18 Birds That Spend Their Winters in North Carolina
North Carolina is a perfect southeastern state to experience the best of all seasons. This might be one main reason many different species of birds choose this location, whether it is temporarily during winter migration or year-round. Below is a list of 18 birds that call North Carolina their home through every season, including winter. How many can you find this winter?
1. Northern Cardinal
The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a non-migratory bird that lives year-round in North Carolina. Its range extends as far north as Canada and as far west as Texas. The cardinal will loosely associate with flocks during the winter for feeding where they will primarily gorge themselves on high-fat seeds.
After winter’s end, you might find both males and females of this species engaging in peculiar behavior. They will often attack their reflection as they see it in windows or mirrors. This misplaced aggression goes to show how fiercely they will defend their territory, and how their hormones are much higher at the beginning of mating season.
2. Carolina Wren
A Carolina native, the Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) can be found in all types of regions. They are ground-dwelling and insect-hunting birds, so it might be hard to see them during the fall and winter months. Carolina wrens have brown to cinnamon-colored plumage that can easily blend in with the color of fallen leaves. You’re more likely to hear this bird before you see it. They make many different, loud vocalizations that can help lead you to their location.
Like many different bird species, Carolina wrens will mate for life. Though these birds don’t migrate, the couple will travel within its territory together.
3. Carolina Chickadee
The Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) was first named in South Carolina, though its range extends to most of the eastern states where they live all year. During the winter season, it’s not unusual to see up to eight chickadees defending an area together. Mates can be established during this winter season, and in the spring the flock will break up and nesting will start. This species nests in the holes in trees and will pad it using animal hair and soft plant materials.
If you know the name “chickadee” then you know the bird’s call! To warn others of predators nearby, the Carolina chickadee will chirp out a sound like “chicka-dee-dee-dee” which lets people know to look out for a little gray-bodied, black-headed bird nearby.
4. Tufted Titmouse
Though this bird looks similar to a cardinal with its pointed feathers atop its head, it’s actually in the wren and chickadee family. Tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) enjoy their winters in North Carolina. Unlike their native Carolinian cousins, tufted titmice will defend their territories in a pair rather than in a flock.
While these birds primarily feed on insects, they might be less available during the winter. You can encourage these birds to visit a birdfeeder full of seeds during the winter, and you’ll likely get some Carolina wrens and chickadees to join in!
5. American Crow
As the name suggests, you can find the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) throughout the lower 48 of the US, year-round, and Canada to breed. They are mostly ground-foraging birds that eat insects and seeds. However, they’re not against eating trash or rotting meat found alongside roads.
These are probably some of the easiest birds to recognize and find around. American crows can roost in groups of up to two million during the winter! Since they’re not the quietest bird around, two million (or even on the low end, a few hundred) can cause a disturbance in populated areas.
6. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are gorgeous birds with a bright red crown and black wings dappled with white. Don’t confuse this species with the red-headed woodpecker, which has a completely red head and face.
The red-bellied woodpecker can be seen during the winter season in North Carolina chiseling their winter homes out in trees. Woodpeckers have hyoid bones that act as shock absorbers to prevent concussions caused by the drilling they do with their beaks. This bone helps to keep their skull in place. This species of woodpecker is mostly solitary, except for when it comes time for breeding in the spring.
7. Eastern Bluebird
The eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) spends its winters in North Carolina, where it also resides for the rest of the year. This bright blue, orange-chested bird also gathers in flocks in the wintertime. These flocks can consist of up to 20 individuals.
While in a flock, birds might find their mate for the upcoming spring season. Male eastern bluebirds will guard the entrance to their nest cavity to attract a female mate and will perform a little “dance” for her. If she accepts his courtship, she will bring the actual nesting materials and construct the nest to later lay and incubate her eggs.
8. Downy Woodpecker
This familiar species of woodpecker can be found year-round in all contiguous US states. Downy woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) that make North Carolina their home can be seen in winter-time flocks with chickadees and wrens where they can easily blend in. This method of mixed-flock mingling can help them more easily find food and stay protected. Males will usually look for food inside smaller branches or stems of weeds. Females are looking in the thicker branches or trunks of trees, which are usually less abundant in food.
Outside of their winter socialization, these are solitary birds. You might have luck finding them in the winter, but if not, look for them during the spring when they are actively building nests in dead trees.
9. Blue Jays
Blue jays (Dryobates pubescens) are another bird that is immediately recognizable. They are in the Corvid family along with crows and share their intelligence. Along with intelligence comes an air of mystery.
They are a species that is present year-round in many states but their migrating behavior (or lack thereof) is not fully understood. Some birds stay in their home state all year; this is the case for most blue jays found in North Carolina. Other birds in different locations might migrate in one direction one year and a different one the next if they decide to leave at all.
10. American Robin
American robins (Turdus migratorius) enjoy a wide range across the continental US where they reside all year long. In North Carolina (and many other states) these birds are often representative of spring but will also mingle with large flocks during the winter. Roosts of these birds can contain up to 250,000 individuals. Both males and females will roost during the winter for protection and warmth. Males will continue to roost in these groups during the summer months while the females stay at the nest.
11. House Finch
House finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) are present all year in North Carolina. It is a social species and during the winter-time meet-ups, these birds are likely to find their mate for the year. If you keep out a bird feeder with their favorite foods you could wind up with nearly 50 house finches at the feeder!
You’ve likely heard the song of this bird before, but in the winter months, you might have an easier time seeing the source. House finches have red faces and chests with auburn to brown bodies. Once you’ve seen one sing, you’ll immediately be able to recognize the song without looking at the bird.
12. American Goldfinch
There’s no surprise the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is named after gold: it’s very easily recognizable by its brilliantly yellow feathers. This bird makes North Carolina its home during the winter and all the other seasons of the year. During these months they might not be as easily noticed thanks to their twice-yearly molting. They will appear more dull and most likely, oddly patchy.
American goldfinches flock with other birds during the winter. They enjoy the company of the common redpoll and pine siskins but will part ways once temperatures warm.
13. Northern Mockingbird
The northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is all around the US despite its name suggesting a northern-exclusive territory. During North Carolina winters, these birds will eat berries and other fruits they can forage. They are early nesters, starting to build in late winter whereas most birds wait until spring.
As some of the more boisterous birds, the northern mockingbird might not look impressive but it does boast a talent. They can mock different birds’ songs at once, which can be a tell-tale sign to keen listeners that a mockingbird is near. Both sexes of this bird sing, but males have more songs available in their catalog and are much louder.
14. Eastern Towhee
A large member of the sparrow family, eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is a stunning bird that sticks around through the winter in North Carolina. Physically, their red eyes stick out and can make identification a breeze, but the hard part would be finding them in the first place. They’re ground-nesting and look for food in shrubbery or tangles of twigs and vines. In the winter months, these birds might mingle with other species for protection.
Outside of winter months, eastern towhees are territorial and solitary. You might recognize their sound which gives rise to a common nickname “chewink“.
15. White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) live in many southeastern states for every season. This songbird will meet up with chickadees and titmice in flocks during the winter for additional protection and will travel with their mate. Sometimes these mates are for life, other times just for the year.
It is an industrious bird that has a habit of stowing away seeds for later throughout the winter in North Carolina. When food is abundant, they present insects or spiders. But, if you put out a bird feeder with sunflower seeds or peanuts, they’d have a hard time turning down that offer!
16. Brown-headed Nuthatch
The brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) has a small range in just a few of the more southern southeastern states. It stays throughout the winter season in North Carolina where it will join a mixed species flock. These are not birds you’re likely to find outside your home unless you live in a pine forest full of mature trees.
To find them, you’ll need binoculars and to look high into the canopy. You might get to see some evidence of tool usage in these birds if you’re lucky; they might use one piece of bark to pry up another to check for food.
17. Pine Warbler
The pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) is in a much more extensive region than its competitor bird, the brown-headed nuthatch. However, it is only present year-round in a few southeastern states including North Carolina, where it is well prepared for the winter months. Both the brown-headed nuthatch and the pine warbler compete for the same food, so you might be able to spot both of these species if you’re out birding on a winter day.
Groups of pine warblers that live further north will migrate to North Carolina and join the native groups during the winter. The individuals that do migrate south usually return home in February, which is early for many migratory groups.
18. Ruffed Grouse
Ruffled grouse (Bonasa umbellus) are hardy game birds of North Carolina. They will usually feast upon plants to sustain themselves throughout the winter. It’s not uncommon for younger grouse to associate in flocks during the colder months, but these are pretty solitary birds for the most part, regardless of the season.
Since the ruffled grouse are hard to find, you might have better luck listening for them. They make a sound known as “drumming” in which a male can beat his wings so quickly it makes a thumping or drumming sound. At first, it is slow, but the beats quickly ramp up. This display doesn’t last long but might be heard multiple times throughout a forest walk if grouse are around.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock.com