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North Carolina, with its extensive coastline, numerous freshwater bodies, and diverse climates, provides an ideal sanctuary for a variety of water birds. These avian species, showcasing an impressive array of sizes, colors, and behaviors, constitute a significant part of the state’s vibrant biodiversity.
North Carolina, with its diverse ecosystems ranging from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Coast, is home to a wide variety of water bird species. Here are some of the most common water birds you might find in North Carolina:
Where to Find in North Carolina
Along the entire coastline of the state
Lakes, rivers and coastal areas statewide
Lakes, rivers and coastal areas statewide
Great Blue Heron
Wetlands, rivers and lakes statewide
Wetlands, rivers and lakes statewide
Coastal areas, large inland reservoirs
Coastal areas, particularly in marshes and lagoons
Wetlands, rivers and lakes statewide
Coastal marshes, urban wetlands
Coastal areas, river basins
Lakes, ponds, and rivers statewide
Freshwater marshes, rivers, and ponds statewide
Wetlands statewide during migration
Coastal areas during migration
Coastal areas, particularly Pamlico Sound
Inland lakes and ponds during winter
Coastal areas during winter
Freshwater lakes and rivers statewide
Mountain rivers and reservoirs
Lakes, ponds and coastal areas statewide
Coastal areas during migration
Coastal beaches and sandbars
Lakes, ponds and coastal areas statewide
Coastal marshes and wetlands
Water Bird Species Found in North Carolina
Scientific Name: Cygnus olor
Length: 125 – 170 cm
Wingspan: 200 to 240 cm
Weight: 33 lb
The Mute Swan is an elegant and recognizable waterfowl species, well-known for its serene beauty and strikingly graceful presence on many of North America’s waterways.
Appearance: Mute Swans are large birds with a long, curved neck and a distinctive orange beak with a black knob at the base. They’re primarily white in color, with males (known as cobs) and females (known as pens) looking similar.
Diet: Mute Swans are herbivores, mainly feeding on a variety of submerged aquatic vegetation. They use their long necks to reach plants growing in deeper waters.
Reproduction: Mute Swans usually mate for life. Their nests are large and located near the water’s edge. Females lay a clutch of 5 to 7 eggs, which are incubated for about a month before hatching.
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Scientific Name: Pelecanus occidentalis
Length: 3 ft 3 in to 5 ft 0 in
Wingspan: 6 ft 8 in to 7 ft 6 in
Weight: 4.4 to 11.0 lb
The Brown Pelican is a large water bird famous for its distinct body shape and dramatic feeding habits. Known for their habit of diving headfirst into the water to catch fish, they are a staple along the coasts of the southern United States.
Appearance: Brown Pelicans are easily identifiable due to their long, curved necks, stout bodies, and large bills with a stretchy pouch. As their name suggests, they have brown and gray body feathers, with a paler head and neck that can become yellowish in breeding season.
Diet: Their diet mainly consists of fish, which they catch by making spectacular plunging dives from the air, scooping up the fish in their expandable bill pouches. They then drain the water from their pouches before swallowing their catch.
Reproduction: Brown Pelicans nest in colonies on islands, laying 2 to 3 eggs in nests made from sticks and vegetation. Both parents share incubation and feeding duties. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for around 12 weeks before they are ready to leave.
Listen to Double-crested Cormorant
Scientific Name: Nannopterum auritum
Length: 28 to 35 in
Wingspan: 45 – 48 in
Weight: 2.6 – 5.5 lb
The Double-crested Cormorant is a large waterbird recognized for its long neck, hooked bill, and notable diving abilities.
Appearance: Double-crested Cormorants have a dark body with a somewhat iridescent sheen. The bird’s name derives from the presence of two tufts or crests of feathers that appear on the sides of the head during the breeding season. They have striking greenish-yellow to bright orange skin around the throat and cheeks, and their eyes are an interesting, bright turquoise color.
Diet: Double-crested Cormorants are excellent divers and their diet primarily consists of fish. They dive beneath the water’s surface from the air or while swimming to catch their prey. After a successful dive, they can often be seen standing with their wings outstretched to dry.
Reproduction: These birds typically nest in trees, on cliffs, or on ground colonies on islands. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 4 eggs, which both parents incubate for about a month.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Listen to Great Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea herodias
Wingspan: 66–79 in
Weight: 4.0–7.9 lb
The Great Blue Heron is a large species of wading bird recognized for its majestic stature, stately flight, and impressive hunting prowess.
Appearance: Great Blue Herons are strikingly tall and slender, with a gray-blue body, a wide wingspan, and a long, pointed bill. They have a white head with a black stripe above the eye extending into feathery plumes, and long, reddish-brown legs.
Diet: Great Blue Herons are skilled hunters, primarily feeding on a variety of aquatic animals such as fish, frogs, and crustaceans. They can often be seen standing motionless in shallow water, waiting patiently for prey to come within striking distance.
Reproduction: Great Blue Herons nest in large colonies, often high in trees near bodies of water. The female lays a clutch of about 3 to 5 eggs, which both parents incubate for around a month. After hatching, the young herons are fed by both parents and start to explore outside the nest within a few weeks.
Scientific Name: Ardea alba
Length: 80 – 100 cm
Wingspan: 1.3 – 1.7 m
Weight: 0.7 – 1.5 kg
The Great Egret is a large, stunningly white bird commonly found in both freshwater and saltwater habitats across the United States. Known for its elegant flight and poised hunting stance, it is a symbol of conservation success.
Appearance: Great Egrets are recognized by their bright white plumage, long, black legs, and a yellow, dagger-like bill. Their slender, long necks and large wings are highlighted when they take flight, creating an elegant and captivating sight.
Diet: Primarily, the Great Egret feeds on fish, making use of its sharp bill to spear its prey in shallow water. However, its diet is diverse and can include other aquatic creatures like amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, and invertebrates.
Reproduction: The Great Egret typically nests in trees or shrubs near water bodies, often in colonies with other water birds. A female lays 3 to 4 eggs, with both parents participating in the incubation process.
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Scientific Name: Egretta thula
Length: 22.1–26.0 in
Wingspan: 39.4 inches
Weight: 13.1 oz
The Snowy Egret is a small, graceful bird celebrated for its striking white plumage and contrasting black and yellow details. Found across the United States in a variety of water habitats, this bird is known for its animated hunting style.
Appearance: Snowy Egrets are particularly noticeable due to their pure white feathers, slender black legs, and bright yellow feet, which are often described as looking like they’ve been dipped in golden paint. They also sport a thin, black bill and expressive, yellow eyes.
Diet: Their diet mainly consists of fish, but they are known to consume a variety of aquatic animals such as crustaceans, insects, and small amphibians. Notably, their unique yellow feet are used to stir up prey from the bottom of shallow water.
Reproduction: Snowy Egrets typically nest in trees or shrubs in colonies with other water birds. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs, and both parents take turns incubating them.
Scientific Name: Butorides virescen
Length: 25 to 31 in
Wingspan: 53 to 65 in
Weight: 4.5 to 6.0
The Green Heron is a small yet captivating bird, famous for its tool-using abilities and its striking appearance. This species can often be found around the edges of freshwater and saltwater habitats across much of North America.
Appearance: Green Herons possess a dark greenish-blue back, a rich chestnut body, and a dark cap on their head. Their bill is long and sharp, allowing them to be proficient hunters, while their relatively short legs give them a stocky appearance compared to other heron species.
Diet: As opportunistic feeders, Green Herons feed mainly on small fish, but their diet also includes a variety of invertebrates, insects, amphibians, and occasionally even small mammals and birds. They’re known for a unique hunting technique – using baits such as insects, feathers, or twigs to attract fish.
Reproduction: Green Herons build their nests in trees or shrubs, usually over or near water. The female typically lays 3 to 5 eggs, with both parents sharing the responsibilities of incubation.
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
Length: 22.8-26.0 in
Wingspan: 45.3-46.5 in
Weight: 25.6-35.8 oz
The Black-crowned Night-Heron is a medium-sized heron species that is known for its nocturnal habits, standing out among other, mostly diurnal herons.
Appearance: Black-crowned Night-Herons have a stocky appearance, with adults characterized by a black crown and back, contrasting sharply with a white or gray body. Their eyes are notably red. The legs are yellow to greenish yellow, but become pinkish or even red during the breeding season. Young birds are brown, speckled with white and gray.
Diet: As opportunistic feeders, Black-crowned Night-Herons eat a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals. They primarily consume fish, but their diet can also include crustaceans, insects, small mammals, reptiles, and even other birds. They usually feed at night, which gives them a unique niche among heron species.
Reproduction: Black-crowned Night-Herons are colonial nesters, often forming nesting colonies with other heron species. They build platform nests in trees or shrubs, usually over water. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs, and both parents share the responsibility of incubation.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
Length: 1 ft 10 in – 2 ft 4 in
Weight: 1.43–1.87 lb
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized heron commonly found in wetlands and coastal habitats across the southeastern United States.
Appearance: Yellow-crowned Night Herons have a sturdy body with a comparatively short neck and legs. Their distinctive feature is their namesake yellow crown, which contrasts sharply with their gray body and back. They have red eyes and a heavy, dark bill. During the breeding season, they develop long, wispy plumes on their head, giving them a stylish appearance.
Diet: Yellow-crowned Night Herons are known for their preference for crustaceans, especially crabs and crayfish. They hunt mostly at night, stalking their prey in shallow water, often remaining still for long periods before striking quickly with their bill.
Reproduction: Yellow-crowned Night Herons nest in small colonies, typically in trees or shrubs near water. The female lays 3 to 5 pale blue-green eggs which are incubated by both parents for about 25 days. After hatching, the chicks are cared for by both parents and fledge in about 30-40 days. They often return to the same nesting sites year after year.
Listen to Mallard
Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos
Length: 20–26 in
Wingspan: 32–39 in
Weight: 1.5–3.5 lb
The Mallard is a well-known species of duck they are particularly recognized for their adaptability and can thrive in both urban and wild environments.
Male Mallards are renowned for their striking plumage, with a glossy green head, a white collar, and a chestnut-colored chest, while females sport mottled brown feathers. They both have blue speculum feathers on their wings, which can be seen during flight. Both sexes also exhibit a distinct curl on the tail feathers, more noticeable in males.
Mallards are omnivorous in nature. Their diet is diverse and includes seeds, aquatic vegetation, insects, and small fish. They are frequently seen ‘dabbling’ in the water, where they dip their head and neck below the surface while upending their body to forage for food.
In terms of reproduction, Mallards usually nest on the ground near water bodies, camouflaged by vegetation. The female lays a clutch of 7 to 10 eggs, and she incubates them for about a month. After hatching, the ducklings are precocial – they are active and able to feed themselves, but they continue to stay with their mother for protection until they can fly, which usually takes about two months.
Mallards are an iconic species that have significantly contributed to the genetic makeup of many domestic duck breeds. They are beloved for their rich colors, distinctive quacks, and playful demeanor.
Scientific Name: Aix sponsa
Length: 19 to 21 in
Wingspan: 26 to 29 in
Weight: 16.0-30.4 oz
The Wood Duck is an exquisitely colorful waterfowl known for its unique nesting habits and is commonly seen in wooded swamps, marshes, and streams across North America.
Appearance: With their dazzling plumage, Wood Ducks are among the most stunning birds. Males display a multitude of colors, including a green and purple crested head, red eyes, and a white-striped chest, all contrasted with a bronze-colored body. Females, though more subdued with a gray-brown body and white eye-ring, also possess their own charm.
Diet: Wood Ducks have a diverse diet that includes seeds, fruits, and insects, as well as other invertebrates. Their broad diet helps them to adapt to a variety of habitats, whether in the wild or in urban areas with suitable nesting sites.
Reproduction: Unlike most other ducks, Wood Ducks prefer to nest in tree cavities near water, leading to their common name. They will also readily use nest boxes if they’re available. A typical clutch consists of 9 to 14 eggs, which the female incubates alone.
Listen to Blue-winged Teal
Scientific Name: Spatula discors
Length: 16 in
Wingspan: 23 in
Weight: 13 oz
The Blue-winged Teal is a small species of dabbling duck known for its striking plumage and its extensive migratory habits.
Appearance: Male Blue-winged Teals are quite colorful, with a slate gray head and neck, a white crescent in front of the eyes, and a predominantly brown body with specks of black. The name “Blue-winged” comes from the patch of blue feathers visible on their wings during flight. Females, in contrast, are primarily brown and subtly mottled to provide camouflage.
Diet: The Blue-winged Teal feeds mainly on plant matter, such as seeds and aquatic vegetation. However, they also supplement their diet with small invertebrates, especially during the breeding season. They are known for their “dabbling” behavior, where they feed at the surface of the water rather than diving.
Reproduction: Blue-winged Teals prefer to nest on the ground in grassy areas near water. The female typically lays a clutch of 9 to 13 eggs, which she incubates alone for about three weeks. After hatching, the ducklings can feed themselves but remain under the mother’s protection until they are capable of flying.
Listen to Northern Pintail
Scientific Name: Anas acuta
Length: 23–30 in
Wingspan: 31–37 in
Weight: 1 –3 lb
The Northern Pintail is a graceful species of duck recognized for their elegance in flight and their sleek bodies and long tails which is pin-shaped.
Male Northern Pintails are celebrated for their distinctive appearance, featuring a chocolate brown head, a white neck, and a grayish body. The most notable characteristic is the long, pointed tail feathers, which give this species its name. Females are more understated in color, sporting a mottled brown plumage.
Diet: Consists primarily of plant matter, including seeds and aquatic vegetation. They are also known to eat insects, especially during the breeding season. The Northern Pintail is often seen dabbling and upending in water bodies to forage for food.
Reproduction: Northern Pintails usually nest on the ground, near water bodies. The female lays a clutch of 7 to 9 eggs and is solely responsible for their incubation, which lasts for about three weeks.
Scientific Name: Aythya americana
Length: 15 in
Wingspan: 33 in
Weight: 2.0 to 2.5 lbs
The Redhead is a medium-sized diving duck species recognized by its rounded head and broad blue bill. This bird is frequently found in wetlands, ponds, and open water bodies across the United States.
Appearance: The male Redhead is particularly striking, characterized by a coppery red head, black breast, and a gray body. The female is less colorful, featuring a brownish body and a duller, brownish-red head. Both sexes have a prominent blue bill with a black tip.
Diet: Redheads feed on a variety of items, including aquatic plants, seeds, and tubers. They also consume aquatic invertebrates, particularly during the breeding season.
Reproduction: Redheads often nest in marshes and ponds with dense vegetation.Females often lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks, a phenomenon known as brood parasitism. When nesting themselves, the female typically lays a clutch of 7 to 10 eggs and incubates them for about three weeks.
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
Scientific Name: Aythya collaris
Length: 15.3-18.1 in
Wingspan: 24.4-24.8 in
Weight: 17.3-32.1 oz
The Ring-Necked Duck is a small to medium-sized diving duck known for its distinctive markings and agile diving abilities.
Appearance: Male Ring-Necked Ducks are characterized by their bold black-and-white coloration, with a glossy black back, a striking white ring around the base of the bill, and two white “rings” on their flanks. Despite their name, the chestnut-colored ring around their neck is often hard to see. Females are more subtly colored with a gray-brown body and a white eye-ring.
Diet: These ducks have a varied diet that includes aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates, which they obtain by diving underwater in both shallow and deep water bodies.
Reproduction: The Ring-Necked Duck nests near water, often in densely vegetated areas. The female typically lays between 8 to 10 eggs, which she incubates alone, but both parents will care for the ducklings once they hatch.
Listen to Bufflehead
Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola
Length: 13–16 in
Wingspan: 21.6 in -23.2 in
Weight: 9.5–19.4 oz
The Bufflehead is a small, compact species of diving duck known for its striking appearance and large heads and unique nesting habits.
Appearance: Male Buffleheads are easily recognized by their large, bulbous head with a green-purple iridescent sheen, a large white patch across the back of the head, and a predominantly black and white body. Females are more subtly colored, primarily in gray-brown tones with a smaller white cheek patch.
Diet: As diving ducks, Buffleheads feed by diving beneath the water’s surface. Their diet consists largely of aquatic invertebrates, such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, as well as some plant matter.
Reproduction: Uniquely among ducks, Buffleheads often nest in tree cavities, especially those made by Northern Flickers, a type of woodpecker. The female lays a clutch of about 6 to 11 eggs, which she incubates alone for roughly a month.
Listen to Hooded Merganser
Scientific Name: Lophodytes cucullatus
Length: 15.8-19.3 in
Wingspan: 23.6-26.0 in
Weight: 16.0-31.0 oz
The Hooded Merganser is a distinctive species of diving duck known for its showy crest and its excellent diving skills.
Appearance: Male Hooded Mergansers are especially striking with a large, fan-shaped, black and white crest, which can be expanded or contracted. They have bright yellow eyes, a dark back, and a white chest. The females have a more understated appearance with a brownish body, a smaller, reddish-brown crest, and dark eyes.
Diet: Consists of small fish, aquatic insects, and crustaceans. Their eyes are specially adapted for underwater vision, allowing them to spot and catch prey while diving.
Reproduction: Similar to Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers often nest in tree cavities near water bodies. The female lays a clutch of about 10 to 12 eggs and incubates them alone for about a month.
Scientific Name: Mergus merganser
Length: 23–28 in
Wingspan: 30 – 38 in
Weight: 2 lb 0 oz – 4 lb 10 oz
The Common Merganser is a large and elegant diving duck, famous for its unique fishing abilities and seen often in the lakes, rivers, and coastal areas across North America.
Appearance: The male Common Merganser is quite striking with its dark green, almost black, crested head, bright red bill, and white body tinged with salmon-pink. The females have a reddish-brown crested head, a white neck, and a grayish body, but share the same red bill as the males.
Diet: True to their diving duck status, Common Mergansers are exceptional hunters, primarily feeding on fish. They’re also known to consume aquatic invertebrates and, on occasion, small mammals and birds. Their serrated bills are specialized to hold slippery fish tightly.
Reproduction: Like the Wood Duck, Common Mergansers also nest in tree cavities or nest boxes close to water bodies, but can also use rock crevices or holes in the ground. A clutch usually contains 9 to 12 eggs, incubated solely by the female.
Scientific Name: Fulica americana
Length: 13–17 in
Wingspan: 23 to 28 in
Weight: 1.270 to 1.870 lb
The American Coot is a ubiquitous water bird commonly seen in the wetlands, lakes, and ponds of North America, recognized for its adaptability and striking features.
Appearance: American Coots are easily identifiable by their slate-gray bodies, offset by a white, chicken-like bill and a red eye. Their legs are also distinctive, equipped with lobed toes, as opposed to the webbed feet seen in ducks, which assist them in navigating both land and water adeptly.
Diet: While aquatic plants form the bulk of an American Coot’s diet, they aren’t strictly herbivores. These versatile birds also consume small invertebrates and fish, demonstrating their ability to adapt and survive in a variety of habitats.
Reproduction: Nesting for the American Coot usually happens in shallow water bodies, where they construct a floating nest hidden among the vegetation. A clutch can contain between 8 to 12 eggs, all of which are incubated by both parents.
Scientific Name: Antigone canadensis
Length: 2 ft 7-4 ft 6 in
Wingspan: 16.5–23.6 in
Weight: 4 – 4.5 kg
The Sandhill Crane is a tall, elegant bird known for its impressive size and striking appearance. They are found across North America, in habitats ranging from wetlands to grasslands.
Appearance: Sandhill Cranes are recognized for their tall stature, gray body, long legs, and long neck. Their most distinctive feature is a red forehead, which contrasts with their otherwise primarily gray plumage. During the breeding season, their gray feathers often take on a rusty-brown hue due to them rubbing iron-rich mud onto their feathers.
Diet: Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous birds and their diet is quite diverse, consisting of seeds, grains, berries, insects, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. They are known to forage while walking in shallow water or in fields.
Reproduction: Sandhill Cranes mate for life and their complex courtship dance is a sight to behold. They nest in marshy areas and the female typically lays two eggs.
Listen to American Wigeon
Scientific Name: Mareca americana
Length: 17–23 in
Wingspan: 30–36 in
Weight: 1 –3 lb
The American Wigeon is a medium-sized duck species that is a popular sight in wetlands, ponds, and lakes and is often seen in mixed flocks with other ducks.
Males of the species are recognized by their distinctive appearance. They sport a unique white forehead and crown, coupled with a green band stretching from the eye to the back of the head. The body is mainly gray with a pinkish hue on the chest. Females are more subdued in color, with primarily gray and brown tones.
Diet: comprising mainly plant material like aquatic vegetation and grasses, but it also includes insects and other small invertebrates. They are known for a feeding behavior called “kleptoparasitism,” where they often snatch food from other ducks.
American Wigeons usually breed in the northernmost parts of North America. The females create their nests on the ground, often hidden in tall grass near water bodies. They lay a clutch of 6 to 11 eggs which they incubate for about three to four weeks and the ducklings feed on small aquatic invertebrates and aquatic insects.
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
Scientific Name: Rynchops niger
Length: 16–20 in
Wingspan: 42–50 in
The Black Skimmer is a unique coastal bird recognizable for its unusual feeding method, giving it a fascinating presence on the beaches and sandbars it calls home.
Appearance: The Black Skimmer sports a stark contrast in color with a black upper body and white lower body. Its most distinctive feature is its bill, which is knife-thin, bright red at the base, and black at the tip. The bird’s lower mandible is much longer than the upper, an adaptation for its unique feeding style.
Diet: As its name suggests, the Black Skimmer feeds by skimming the surface of water bodies with its elongated lower mandible to catch small fish and crustaceans. It mainly feeds at dawn and dusk, relying on touch to sense prey, making it one of the few birds to feed in near darkness.
Reproduction: Black Skimmers nest in colonies on sandbars, beaches, or dredge spoil islands, with both parents sharing incubation duties. The female lays 1 to 5 eggs, which are then incubated for about 23 days. The chicks are semi-precocial, leaving the nest a few days after hatching but staying nearby for protection and feeding by the parents.
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
Scientific Name: Eudocimus albus
Length: 21 to 28 in
Wingspan: 35 to 41 in
Weight: 1.6 – 2.3lb
The White Ibis is a wading bird renowned for its bright white plumage and distinctive, down-curved bill. It’s most commonly found in the marshes, wetlands, and along the coastlines of the southeastern United States.
Appearance: White Ibises display a predominantly white plumage that’s contrasted by their brilliant red-orange down-curved bill and legs. During the breeding season, the skin on their face may become dark blue. Juvenile White Ibises have brown upper parts and white underparts.
Diet: The diet of the White Ibis primarily consists of various invertebrates, including insects, crayfish, and other small crustaceans. Their long, curved bill is perfectly adapted for probing in mud and shallow water while foraging for food.
Reproduction: White Ibises nest in large colonies, often with other wading birds. The female typically lays 2 to 4 eggs in a nest made of twigs and leaves in trees or shrubs.
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Scientific Name: Megaceryle alcyon
Wingspan: 19–23 in
Weight: 4.0 to 6.3 oz
The Belted Kingfisher is a conspicuous water bird, known for its distinct rattling call and impressive diving abilities.
Appearance: The Belted Kingfisher is characterized by a large head with a shaggy crest and a long, thick bill. They have a blue-gray body with white underparts. A defining characteristic is the blue-gray band, or “belt,” across the chest. Males and females have similar coloration, but females have an additional chestnut-colored band on their bellies.
Diet: Belted Kingfishers are excellent fishermen, often seen perched above water bodies, such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, watching for their prey. They primarily feed on fish but will also eat amphibians, crustaceans, insects, small mammals, and reptiles. They hunt by diving headfirst into the water to catch their prey.
Reproduction: Belted Kingfishers nest in burrows that they excavate in sandy or earthy banks, usually near a body of water. These burrows can be up to 8 feet deep. The female lays a clutch of 5 to 8 eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and feeding of the young.
Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Scientific Name: Leucophaeus atricilla
Length: 14–16 in
Wingspan: 39–43 in
Weight: 7.2-13.1 oz
The Laughing Gull is a medium-sized coastal gull that’s notable for its distinctive call that sounds like a high-pitched laugh, giving the bird its common name.
Appearance: Adult Laughing Gulls have a dark, almost black, head in the summer, with a grey body and black wingtips. In the winter, their heads turn white with a smoky gray mask. Their legs are reddish-black, and they have a long, red bill.
Diet: Laughing Gulls are omnivores, eating a varied diet that includes fish, insects, invertebrates like shrimp and crabs, and sometimes even human food waste. They are opportunistic feeders and are often seen foraging in garbage bins in coastal towns.
Reproduction: The Laughing Gull nests in large, noisy colonies. The female typically lays 2 to 4 eggs in a nest constructed from grass, sticks, or seaweed on the ground, often on islands. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, and after they hatch, the chicks stay in the nest for about 20 days before taking their first flight.
Where to Spot North Carolina’s Water Birds
North Carolina is known for its diverse ecosystems, from the Appalachian Mountains to the extensive coastal areas. Here are a few prime locations where you can spot the state’s impressive variety of water birds:
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge: Located on the Outer Banks, this refuge is a stopover for hundreds of species of migratory birds and waterfowl. You may see a range of species, from ducks and geese to herons and egrets as well as plenty of other species, who love the dense vegetation.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore: With its extensive coastline, Cape Hatteras is a great spot to see coastal bird species, including gulls, terns, and pelicans (which is a very large bird) and cattle egrets..
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: Located in the Piedmont region, Jordan Lake is known for its Bald Eagle population, but also hosts many water bird species, including herons, ducks, and Canada geese.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, East Lake: Comprising over 150,000 acres of wetland habitats, you may spot birds like the American Coot, Northern Shoveler, and White-faced Ibis.
Cape Fear River, Wilmington: The diverse ecosystem of this large river system attracts many species of water birds such as the Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, and Black-crowned Night-Heron.
Lake Mattamuskeet, Hyde County: The lake is one of the best bird-watching spots in North Carolina, attracting large numbers of migratory birds in winter. It’s a great place to spot the Northern Pintail, Greater Scaup, and Brandt’s Cormorant.
Water birds are an integral part of North Carolina’s rich biodiversity. From the majestic Blue Heron, known for its striking appearance and size or the common canada goose as well as plenty of small birds. These avian species contribute significantly to the state’s unique ecological tapestry. North Carolina Press has highlighted the importance of water bird conservation, particularly as their migratory patterns span across both North and South America.