Posted by Outer Banks Blue

Fall Bird Migration Spectacular in Outer Banks, NC

Fall Bird Migration Every fall and winter, thousands of birds migrate through the Outer Banks in search of food. The Outer Banks is part of the Atlantic Flyway, a bird migration path that traces the Atlantic Coast to the Appalachian Mountains. It begins in the Arctic Islands and Greenland and goes through Florida, where it merges with other migration paths to the Caribbean islands. Nearly 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Outer Banks, making the barrier islands a birder's paradise in fall and winter.

Fall and Winter Migration Timelines

Some bird species begin to migrate in August. When the nesting season is over for Arctic species, birds start flying south in search of richer food, leaving their offspring behind. These young birds migrate by themselves down the Atlantic Flyway a littler later than their parents. Amazingly, they just know where to go. Migration for many species lasts through January, though some species stay until spring migration in March.

What Species to Look For

There are 40 species of shorebirds that can be seen in the Outer Banks. Some, like the American Oystercatcher, stay all year. Others, such plovers, can only be seen in fall and winter. Watch for migrating geese and ducks such as the Snow Goose, Mute Swan, Tundra Swan, Eurasian and American Wigeons, Northern Pintails and shovelers, and more. Exciting rare spottings include the beautiful Harlequin Duck, Lesser Scaup, and Common Teal. Fun-to-watch loons and grebes are frequent visitors to the Outer Banks, as are bitterns, herons, and ibises.Inshore, keep your eyes peeled for unusual wrens, thrushes, and sparrows. Warblers also migrate through the Outer Banks, and birders are delighted to see hard-to-find species such as the Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the Black-and-White Warbler. Every once in a great while Outer Banks birders are even treated to sightings of Golden Eagles, a Fulvous Whistling Duck or two, and even Roseate Spoonbills. You never know who will get lost or blown off course and take cover on the islands.

Why Birds Love the Outer Banks

Migrating birds aren't looking for warmer weather; they're looking for plentiful food and safe cover in which to rest. Many are looking for good nesting grounds and safe places to raise their young. The Outer Banks have some of the richest and most diverse natural habitats in the United States, and conservation efforts help provide our feathered visitors with everything they need to thrive. Many birds come for the plentiful fish and small sand crabs, while others take to the forests for insects, small rodents, and winter berries.

Where to Find Birds

Migratory shorebirds are most easily seen in tidal flats, the salt pond at Cape Hatteras, and the ponds on Bodie Island and Pea Island. If you're looking for rare species, your best chance for adding to your Life List are the ponds on Pea and Bodie Islands. After a cold front, watch for migrants at Oregon Inlet bridge, Fort Raleigh around Elizabeth Gardens, and the dikes at Pea Island. Other favorite birding locations include the Audubon Sanctuary Nature Trail in Corolla, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Jockey's Ridge State Park, Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve.

Conservation Efforts

More than a third of the human population of the United States lives in the Atlantic Flyway, so protecting birds and their habitats is an important mission for all nature lovers and conservationists. Sanderlings, Roseate Spoonbills, Ruddy Turnstones, and Least Terns are among Audubon's "priority birds," or bird species most in need of conservation efforts. There are currently 63 birds on the list, a number that reflects the growing threats to bird habitats.There are thousands of acres of protected marshes, forests, and beaches in the Outer Banks, including the Pine Island Sanctuary, Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Audubon Society and other preservation groups such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology depend on birders to compile field data, so if you're birding in the Outer Banks, consider reporting what species you see through an online program such as

Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival

For over 20 years the Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival has attracted birders and nature lovers to the Outer Banks. This festival features tours, field trips, and educational programs centered on birding, kayaking and canoeing, wildlife photography, and art. This year the festival was held in October, but there is an encore session December 9 to 11.In fall and winter, the Outer Banks is a haven for migrating birds and the people who love to watch and photograph them. Whether you're a beginning birder or an experienced devotee finishing up a Big Year, North Carolina's barrier islands are the perfect place to enjoy bird-filled parks, forests, and beaches.
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