If you get excited at the thought of being surrounded by animals, the Outer Banks will become your new favorite vacation spot. Home to a vast range of unique wildlife, this region features lots of protected and unspoiled land that encourages growth in animal populations.
To learn about our native critters, the best place to start your vacation is at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla. This incredible 22,000-square-foot education center is the ideal place to bone up on animals you might see, so you know what you’re spotting as you enjoy your getaway. Here are some of the most popular animals to see in the Outer Banks:
Five different kinds of sea turtles nest on Outer Banks beaches: leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green turtles. Watch for sandy mounds on the beach, especially near the dunes. Remember: If you see a turtle or a nest, don’t disturb it.
Everyone’s favorite Outer Banks animal is the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Dolphins can pop up anywhere in the water — in the calm waters of the sound or inlet, to the choppy waves near the beach or offshore. Watch for dolphin from the beach or pier, or take a special dolphin-watching boat ride to maximize your chances of seeing these slippery critters.
Of course, the wild horses of the Outer Banks, known as “banker ponies,” are the most famous residents of the islands. These horses are believed to be descendants of Spanish horses that swam ashore after shipwrecks hundreds of years ago. Banker ponies are protected, and they have the run of the place. You’re most likely to see them on Corolla beaches and in Ocracoke, but they have been seen elsewhere.
Wild boars are common to barrier islands because they’re good swimmers. Outer Banks wild boar are big, and they have long tusks and bad attitudes. You probably won’t see them in town or on the beach, but if you’re exploring the rural areas of Corolla, you may spot one rooting around for a meal. They’re skittish, so watch from a distance and let them go their way.
If you are wondering why Outer Banks bunnies are so massive, it’s because they’re not bunnies — they’re hares. Hares are much larger than rabbits, with long back legs and ears. They are common on Roanoke Island, where you may see dozens upon dozens at twilight.
Many folks driving into the Outer Banks are surprised to see a black bear standing alongside, or crossing, the road. Black bears are frequently seen in the islands, especially in Currituck and around the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Black bears don’t have a reputation for being aggressive, but they are bears after all. Best to steer clear, give them space and don’t feed them.
Once thought to be virtually extinct, red wolves have made a comeback in recent years. Spot these magnificent creatures around the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, or keep an ear out for their haunting songs at night.
Mink, Beaver, Muskrat
If you’re staying in Corolla, you may get lucky and catch a glimpse of a mink, beaver, or muskrat. Once prized for their pelts, these water mammals disappeared from the area until the late 1930s. Today they are more common and may be seen at dusk or dawn along streams and creeks.
Bobcats are so elusive that most locals don’t know they exist in the Outer Banks. However, every so often one of these short-tailed felines decides to take a beach break and surprise everyone. Bobcats are about twice the size of a domestic cat and are most often seen at dawn or dusk.
Grey and Red Fox
Grey foxes can be seen all over the Outer Banks. They’re small — much smaller than wolves — so there’s no mistaking a sighting. Foxes hunt near sunrise or sunset, but it’s not unusual to see them out and about during the day. If you have your windows open at night and hear a little howling, it’s likely one of our furry grey friends singing at the stars.
Deer are frequently seen around the Outer Banks in wooded areas. Nags Head is especially flush with deer, and sightings of herds are common near sunset. If you’re driving near dusk or dawn, go slowly and keep an eye out for the tell-tale shining eyes in the brush.
Yes, there are alligators in the Outer Banks. Alligators are shy, so it’s not likely that you’ll see one in your rental neighborhood. If you want to see an alligator, your best bet is to take a trip to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a 12,000-acre preserve.
The Outer Banks are home to more wildlife than most people know. For the best chance at seeing some of our furry (or slippery) locals, drive slowly, walk quietly, and watch for movement near the ground or the surface of the water.