Birds N-Z


The brown-headed nuthatch occurs in North Carolina throughout the Coastal Plain, essentially throughout the Piedmont, and in a few of the southern mountain counties, at lower elevations. Favored habitats are mature and open longleaf pine stands, such as savannas, flatwoods, and drier sandhills; however, they also are at least locally common in open loblolly, shortleaf, and pond pine stands, less so in Virginia pine.

OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)

Ovenbird favored habitats are middle-aged to mature pine-hardwood stands, oak-hickory forests, and drier portions of floodplain forests. It nests in large numbers over nearly all of North Carolina, always in forests with a leafy ground cover; these forests always have a moderate (but not dense) shrub and understory layer, beneath a varied canopy, in many settings. Small numbers winter in the Southeastern states, but the bulk winter in the tropics.


Owls are found across North Carolina. Owls are largely forest birds with most requiring cavities in dead or hollow trees or dense vegetation to seek refuge during the day. Habitat requirements vary among owl species, so it is important to consider the food and cover requirements of each species when developing a habitat management plan.

NORTHERN BOBWHITE QUAIL (Colinus virginianus)

Although it has no official protection designation, Northern bobwhite quail is a species of interest for many natural resource professionals and forest landowners.  The loss of suitable habitat has had a crushing impact on Northern bobwhite quail, and populations across North Carolina have declined for many years and remain near all-time lows. This bird is particularly scarce in the piedmont and mountains.


The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is state listed North Carolina Special Concern. During winter this bird is fairly common throughout the state, but it nests only at middle and high elevations in the mountains. In summer, it breeds primarily where there are numerous dead trees, such as in recently burned or diseased areas, but it is mysteriously local in its distribution, being practically absent in some mountain counties. However, it is always associated in summer with mature and open stands of hardwoods, and never in dense forests.

BACHMAN’S SPARROW (Peucaea aestivalis)

The Bachman’s Sparrow is state listed North Carolina Special Concern. Habitat loss and fire suppression are considered the most significant threats to the Bachman’s sparrow. In general, prime habitat is mature pine stands that are frequently burned. Sparrows will abandon a site if fire is excluded for more than three years. For these reasons, in North Carolina this bird is found only in the coastal plain and is highly restricted to managed longleaf pine stands.

EASTERN WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

The Eastern Wild Turkey is now found in all 100 North Carolina counties from the mountains to the coast, as well as 49 of the other 50 states, Mexico and Canada.  It thrives best in areas with a mix of forested and open land habitats. Forested areas are used for cover, foraging, and for roosting in trees at night. Open land areas are used for foraging, mating, and brood rearing.

WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)

The Wood Thrush breeds and nests in all 100 counties of North Carolina but its numbers are declining across its range. Their breeding habitat is typically hardwood canopy and must contain a moderate scatter of saplings or small trees, shrubs, and a rich herb layer.  Wood Thrushes are more numerous in damp forests and near streams than in drier woods but will also nest in suburban areas where there are enough large trees. After migration, they winter in understory of lowland tropical forest.

CERULEAN WARBLER (Dendroica cerulea)

The Cerulean Warbler is state listed North Carolina Special Concern. It is one of the more strongly declining songbirds in the eastern part of the United States. It was petitioned to list as Federally Threatened about a decade ago, but the petition failed, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service felt that the species was still too numerous to list. In North Carolina, nesting occurs mainly in the mountains, and along the Roanoke River.

By William H. Majoros - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea)

In North Carolina, the Prothonotary Warbler is a common bird of Coastal Plain swamps, but is much less numerous farther inland, and is apparently absent in the mountains as a breeder. It inhabits swamps, bottomlands, nonriverine forests, wooded beaver ponds, and other wet habitats with some dead trees and stubs for nesting (in existing) cavities. Audubon has identified the Prothonotary Warbler as one of 32 priority-bird species within the Atlantic Flyway. However because its habitat actually appears to be increasing in the East, owing to an increase in beavers and beaver ponds, the Prothonotary Warbler appears to be slightly increasing, as well.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

In North Carolina, this bird is strictly non-migratory and is found year-round in mature hardwood or mixed forests, preferably in bottomlands/swamps. Pileated Woodpeckers forage in large, dead wood—standing dead trees, stumps, or logs lying on the forest floor. They make impressive rectangular excavations that can be a foot or more long and go deep inside the wood. These holes pursue the tunnels of carpenter ants, the woodpecker’s primary food.


The Red-cockaded woodpecker was listed as “endangered” in 1970 and is now one of only two woodpecker species protected by the Endangered Species Act. Because it prefers mature longleaf pine, North Carolina’s population has decreased dramatically with the loss of the state’s longleaf pine forests. Today its presence is limited to extensive managed areas with longleaf pine stands.