Birds of BHI



Click below to learn more about the different species of birds found on Bald Head Island

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher, Haematopus palliatus


Identification: American oystercatchers are large, black and white seabirds easily recognizable by their long, bright, red-orange bills and yellow eyes. Their plumage is black or brown from the head down the back to the tail. They have white underparts and thick legs that are pale pink in color.
 
Habitat and Habits: American oystercatchers are found along ocean beaches and salt marshes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, using their long bills to pull oysters, clams, and other bivalves out of the water and eat them. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
While they are not a species currently facing major threats to their health or habitat, American oystercatchers are a shy bird; any small changes or impacts to their habitat, such as increased people or boat traffic, or coastal development, can be detrimental to the local populations or cause the birds to move on and look for a different place to live or breed. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • American oystercatchers are the largest shorebird in the Americas. 
  • Oystercatchers can use their bill to hammer an oyster until it breaks open. 
  • Young oystercatchers feed on scraps left by their parents until they are two years old. 

 
On BHI:  Check out the beach or salt marsh in the evening to catch a glimpse of these birds out foraging. Try a Low-Tide Kayaking tour for a closer look, especially during the evening in mid-late summer. 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus


Identification: Bald eagles have blackish brown feathers on their breast and wings. Their head and tail feathers are white when they are fully grown. Juvenile bald eagles’ heads will not have white feathers until they reach maturity at about five years old. They have yellow beaks, feet, and eyes. An adult eagle’s wingspan can be up to ninety inches long, with the females being slightly larger than the males.
 
Habitat and Habits: Bald eagles are migratory birds found across the United States. They tend to stay around areas with large bodies of water such as marshes, lakes, and rivers.  They eat mostly fish, but will also hunt for small mammals and other animals.
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
When DDT was first introduced to the environment, build up of the compound impacted bald eagles harshly.  Since then environmental regulations have helped their population so much that they were removed from the endangered species list. They are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Bald eagles can dive at speeds reaching one hundred miles per hour.
  • A group of eagles flying together is called a kettle.
  • The bald eagle became the national bird in 1782.


On BHI: 
Bald eagles are a seasonal bird on Bald Head Island. They can be seen in early fall to late spring. They normally nest on Bluff Island and you can check them out during our Bald Eagle Tours in the winter and spring. 
 

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

Identification: Barn swallows are dark blue on their back and wings with an off white underside. They have a long, deep fork in their tails and a distinct red face. They are about seven inches long with about a thirteen inch wingspan. Juvenile barn swallows are browner, with whiter underparts than the adults.
 
Habitat and Habits: Barn swallows prefer open spaces with low vegetation, but will nest anywhere with open structures. They migrate to and from breeding grounds. The male will return first and choose a nesting spot to which he attracts females with his song.  
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
There are several subspecies of barn swallows. You can find barn swallows all over the world.
 
Cool Facts: 

  • They are known to nest in urban areas, such as stores and apartment communities.
  • They are the most widespread species of swallows in the world.
  • Barn swallows court one another using aerial chases.

 
On BHI: You can see barn swallows all over the island, from the salt marsh to the forest. Join us for Birding BHI tour to have a chance to see them. 

Barred Owl

Barred Owl, Strix varia

Identification: The barred owl has dark brown eyes, a yellow beak, and a rounded head without ear-tufts. They are usually gray to brown with barring on their chests. Barred owls can grow up to twenty-five inches with a wingspan of up to fifty inches.
 
Habitat and Habits: They usually live in woodlands, or by wooded rivers or swamps.  They prefer thick densely wooded areas with only a small number of clearings. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Barred owls are still common in most of their native habitat and have continued to expand their range.  They have declined in certain areas due to a loss of swampland. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • They are the only true owl in the eastern U.S. that has brown eyes instead of yellow.
  • They are invasive on the west coast of the U.S.
  • Their calls sound like the words “who cooks for you?”

 
On BHI: Barred owls live in the maritime forest on BHI where they are mostly nocturnal. Join us on our Bald Head After Dark tour to see what you can find.   

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon

Identification: This stocky, blue-gray and white water bird is known for the large, ragged crest on its head. Their thick, straight bill is easy to recognize and the males have a large, blue band that looks like a belt across their white breasts. Females also have the blue band as well as a rusty brown one further down. Their loud, rattling call is also easily identifiable.
 
Habitat and Habits: Belted kingfishers prey on small, aquatic animals such as fish and crayfish, so they are typically found alongside water such as estuaries, rivers, lakes, and ocean shores. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
They are sensitive birds and likely to leave an area if there is a lot of human disturbance.  However unlike other water birds, they are not heavily affected by contaminants in the water.
 
Cool Facts:

  • One of very few species of birds where the female is more colorful than the male.
  • They nest in long, tunnel-like burrows in the riverbanks near where they hunt.
  • Nestling kingfishers have very acidic stomachs that help them digest fish bones and scales. 


On BHI:
Try taking a tour of the Ibis Sanctuary Exploration on Middle Island any time of the year for a chance to see some of these unique birds. 
 

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis

Identification: Brown pelicans are big, stocky seabirds with long necks and large, stretchy throat pouches attached to their bills. Their bodies are usually a grayish brown color which contrasts with their white necks and matches their brown face and throat. During breeding season, their necks will also be brown up to their heads. They have short, gray legs with wide webbed feet. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Brown pelicans live along the south and west coasts of the U.S. and on the Caribbean islands. They are rarely, if ever, seen flying inland. They eat by plunging into the water and stunning small fish, then scooping them out of the water using the large pouch attached to their throat. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Brown pelicans went into a massive decline in the 1960s when DDT was a popular insecticide. The chemicals made the pelicans’ eggshells very thin; since Pelicans stand on their eggs to keep them warm, this crushed the thin-shelled eggs. After DDT was banned, the population quickly bounced back under numerous conservation efforts. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Pelicans drain water from their bills after diving so that they can eat their fish easily.
  • Gulls will often try to steal fish from pelicans while they drain their bills.
  • A brown pelican’s throat pouch can expand to hold up to 2.6 gallons of water.

 
On BHI:  You can see brown pelicans flying overhead almost anywhere on the island, especially over the beach or on the ferry. Take Birding BHI and Kayaking the Creeks with the BHI Conservancy to get a better look.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger

Identification: Black skimmers are medium to large seabirds with a black back and head and bright white underparts. They have a massive, bright, red-orange bill with a black tip; the lower part of the bill is thicker and longer than the upper part. They also have bright red- orange legs that match their bill. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Black skimmers can be found on wide, open beaches and in salt marshes along the Atlantic, Gulf, and south Pacific coasts, as well as large areas of South America. They prey on small fish by swooping close to the water’s surface and scooping them into their mouths with their oversized lower bill.  They are highly social birds that are frequently seen nesting in colonies. 
 
Conservation:  Least concern across the U.S.; species of special concern in North Carolina. 
 
Black skimmers are not currently under federal protection, but due to coastal development, their habitat is quickly disappearing in many places. Since skimmers live and forage right on the ocean shore, they were a species of major concern during the 2010 BP oil spill. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Black skimmers are most active during the early morning and evening hours. 
  • They drag their knife-edged lower bill through the water as they fly to help catch fish. 
  • In low light, they use their sense of touch to catch fish rather than their eyesight.  

 
On BHI:  You might be able to find black skimmers foraging out over the water at the beach or salt marsh in the evening. Try a late Kayaking the Creeks for a chance to see these magnificent birds

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax

Identification: Commonly called night herons, black-crowned night herons are usually about twenty-five inches long with grey wings. They have a black crown on their head and their undersides are usually gray to white. They have red eyes with two or three white plumes that extend from the back of the head during courtship. Juvenile black-crowned night herons may be mistaken for juvenile yellow-crowned night herons, although the two species adult plumage is different.
 
Habitat and Habits: Night herons live around wetlands (both fresh and saltwater) and tend to roost in trees at night. They are wading birds, so they catch their prey during low tide in the wetlands where they live. They mostly eat fish and invertebrates that live in shallow waters.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Their population trends are currently described as stable. However they could be threatened by loss of habitat due to urbanization and wetland drainage. They are also threatened by pesticide accumulation. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Nycticorax means "night raven".
  • In certain areas of its range it is nocturnal.
  • They have calls that are commonly transcribed as quok or woc.

 
On BHI: Black-crowned night herons are often found in the Ibis Sanctuary. Join us for our Ibis Sanctuary Exploration tour or Birding BHI to see how many birds you can find.   

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianu


Identification: The carolina wren is a small songbird, although quite large for a wren, easily identified by its rusty brown back and wings, pale breast and belly, and bright white eyestripe.  Similar to other wrens, it also has a short, upright tail that sets it apart from other small, brown songbirds. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Carolina wrens thrive in the shrubby underbrush near forest edges and suburban backyards. They can be found through much of the eastern U.S., from New York and Michigan down to Florida and through the midwest. With recent warmer winter temperatures, their populations are moving further north. 
 
Conservation:  Least Concern. 
 
Carolina wren populations are stable and increasing in many places. They face no major threats, and habitat fragmentation has not been a problem because it helps often creates the shrubby habitat that these wrens prefer. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The carolina wren song sounds like “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle!”
  • Unlike other wren species, only the male carolina wren sings the loud song.
  • They nest in open cavities in trees, or similar openings in birdhouses, buckets, or baskets.

 
On BHI: Listen for Carolina wrens singing all around the island, particularly in woody backyards and near the edges of the maritime forest. You might see one hanging around in the garden area just outside the conservancy.

Chuck-will's-widow

Chuck-will's, Haliaeetus leucocephalus


Identification: Chuck-will’s-widows are the largest members of the nightjar family. They are heavily camouflaged birds who appear almost top-heavy because of their large, round heads, big eyes, and hunched posture. Their coloration can vary, but is typically shades of brown, allowing them to camouflage effectively on the ground or on branches. 
 
Habitat and Habits: These unique birds are difficult to find during the day because of how well they can camouflage, but they are active during dawn and dusk while they hunt for insects to eat. During summer evenings, they are known for constantly repeating their “chuck-will’s-widow” call. They can be found in the southeastern U.S. during the summer in dry pine forests and other woodlands. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Chuck-will’s-widows have been in decline since the late 1960s. This is thought to be due to pesticide use, as they have a largely insectivorous diet. However, they are also very sensitive birds, likely to leave the area and possibly their nests after experiencing human disturbance. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • They are named for their endlessly repeating call that sounds like “chuck will’s widow”.
  • They have intricately patterned feathers to camouflage with dead leaves or tree bark.
  • They fly low over the ground looking for insects, but may even eat smaller birds or bats.

 
On BHI: Listen for Chuck-will’s-widows singing around the golf course at night in mid-summer, or check out one the BHI Conservancy’s Bald Head After Dark tours for a chance to hear them.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

Identification: Grackles are black birds that are relatively large, growing to be about one foot in length. From a distance they appear entirely black, but up close their purple head and  iridescent body are visible.
 
Habitat and Habits: Grackles can be found in open habitats like agricultural fields, marshes, and meadows. They live year-round in most central and eastern parts of the United States. Often traveling in flocks, grackles nest in trees and forage for food on the ground to satisfy their omnivorous appetites.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Although it appears the current grackle population is decreasing in size, their wide range has kept them categorized as least concern. Threats include habitat fragmentation and legal elimination for agricultural purposes.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Grackles can nest in colonies contianing up to 200 birds.
  • Both parents work to feed the young when they are born.
  • Ants crawling on grackles release formic acid, which can rid the birds of parasites.

 
On BHI: Grackles can be seen in the salt marsh or flying near the ocean. Take part in the BHI Conservancy's Kayaking the Creeks to have the opportunity to see grackles and other birds.

Double-crested cormorant

Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus

Identification: The double-crested cormorant is an all-black bird. During breeding season it gains a small double crest of black and white feathers, for which it is named. These birds have a bare patch of orange to yellow facial skin and can grow up to thirty-five inches long. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Double-crested cormorants often live near rivers, lakes, and ponds along the coastline. They do not have waterproof feathers, but dive deep in the water to catch fish to eat. They are often found drying themselves on the side of water.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Double-crested cormorants have a wide range of habitats. At this time their population is actually increasing and there is no need for concern.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Due to DDT, their populations declined, but has almost recovered since it was banned.
  • There are five subspecies - we see the Florida cormorant on Bald Head.
  • Phalacrocorax means “bald raven”

 
On BHI: You can often see a double-crested cormorant drying its wings by the golf course ponds. Try going on an Island Nature Tour or Kayaking the Creeks to see them.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

Identification: These large, wading birds can be identified by their size, long thin neck, and pale gray body. They have rusty-colored thighs and a wide black stripe above the eye. They also have a thick, heavy bill that is typically a yellowish color. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Great blue herons can be found across the eastern U.S. near salt and freshwater. They are spear fishers, using their heavy bills to strike at the water and spear fish to eat. Despite their massive size, they are extremely fast hunters, striking with lightning-fast reflexes. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Great blue herons are potentially vulnerable to habitat loss from traffic, logging, development and other man-made threats. They are also affected by contaminants in water because their main food sources all reside there.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Herons have specialized vertebrae in their necks allowing them to bend in an S-shape. 
  • Great blue herons have a lot of photoreceptors in their eyes to aid their night vision.
  • They have a wingspan of six feet.

 
On BHI: You can find these birds near any of the freshwater ponds on the island, particularly at the Wildlife Overlook or the golf course. They are also frequently seen in the salt marsh, possibly during Kayaking the Creeks offered by the BHI Conservancy. 
   

Great Egret

Great Egret, Ardea alba

Identification: Great egrets are tall, standing about three feet when fully grown. Their feathers are white and they have long, yellow, pointed beaks. They are wading birds with long, black legs and feet that are carried behind them during flight.
 
Habitat and Habits: Great egrets are wading birds that can be found in both salt and freshwater. They typically wait for prey to swim by them before jabbing at it with their sharp beaks. Their diet is mainly carnivorous and includes fish and frogs. Great egrets nest high in trees where their eggs are most out of reach of mammalian predators like racoons.
 
Conservation Status:  Least Concern.
 
Great egrets are most affected by habitat changes and degradation, although their population is currently stable.
 
Cool Facts:

  • During mating season, a patch of skin between their eyes and beak turns bright green.
  • Great egrets’ plumes were used to make ladies’ hats in the 1800s.
  • The great egret is used in the National Audubon Society’s logo.

 
On BHI: Great egrets are commonly sighted throughout the marsh and in the conservancy’s Ibis Sanctuary Exploration  on Middle Island. Go on the Ibis Sanctuary Exploration tour to see them!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

Identification: These owls are large, with a stocky body and two tall, ear-like tufts on a rounded head. They are usually mottled brownish-gray, although their overall color can vary from pale gray to reddish-brown in color. Their call is composed of four to five low hoots. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Great horned owls are nocturnal like other owl species. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, including deciduous and evergreen forests, tundra, deserts, swamps, and tropical rainforests. They typically inhabit woody areas with access to open areas where they can hunt. They are powerful and aggressive hunters that will prey on other birds and mammals, sometimes even bigger than themselves. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Great horned owls are widespread and can live in numerous different habitats, which makes them unlikely to become threatened due to habitat loss. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Great horned owls use their “horns” (feather tufts) to signal to each other.
  • They hunt for small rodents, snakes, other birds of prey, porcupines, and scorpions. 
  • They use their incredibly strong talons to grasp prey and sever its spinal cord.

 
On BHI: At night during the fall and winter, listen for this owl’s call! Join us for a Bald Head After Dark tour to listen for them and maybe catch a glimpse of one.  

Green Heron

Green Heron, Butorides virescens

Identification: This small heron has a dark green back and wings and a rusty red neck with white stripes. It also has a large, dagger-like bill, black cap, and yellow-orange legs. It is recognizable thanks to its stocky, hunched silhouette. It does not have the same long neck that other herons usually do. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Green herons are commonly found along shallow areas of water such as freshwater ponds and salt marshes. They will sit motionless and wait for fish to swim by, then strike quickly with their sharp beak. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Green heron populations throughout the U.S. have suffered a gradual decline over time. This is most likely due to habitat loss in the wetlands and marshes where they live and forage. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Green herons use insects, bread crusts, twigs, and small objects as fish lures to hunt.
  • They hunt in shallow water but can dive in much deeper water and swim quite well.
  • It is one of the smallest herons found in the U.S. 

 
On BHI: You can see green herons hunting in the salt marsh and usually at the freshwater ponds around the island, particularly Wildlife Overlook. Join an Island Nature Tour or Kayaking the Creeks for the chance to see one!
 

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull,  Leucophaeus atricilla


Identification: Laughing gulls are medium-sized birds whose most distinctive features are their entirely black heads and red beaks. Their wings are gray on top and white underneath, matching their white stomach feathers. Their call is unique and is the reason for which they were named - it sounds like the bird is laughing or cackling.
 
Habitat and Habits: Laughing gulls can be found year-round on the southeastern coast of the U.S. They congregate at docks or on beaches where they search for food or are given handouts from passing humans. Nesting occurs on beaches, but usually on small islands where the eggs are safer from terrestrial predators.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
The population of laughing gulls is currently increasing and may continue to do so as climate change expands their range northward. Threats to the species are mainly a result of coastal development.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Colonies of laughing gulls may have as many as 25,000 members.
  • During the winter, the laughing gull’s head changes from black to mottled gray.
  • Males may start nest construction alone to convince a female to mate with them.

 
On BHI: Laughing gulls are easy to spot in the salt marsh and are often seen on the BHI Conservancy's Kayaking the Creeks

Least Tern

Least Tern, Sternula antillarum


Identification: Least terns are the smallest members of the tern family and have a similar appearance to other terns and gull. They have long, pointed wings, a small, forked tail, white breasts, gray backs, and black caps during breeding season. They also have a bright yellow bill which differentiates them from most other tern species.
 
Habitat and Habits: Least terns can be found along the beach all the way up the east coast of the U.S. and also inland along the shores of large rivers. They prefer shallow, sandy areas to lay their eggs and their diet consists of fish and some small invertebrates. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Although the species as a whole is not in danger, several local populations of least terns are endangered due to habitat loss. These birds are on the State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List as a species most in danger of extinction without significant efforts for their conservation. Their habitat is frequently destroyed for coastal development and human recreation. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Least terns are the smallest tern species in the world. 
  • Least terns are the only species of tern found on BHI that have a mainly yellow bill. 
  • Least terns protect their nests from threats by divebombing humans or animals nearby. 

 
On BHI: You can find least terns nesting across south and west beach in the summer, and they can frequently be seen flying overhead at any beach access.
 

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron, Egretta caerulea

Identification: Little blue herons are small, slim, wading birds with dark bodies. They have a dark blue back and belly with a dark purple to maroon-colored neck. Their beak is also blue and thick, and has a noticeable black tip. Immature herons are white with mottled, dark blue feathers covering their body. 
 
Habitat and Habits: These herons can be found near salt, fresh, and brackish water where they hunt for fish and small crustaceans. They can be found in North Carolina during the summer breeding season. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
These herons are not severely threatened, although habitat loss and coastal development are contributing to the decline of some local populations. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Juveniles are mottled white and blue and are called pied or piebald.
  • They have a row of small “teeth” built into their middle toe that helps them groom.
  • Young little blue herons are white to blend into egret flocks for protection from predators.

 
On BHI: Look out for little blue herons in the salt marsh in the summer, especially during low tide. Go on a Low-Tide Kayaking tour to see these beautiful birds up close!
 

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura


Identification: This common member of the pigeon and dove family is pale brown, with a small head, large eyes, and tiny bill. It has graceful posture and a long, elegant tail. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Mourning doves are found throughout North America from southern Canada to Mexico and throughout the Caribbean. They are occasional vagrants to Greenland and the UK. They inhabit open areas like roadsides, fields, backyards, and forest clearings.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Mourning doves have an incredibly large range and are tolerant of human disturbances and urban environments. Since North America was settled, their populations have increased. They face no major threats. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Their soft, gentle coo sounds like a lament, which is why they are called “mourning dove” 
  • Despite being the most hunted game bird in the U.S., their populations continue to grow.
  • Mourning doves can drink brackish water without becoming dehydrated.

 
On BHI: You can find mourning doves all over Bald Head Island. They are frequently sighted at the conservancy campus as well as at The Commons just down the road.  

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor


Identification: Common nighthawks are not actually hawks - instead, they are a member of the nightjar family, a family of birds mostly active in the evening and recognized by their hunched silhouettes and large heads with big eyes. Because of the nighthawk’s tiny beak, their head looks even larger in comparison to their body. They are typically a mottled brown color with bright, white vertical stripes on their wings. They are almost always observed flying. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Common nighthawks are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the morning and evening. During the day they roost, staying motionless on the ground or on a fencepost. They are found across the U.S. in the summer, migrating to South America during the winter months. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Their numbers are seriously declining in several areas of North America, probably because of changes in land use and pesticide use. Some of the decline may be due to large populations of urban crows that eat the eggs of nighthawks nesting on gravel roofs. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • They fly erratically and often appear to be plunging from the sky when they hunt.
  • Air moving through this bird’s wings when diving results in a deep booming sound.
  • Their sharp “peent” call is usually the first indicator of their presence in an area.   


On BHI:
On summer evenings you can see nighthawks searching for prey above the dunes along South Bald Head Wynd. You may see one while on a
Bald Head After Dark tour.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

Identification:  This large, brilliant, red songbird is a common resident of forests across the U.S. The male is completely red except for a black mask around the face and an orange beak, while the female is an orangish-brown. Both have crests of top of their heads.
 
Habitat and Habits: Northern cardinals are forest birds that use their short, thick beaks to eat seeds. They can be found throughout the eastern U.S. and are commonly seen at backyard birdfeeders where they have easy access to food. They love shrubby, forest edges where they can forage close to the ground while remaining under shelter.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Northern cardinal populations have increased over the past few decades, most likely due to an increase in edge habitat from residential development and the addition of birdfeeders to many backyards. They are not currently facing any major threats. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The northern cardinal is the state bird of North Carolina. 
  • They are territorial and will fight their own reflections in shiny surfaces like windows.
  • Unlike many other female songbirds, the female cardinal sings, usually when nesting.

 
On BHI: You can find northern cardinals in the maritime forest anywhere on Bald Head Island! Look out for flashes of red overhead as you drive down the roads - they are very common. If you’d like the chance to see one while learning more about the island, check out an Island Nature Tour .

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos

Identification: Northern mockingbirds are slender, thrush-like songbirds with small heads and long tails. Their bodies are pale gray, with two obvious bright, white markings on their wing and tail feathers that flash when they fly. They have a black stripe through their eye. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Northern mockingbirds can be found throughout the eastern U.S. They live in many different environments, but tend to prefer open, scrubby areas and edge habitats along forests and fields where there are low bushes and thickets. They can also survive very well in urban areas, from cities to suburbs. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Mockingbirds are a highly adaptable species that can survive in numerous habitats, making them relatively threat-free. In the 18th century, mockingbirds were often taken out of the wild to be sold as caged songbirds, which lowered their numbers. When this practice became less common, their numbers bounced back quickly. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Mockingbirds imitate sounds like car alarms, people singing, or other bird songs. 
  • They usually repeat their mimicked calls three times before moving to a new call. 
  • From the 1700s -1800s, they were often taken as caged songbirds for wealthy buyers.

 
On BHI: You can find mockingbirds all over Bald Head Island - many inhabit the sand dunes around the conservancy and they can be heard everywhere!

Osprey

Osprey, Pandion haliaetus


Identification: Ospreys are large birds of prey with sharply hooked beaks, cream-colored breasts, brown backs, and heads with brown stripes. Female ospreys have a “necklace” of brown speckles across front of their breast, while the males are completely white below. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Ospreys eat fish almost exclusively, from both salt and freshwater. They are found across the U.S., mostly during their migration, but they tend to nest in open areas near water like lakes and salt marshes. These hawks migrate from far north in the U.S. and Canada down to Central and South America in the winter. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Ospreys are a popular conservation success story. Their numbers declined dramatically after farmers started using DDT as an insecticide for their crops. The DDT was ingested by fish that were then eaten by ospreys, causing the birds’ eggshells to become thin and easily breakable and endangering the species. After DDT was banned in 1972, the osprey population bounced back and is currently thriving. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Ospreys mate for life.
  • Osprey parents overwinter in different areas, coming back together in the spring to nest.
  • Fledglings are left behind to figure out where to migrate on their own.  

 
On BHI:  You can find ospreys all across the island, usually by the water hunting for fish.  Take a Kayaking the Creeks tour with the conservancy to check out the salt marsh osprey nesting platforms and get a chance to see baby ospreys!
 

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris


Identification: Instantly recognizable, male painted buntings are small songbirds with a bright mix of colors - pinkish red breasts, bright blue heads, and green/yellow backs and wings.  Female and juvenile buntings are a duller green with a pale, white eye ring. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Painted buntings live and breed in semi-open habitats.They are ground foragers, consuming seeds during most of the year, but switching to insects during the summer breeding season. Two distinct breeding populations exist in the United States - a southeast population near the coast and a south-central population. Painted buntings are typically monogamous, with the male protecting up to three acres of territory while the female lays a nest of three to four eggs.
 
Conservation:  Near Threatened. 
 
Painted buntings are still fairly common, although their populations were in decline before the turn of the century. Populations have since stabilized, or at least are decreasing less quickly. They are still threatened by trappers who take them for pets on their wintering grounds.
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Painted buntings frequently use spanish moss to build their nests. 
  • The bubbling song of the painted bunting resembles the beeps of R2-D2 in Star Wars.
  • Despite their bright plumage, they are very secretive birds and camouflage well. 

 
On BHI: From April through the end of summer, you can find these colorful songbirds along the trails through the maritime forest and marsh.  Try taking a Painted Bunting Tour with the conservancy to get a closer look at these unique birds.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin, Progne subis


Identification: A species of small swallow, purple martins are larger than a barn swallow and almost entirely a dark, blue-purple color, appearing black in bad light. They have small, stout bills for eating insects, long, tapered wings, and a forked tail. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Purple martins are found across the eastern U.S. during the summer breeding season, and in South America during the winter months. They eat insects like mosquitos and gnats, and prefer habitats near water where food is plentiful.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Purple martin populations have seriously declined in the west and have begun to decline in the eastern U.S. Competition between these swallows and European starlings for nesting sites has been proposed as one explanation. The employment of nest boxes may be helping purple martins by providing them a place to live. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • They forage entirely in the air, making graceful aerial maneuvers to hunt their prey. 
  • Flocks of young martins are sometimes large enough to be seen on weather radar.
  • Purple martin feathers are blue, but their iridescent quality cause them to appear purple.

 
On BHI: You can find purple martins swooping low over the water in the salt marsh looking for insects to eat during the summer months. Take Kayaking the Creeks for a chance to see one.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

Identification: The red-tailed hawk is a common large hawk, recognizable chiefly by its bulky size and obvious rusty-red, upper tail feathers. They are typically brown on top and white below, although their plumage can vary greatly from dark to pale. 
 
Habitat and Habits: The red-tailed hawk is a common sight throughout the U.S. As one of the most common and widespread hawks, they are seen gliding through the sky above forests and fields, or perched on fence posts or telephone poles. Red-tailed hawks are excellent predators, eating small mammals, other birds, and sometimes reptiles. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
These hawks are so widespread that habitat loss is not a major threat. They can also live in several different types of habitat.
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Their raspy call is often used in Hollywood movies as the typical bald eagle call. 
  • Red-tailed hawk mates are monogamous, staying together until one of the pair dies.
  • During courtship, they will lock talons, spiral downward, and seperate near the ground.
  •  

 
On BHI: Look up in the sky over fields and open forest areas for a look at the red-tailed hawk. You could also see one on an Island Nature Tour .

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird,  Agelaius phoeniceus


Identification: Male red-winged blackbirds are easy to recognize because of their glossy, black color and bright red and yellow wing patch. The patch is at the top of the wing and is mostly red with a thin golden line on the bottom. Female red-winged blackbirds are more difficult to distinguish as they have very plain, streaky, brown coloring. 
 
Habitat and Habits: They are found across the eastern U.S. and are very abundant. They typically eat insects and seeds, and are found around fresh and saltwater marshes or other wetland areas. Adult red-winged blackbirds are territorial and are fierce in the protection of their nests, often attacking larger birds to drive them away. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Red-winged blackbirds are widespread in North America, but their populations have started to decline over time, most likely due to habitat loss in their favored breeding and roosting areas - fresh and saltwater wetlands. They are not declining quickly enough to be a concern yet. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Red-winged blackbirds are social animals, preferring to roost in large flocks.
  • Males may puff up depending on how aggressive or territorial they want to be.  
  • They have a unique three-part song that sounds like “Con-quer-EEEE”.  

 
On BHI: Look for these birds around the salt marsh, nesting in juniper trees or perching on large reeds. You might see one while Kayaking the Creeks through the marsh.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern, Thalasseus maximus


Identification: Royal terns have a body shape similar to seagulls, with long pointed wings and slim bodies. Their wings are even more pointed than a gull’s, however, and have a more bent shape. These birds have a mostly white body with gray wings and a black cap on their heads. They are one of the largest tern species and have a thick orange bill for eating fish.
 
Habitat and Habits: Royal terns are commonly found over the open ocean or salt marsh searching for fish to eat. Like other tern species, they have polarized eyes so they can easily see into the water and hunt for fish swimming below. When hunting, they appear to suddenly free fall toward the water, splashing down to grab a fish. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
While they are not a threatened species, special care should be taken to ensure their habitat survives. Coastal development poses the biggest threat to their habitat loss.  In some places their nesting colonies are listed as Critical Wildlife Areas and protected. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • The royal tern is one of the largest species of tern, second only to the caspian tern.
  • They sometimes follow fishing boats to feed on discarded bycatch. 
  • Overfishing can be harmful because it decreases their prey’s population numbers.

 
On BHI: You can see royal terns anywhere around the beach and salt marshes on Bald Head.  Come Kayaking the Creeks for a chance to see them hunting in the marsh!     
   

Sanderling

Sanderling, Calidris alba

Identification: Sanderlings are a medium-sized type of sandpiper. They have black legs and their beak extends about the same distance as the size of their head. Sanderlings are brown on the tops of their wings and have white underparts. Overall their coloration is relatively pale.
 
Habitat and Habits: In the winter, non-breeding season, sanderlings can be found on most of North and South America’s coasts. In the summer they travel to the Arctic, where they nest in the tundra. When on beaches, they forage for marine invertebrates as waves crash in the intertidal zone.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Threats to this species include habitat loss and fragmentation. Sanderlings are also susceptible to bird flu, although this is more common in birds in Asia.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Some sanderlings make migrations of  over 6,000 miles.
  • After eating, they can regurgitate sand particles or pieces of shells that are left over.
  • When chased, sanderlings fly in flocks in whimsical patterns as an evasion strategy.

 
On BHI: Check out Bald Head’s beaches in the winter or join Birding BHI for a chance to see a sanderling. It is possible to see non-breeding sanderling on the beach in the summer, but these are more rare.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern, Thalasseus sandvicensis


Identification:
Sandwich terns are medium sized birds with distinctive black, shaggy crests on the tops of their heads. The bottom of their heads are white and the tops of their wings are gray. They have black legs and their beak is thick and black with a yellow point at the end.
 
Habitat and Habits: Sandwich terns can be found in the Caribbean year-round, but migrate as far north as Maryland in the summertime. Like other tern species they eat fish, catching them by dive bombing from the air into the ocean. They nest in sand on the beach and often intermingle with other species like royal terns.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Although sandwich tern populations were very small in the recent past, their numbers have since rebounded. However they still face threats, including habitat loss and degradation, especially by humans.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Sandwich terns are named for the town in which they were discovered in England.
  • In winter sandwich terns’ foreheads undergo a color change and become pale white.
  • The courtship ritual can involve males feeding fish to females.

 
On BHI: Visit the beach in summer for a chance to see a sandwich tern. Signing up for Birding BHI is also a good choice if you would like to see one.   

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover, Charadrius semipalmatus


Identification: Semipalmated plovers are small shorebirds with a distinctive dark band across the top of their chests. The feathers on their back are brown and they have white underparts. Semipalmated plovers have yellow legs and a short, stubby beak that is yellow close to the head and black at its point.
 
Habitat and Habits: Semipalmated plovers spend their winters on the coastlines of the United States and migrate to the arctic to nest during the summer. Notably, they avoid the tundra and instead nest on gravel surfaces near riverbeds. Their diet changes depending on the season; they eat insects when breeding and crustaceans during their winters on the coast.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
The semipalmated plover population was nearly decimated in the 1800s, but has managed to recover. Threats faced today include habitat loss and fragmentation as well as the potential effects of climate change, especially in their nesting habitat.
 
Cool Facts:

  • They have been known to swim, but only for short distances.
  • These birds have partially webbed feet, which is why they are called ‘semipalmated.’
  • Semipalmated plovers can coax invertebrates out by rubbing their feet over the sand.

 
On BHI: Look for semipalmated plovers on the beach in the winter time by signing up for Birding BHI. If you live in the inner parts of the U.S., watch for their migrations in late spring and early fall.

 

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret, Egretta thula


Identification: Snowy egrets are medium-sized members of the heron family. They have all-white plumage and have two distinguishing features - their black beak and yellow feet. Additionally they have long, black legs and a small, yellow patch of skin where their beak attaches to their face.
 
Habitat and Habits: In North America snowy egrets are only found year-round on the southeastern coast of the United States. They can move further inland during their migration period and nesting season, but tend to frequent the coastline. These birds utilize their long legs when hunting prey; they hover and wait until a fish swims by before stabbing it with their long beak.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Snowy egrets were threatened in the 1800s when their plumes were in high demand, but the population has rebounded nicely. However threats like climate change may impact the prey species that snowy egrets spend long amounts of time hunting, making it more difficult for current population numbers to remain stable.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Both male and female snowy egrets spend time incubating the eggs in their nest.
  • Their yellow feet and skin can become more reddish-orange during mating season.
  • In 1886, their plumes were worth twice the price of gold, a whopping $32 per ounce.

 
On BHI: Look for snowy egrets in the salt marsh by joining one of the BHI Conservancy’s Kayaking the Creeks or try to spot them in Middle Island during  Ibis Sanctuary Exploration.
   

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron, Egretta tricolor


Identification: Tricolored herons are small herons that are recognizable because of their white breast and belly and yellowish legs. They are the only dark blue heron with white below, making them easy to identify. They are small and blend in easily with salt marsh grasses.
 
Habitat and Habits: Tricolored herons are typically found along the salt marsh, foraging for small crustaceans and fish in the mud during low tide. They can be difficult to spot when they stalk through the marsh grass hunting their prey. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern. 
 
Tricolored herons are highly vulnerable to human disturbance and interference during their nesting season. In some cases, interference may be enough to drive the herons away from the nest, leaving their eggs or young behind. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • In addition to fish, this heron will eat frogs, lizards, tadpoles, grasshoppers, and spiders.
  • They are solitary hunters that will drive away other herons from their hunting territory. 
  • They are sociable during nesting, often forming large colonies with other herons.

 
On BHI:  Tricolored herons are common in the salt marsh in the summer, particularly at low tide. You can see them during any of our marsh programs such as Kayaking the CreeksMarsh Fishing or Crabbing & Cast-netting.  

White Ibis

White Ibis, Eudocimus albus


Identification: These medium sized wading birds are easily identified by their large, scarlet, downward curving bills and red legs. Their bodies are completely white except for the black tips on their wings, which are obvious during flight. 
 
Habitat and Habits: White ibises are found in salt marsh areas throughout the southern U.S.  They are often seen foraging in the marsh mud for small crustaceans washed up by the tide, and will use their long bills to search for prey. In the evening, they roost in trees, usually staying together in large flocks. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
There are currently no major threats faced by white ibis populations.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Baby white ibises are born with straight bill that curve downwards after two weeks.
  • Male white ibises are protective and will vigorously defend their mating partners. 
  • White ibises use their bills like tweezers to grasp their prey in the mud. 

 
On BHI: You can see flocks of white ibises fly over the salt marsh on Bald Head Island, but the conservancy’s Ibis Sanctuary Exploration on Middle Island is a great way to see them up close.    

Willet

Willet, Tringa semipalmata


Identification: Willets are larger shorebirds that have different colored plumage depending on the season. In the summer they are mottled brown, while in the winter their feathers are a more uniform gray. They have long, gray legs and a straight beak much longer than their head. When flying, a distinctive black and white stripe can be seen on the underside of the willet’s wings.
 
Habitat and Habits: Willets are most often found on the coastal beaches on both sides of the United States, although there are differences between eastern and western populations. Eastern willets breed on barrier islands or in marshes, and their diet is composed mainly of invertebrates.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Willet populations have been declining due to coastal development and habitat fragmentation, and their status may soon be adjusted to reflect these changes.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Willets can distract predators from their nest by faking a broken wing.
  • Willets use their eyes and sensors on the tips of their beaks to find prey.
  • Male and female willets take turns incubating the nest, but only males sit on it at night.

 
On BHI: Willets can be found year-round on Bald Head because it is a barrier island. Visit the beach or sign up for Birding BHI for a chance to see one.   

Wilson's Plover

Wilson's Plover, Charadrius wilsonia


Identification: The Wilson’s plover is a medium-sized shorebird with brown wings and white underparts. It has a distinctive brown band on its short neck, along with short legs and a short, stubby, brown beak.
 
Habitat and Habits: Wilson’s plovers can be found on the southeastern and gulf coasts of the United States during their summer breeding season. They prefer to live on shorelines where they eat small crustaceans and insects and lay their nests.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
The Wilson’s plover population is currently decreasing and these birds could continue to face threats like coastal development and habitat fragmentation.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Young Wilson’s plovers start to feed themselves as soon as a few days after birth.
  • The male makes multiple shallow nests in the sand before the female chooses one.
  • Wilson’s plovers overwinter in the Caribbean.
  • On BHI: Look for Wilson’s plovers on the beaches in the summer. 

 
On BHI: Look for Wilson’s plovers on the beaches in the summer. Sign up for Birding BHI  for a chance to see one and learn more about it.    

Wood Duck

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa


Identification: Wood ducks are average-sized ducks but have longer tails and more compact heads than other species. Males have spectacular coloration patterns that include various shades of green and brown, while females are a more subtle brown.
 
Habitat and Habits: Wood ducks can be found year-round in most of the eastern half of the United States. They inhabit wet, wooded areas and are often seen perched in trees where they also lay their nests. Wood ducks swim in ponds and lakes to feed themselves; they consume arthropods by making short dives into the water, but can eat seeds and fruit on land if need be.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Wood duck populations are currently increasing, rebounding from their population losses and near extinction in the 1800s due to hunting. Threats include habitat loss and degradation.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Wood ducks are the only North American duck that produces two broods per year.
  • Nesting boxes are put out for wood ducks since natural tree cavities can be hard to find.
  • Young ducklings can leap from nests fifty feet in the air without harming themselves.

 
On BHI: Check out the trees near the wildlife overlook to potentially spot a wood duck, or sign up for an Ibis Sanctuary Exploration to increase your chances.