/
The NC Birding Trail website displays an interactive map of parks, refuges, gardens and other sites with that are ideal for birding, including a description of the habitats and birds you’re likely to spot in each location. https://www.ncbirdingtrail.org/
Learn More –