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40 Grey Birds of North Carolina

grey birds of north carolina
Grey Catbird in Wake, North Carolina: Photo by Ryan Justice

Introduction

North Carolina’s diverse landscapes are home to a variety of avian species, including a fascinating array of grey-feathered birds. From the elegant flight of the Great Blue Heron to the haunting call of the Eastern Phoebe, these birds contribute to the state’s rich biodiversity. Let’s delve into the of grey birds in North Carolina and discover the beauty and significance they bring to the Tar Heel State.

Jump to a species!

Rock Dove (Columba livia)

  • Features: The Rock Dove, commonly known as the pigeon, is a familiar sight in urban areas with grey plumage, iridescent feathers on the neck, and a distinctive cooing call. They are highly adaptable birds that thrive in a variety of habitats.
  • Locations: Rock Doves can be found in cities, towns, and agricultural areas across North Carolina, where they forage for food scraps and nest on buildings and ledges.
  • Fun Fact: Rock Doves have been domesticated for thousands of years and have been used for communication, racing, and as pets.

Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

  • Features: The Eurasian Collared Dove is a pale grey bird with a distinctive black collar on its neck and a squared tail. They have a gentle cooing call and are often seen foraging on the ground for seeds and grains.
  • Locations: Eurasian Collared Doves can be found in suburban areas, agricultural fields, and open woodlands across North Carolina, where they have become established in recent decades.
  • Fun Fact: Eurasian Collared Doves are native to Europe and Asia but have rapidly expanded their range across North America in the past century.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

  • Features: The Mourning Dove is a graceful bird with soft grey plumage, a long, pointed tail, and a distinctive mournful cooing call. They are one of the most widespread and abundant birds in North America.
  • Locations: Mourning Doves can be found in a wide range of habitats, including fields, forests, and urban areas, across North Carolina, where they forage for seeds and grains.
  • Fun Fact: Mourning Doves are monogamous and often mate for life, forming strong pair bonds with their partners.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

  • Features: The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a slender bird with grey-brown plumage, a long tail with white spots, and a distinctive yellow bill. They have a unique “ka-ka-ka-ka-owp” call and are often heard rather than seen.
  • Locations: Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be found in deciduous forests, woodlands, and riparian areas across North Carolina, where they forage for caterpillars and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Yellow-billed Cuckoos are known for their habit of laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species, a behavior known as brood parasitism.

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)

  • Features: The Common Nighthawk is a nocturnal bird with mottled grey-brown plumage, a white throat patch, and long, pointed wings. They have a distinctive “peent” call and are often seen flying low over open areas at dusk.
  • Locations: Common Nighthawks can be found in open habitats, including grasslands, urban areas, and coastal marshes, across North Carolina, where they forage for flying insects.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, Common Nighthawks are not true hawks and belong to the nightjar family.

Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans)

  • Features: The Clapper Rail is a secretive bird with grey-brown plumage, a long, down-curved bill, and long legs adapted for wading through marshes and wetlands. They have a distinctive “kek-kek-kek” call.
  • Locations: Clapper Rails can be found in saltmarshes, estuaries, and coastal wetlands across North Carolina, where they forage for small crabs, mollusks, and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Clapper Rails are expert runners and can quickly disappear into dense vegetation to escape predators.

Sora (Porzana carolina)

  • Features: The Sora is a small, elusive bird with grey-brown plumage, a short tail, and long toes adapted for walking on floating vegetation. They have a distinctive whinnying call.
  • Locations: Soras can be found in freshwater marshes, wetlands, and rice fields across North Carolina, where they forage for seeds, insects, and small invertebrates.
  • Fun Fact: Soras are migratory birds that breed in North America and winter in the southern United States and Central America.

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

  • Features: The Grey Plover is a medium-sized shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a black face and belly, and white underparts. They have a distinctive black armpit patch and a melodious whistling call.
  • Locations: Grey Plovers can be found along coastal beaches, mudflats, and estuaries in North Carolina during migration and winter, where they forage for crustaceans, mollusks, and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Grey Plovers undertake long-distance migrations, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in North and South America.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

  • Features: The Piping Plover is a small, pale shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a white belly, and distinctive black bands on its forehead and chest. They have a distinctive piping call.
  • Locations: Piping Plovers can be found on sandy beaches, coastal dunes, and barrier islands in North Carolina during migration and breeding season, where they forage for insects and small crustaceans.
  • Fun Fact: Piping Plovers are listed as a threatened species due to habitat loss, predation, and disturbance from human activities.

Eurasian/Hudsonian Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

  • Features: The Whimbrel is a medium-sized shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a long, curved bill, and a distinctive striped head pattern. They have a bubbling call and are often seen probing the sand for invertebrates.
  • Locations: Whimbrels can be found on coastal beaches, mudflats, and marshes in North Carolina during migration, where they forage for crabs, worms, and mollusks.
  • Fun Fact: Whimbrels have one of the longest migratory flights of any shorebird, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in South America.

Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)

  • Features: The Solitary Sandpiper is a small, solitary shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a white belly, and distinctive white eye rings. They have a soft, whistling call and are often seen foraging along the edges of ponds and streams.
  • Locations: Solitary Sandpipers can be found in freshwater wetlands, ponds, and streams across North Carolina during migration, where they forage for insects, worms, and small crustaceans.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, Solitary Sandpipers are often seen in small groups during migration.

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

  • Features: The Lesser Yellowlegs is a medium-sized shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a long, straight bill, and distinctive yellow legs. They have a soft, melodious call and are often seen foraging in shallow water.
  • Locations: Lesser Yellowlegs can be found in freshwater and saltwater habitats, including marshes, mudflats, and coastal estuaries, across North Carolina during migration, where they forage for insects, crustaceans, and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Lesser Yellowlegs are highly migratory birds, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in South America.

Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

  • Features: The Willet is a large, robust shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a long, straight bill, and distinctive black and white wing patterns. They have a loud, piercing call and are often seen probing the sand for prey.
  • Locations: Willets can be found on coastal beaches, mudflats, and saltmarshes in North Carolina during migration and breeding season, where they forage for crabs, mollusks, and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Willets are known for their bold and aggressive behavior, often chasing away smaller shorebirds from their feeding grounds.

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

  • Features: The Greater Yellowlegs is a large shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a long, slender bill, and distinctive yellow legs. They have a loud, piercing call and are often seen foraging in shallow water.
  • Locations: Greater Yellowlegs can be found in freshwater and saltwater habitats, including marshes, mudflats, and coastal estuaries, across North Carolina during migration, where they forage for insects, crustaceans, and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Greater Yellowlegs are highly territorial birds and will aggressively defend their feeding grounds from other shorebirds.

Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus)

  • Features: The Stilt Sandpiper is a medium-sized shorebird with grey-brown plumage, long, thin legs, and a distinctive long, straight bill. They have a soft, whistling call and are often seen foraging in shallow water.
  • Locations: Stilt Sandpipers can be found in freshwater and saltwater habitats, including marshes, mudflats, and coastal estuaries, across North Carolina during migration, where they forage for insects, crustaceans, and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Stilt Sandpipers are known for their distinctive feeding behavior, in which they rapidly pick at the water’s surface with their bill while walking forward.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

  • Features: The Sanderling is a small shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a short, stout bill, and distinctive black legs. They have a soft, chirping call and are often seen running along sandy beaches.
  • Locations: Sanderlings can be found on coastal beaches, mudflats, and sandbars in North Carolina during migration and winter, where they forage for small invertebrates in the sand.
  • Fun Fact: Sanderlings have one of the longest migrations of any shorebird, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in South America.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

  • Features: The Dunlin is a small shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a long, curved bill, and distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage. They have a soft, bubbling call and are often seen probing the sand for prey.
  • Locations: Dunlins can be found on coastal beaches, mudflats, and saltmarshes in North Carolina during migration and winter, where they forage for small invertebrates in the sand.
  • Fun Fact: Dunlins are highly gregarious birds and are often seen in large flocks during migration.

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)

  • Features: The Western Sandpiper is a small shorebird with grey-brown plumage, a short, straight bill, and distinctive white wing stripes. They have a soft, whistling call and are often seen foraging in shallow water.
  • Locations: Western Sandpipers can be found in freshwater and saltwater habitats, including marshes, mudflats, and coastal estuaries, across North Carolina during migration, where they forage for insects, crustaceans, and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Western Sandpipers are highly migratory birds, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in South America.

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

  • Features: Bonaparte’s Gull is a small, delicate gull with grey-brown plumage, a black hood during breeding season, and distinctive white wing patches. They have a soft, high-pitched call and are often seen foraging over water.
  • Locations: Bonaparte’s Gulls can be found on freshwater lakes, rivers, and coastal estuaries in North Carolina during migration and winter, where they forage for fish, insects, and small crustaceans.
  • Fun Fact: Bonaparte’s Gulls are one of the few gull species that nest in trees, typically in boreal forests near freshwater lakes.

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

  • Features: The Laughing Gull is a medium-sized gull with grey-brown plumage, a black head during breeding season, and distinctive white eye crescents. They have a loud, raucous call that sounds like laughter.
  • Locations: Laughing Gulls can be found on coastal beaches, estuaries, and harbors in North Carolina during migration and breeding season, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and scavenged food.
  • Fun Fact: Laughing Gulls are highly social birds and are often seen in large flocks, particularly during the breeding season.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull with grey-brown plumage, a distinctive black ring around its yellow bill, and a white head during breeding season. They have a loud, piercing call.
  • Locations: Ring-billed Gulls can be found on freshwater lakes, rivers, and coastal estuaries in North Carolina during migration and winter, where they forage for fish, insects, and scavenged food.
  • Fun Fact: Ring-billed Gulls are opportunistic feeders and are known to scavenge for food at landfills, parking lots, and other human habitats.

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

  • Features: The American Herring Gull is a large, robust gull with grey-brown plumage, a thick, yellow bill, and pink legs. They have a deep, guttural call and are often seen foraging in coastal waters.
  • Locations: American Herring Gulls can be found on coastal beaches, harbors, and estuaries in North Carolina during migration and winter, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and scavenged food.
  • Fun Fact: American Herring Gulls are one of the most widespread gull species in North America and can be found in a wide range of habitats.

Least Tern (Sternula antillarum)

  • Features: The Least Tern is a small, elegant tern with grey-brown plumage, a black cap during breeding season, and distinctive white wing patches. They have a soft, high-pitched call and are often seen diving for fish over coastal waters.
  • Locations: Least Terns can be found on sandy beaches, coastal dunes, and barrier islands in North Carolina during migration and breeding season, where they forage for small fish and crustaceans.
  • Fun Fact: Least Terns are highly migratory birds that breed along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of North America before migrating to Central and South America for the winter.

Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)

  • Features: The Gull-billed Tern is a medium-sized tern with grey-brown plumage, a black cap during breeding season, and a distinctive thick, black bill. They have a soft, raspy call and are often seen foraging over coastal waters.
  • Locations: Gull-billed Terns can be found on coastal beaches, estuaries, and saltmarshes in North Carolina during migration and breeding season, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Gull-billed Terns are opportunistic feeders and will scavenge for food at landfills, fish processing plants, and other human habitats.

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)

  • Features: The Forster’s Tern is a medium-sized tern with grey-brown plumage, a black cap during breeding season, and distinctive white wing patches. They have a soft, raspy call and are often seen diving for fish over coastal waters.
  • Locations: Forster’s Terns can be found on coastal beaches, estuaries, and saltmarshes in North Carolina during migration and breeding season, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Forster’s Terns are highly agile flyers and are capable of hovering in place while searching for prey.

Wilson’s Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

  • Features: Wilson’s Storm Petrel is a small seabird with grey-brown plumage, a white rump, and distinctive black wing markings. They have a soft, whistling call and are often seen flitting low over the waves.
  • Locations: Wilson’s Storm Petrels can be found in offshore waters along the North Carolina coast during migration and winter, where they forage for plankton and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Wilson’s Storm Petrels are highly adapted for life at sea and are capable of drinking seawater to supplement their diet.

Band-rumped Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma castro)

  • Features: The Band-rumped Storm Petrel is a small seabird with grey-brown plumage, a white rump, and distinctive black wing markings. They have a soft, whistling call and are often seen flitting low over the waves.
  • Locations: Band-rumped Storm Petrels can be found in offshore waters along the North Carolina coast during migration and winter, where they forage for plankton and small fish.
  • Fun Fact: Band-rumped Storm Petrels are highly gregarious birds and are often seen in large flocks over the open ocean.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

  • Features: The Yellow-crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized heron with grey-brown plumage, a distinctive black crown, and yellow legs. They have a soft, hoarse call and are often seen foraging for fish and crustaceans in coastal wetlands.
  • Locations: Yellow-crowned Night Herons can be found in saltmarshes, mangroves, and coastal wetlands along the North Carolina coast, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Yellow-crowned Night Herons are primarily nocturnal birds and are most active at night when they hunt for food.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

  • Features: The Black-crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized heron with grey-brown plumage, a black crown, and red eyes. They have a deep, guttural call and are often seen foraging for fish and crustaceans in coastal wetlands.
  • Locations: Black-crowned Night Herons can be found in saltmarshes, mangroves, and coastal wetlands along the North Carolina coast, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and insects.
  • Fun Fact: Black-crowned Night Herons are highly adaptable birds and can be found in a wide range of freshwater and saltwater habitats.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: The Great Blue Heron is a large, majestic heron with grey-blue plumage, a long neck, and a dagger-like bill. They have a loud, raucous call and are often seen wading in shallow water.
  • Locations: Great Blue Herons can be found in a wide range of freshwater and saltwater habitats, including marshes, rivers, and coastal wetlands, across North Carolina, where they forage for fish, frogs, and small mammals.
  • Fun Fact: Great Blue Herons are patient hunters and will stand motionless for long periods of time, waiting for prey to come within striking distance.

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

  • Features: The Mississippi Kite is a medium-sized raptor with grey-brown plumage, a distinctive black mask, and long, pointed wings. They have a soft, whistling call and are often seen soaring high in the sky.
  • Locations: Mississippi Kites can be found in open woodlands, parks, and suburban areas across North Carolina during the breeding season, where they forage for insects and small birds.
  • Fun Fact: Mississippi Kites are highly social birds and are often seen in large flocks during migration.

Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens)

  • Features: The Eastern Wood Pewee is a small flycatcher with grey-brown plumage, a white belly, and distinctive wing bars. They have a soft, plaintive call and are often seen perched on branches in wooded areas.
  • Locations: Eastern Wood Pewees can be found in deciduous forests, woodlands, and parks across North Carolina during the breeding season, where they forage for flying insects.
  • Fun Fact: Eastern Wood Pewees are highly territorial birds and will aggressively defend their nesting territories from other birds.

Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum)

  • Features: The Alder Flycatcher is a small flycatcher with grey-brown plumage, a white eye ring, and distinctive wing bars. They have a soft, whistling call and are often heard rather than seen.
  • Locations: Alder Flycatchers can be found in deciduous and mixed forests across North Carolina during the breeding season, where they forage for flying insects.
  • Fun Fact: Alder Flycatchers are closely related to Willow Flycatchers and were once considered the same species.

Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii)

  • Features: The Willow Flycatcher is a small flycatcher with grey-brown plumage, a pale throat, and distinctive wing bars. They have a soft, whistling call and are often heard rather than seen.
  • Locations: Willow Flycatchers can be found in riparian areas, wetlands, and shrubby habitats across North Carolina during the breeding season, where they forage for flying insects.
  • Fun Fact: Willow Flycatchers are known for their distinctive song, which is often described as “fitz-bew” or “fitz-bew-bew-bew.”

Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus)

  • Features: The Least Flycatcher is a small flycatcher with grey-brown plumage, a pale throat, and a distinct eye ring. They have a soft, whistled “che-bek” call and are often seen perched on branches in wooded areas.
  • Locations: Least Flycatchers can be found in deciduous and mixed forests across North Carolina during the breeding season, where they forage for flying insects.
  • Fun Fact: Least Flycatchers are highly migratory birds that breed in North America and winter in Central and South America.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

  • Features: The Eastern Phoebe is a small flycatcher with grey-brown plumage, a pale belly, and a distinctive habit of wagging its tail. They have a soft, whistled “fee-bee” call and are often seen perched on branches or wires.
  • Locations: Eastern Phoebes can be found in a wide range of habitats, including woodlands, parks, and suburban areas, across North Carolina, where they forage for flying insects.
  • Fun Fact: Eastern Phoebes are known for their nest-building behavior, often constructing their nests on human-made structures such as buildings and bridges.

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)

  • Features: The Loggerhead Shrike is a small, predatory songbird with grey-brown plumage, a black mask, and a hooked bill. They have a soft, melodious call and are often seen perched on fence posts or wires.
  • Locations: Loggerhead Shrikes can be found in open habitats, including grasslands, shrublands, and agricultural fields, across North Carolina, where they forage for insects, small birds, and rodents.
  • Fun Fact: Loggerhead Shrikes are known for their habit of impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire, earning them the nickname “butcher bird.”

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

  • Features: The Tufted Titmouse is a small songbird with grey-brown plumage, a distinctive crest on its head, and rusty-colored flanks. They have a loud, whistled “peter-peter-peter” call and are often seen foraging in trees and shrubs.
  • Locations: Tufted Titmice can be found in deciduous and mixed forests, woodlands, and suburban areas across North Carolina, where they forage for insects, seeds, and nuts.
  • Fun Fact: Tufted Titmice are cavity nesters and will readily use birdhouses or nest boxes provided by humans.

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: The Blue-grey Gnatcatcher is a small songbird with blue-grey plumage, a long, black tail, and white eye rings. They have a soft, squeaky call and are often seen flitting among branches in search of insects.
  • Locations: Blue-grey Gnatcatchers can be found in deciduous and mixed forests, woodlands, and shrubby habitats across North Carolina during the breeding season, where they forage for insects and spiders.
  • Fun Fact: Blue-grey Gnatcatchers are highly active birds and are constantly in motion as they search for prey.

Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

  • Features: The Grey Catbird is a medium-sized songbird with uniform grey plumage, a long, slender bill, and a distinctive black cap. They have a soft, mewing call and are often heard singing from dense thickets and shrubs.
  • Locations: Grey Catbirds can be found in scrubby habitats, thickets, and suburban gardens across North Carolina, where they forage for insects, berries, and fruit.
  • Fun Fact: Grey Catbirds are talented mimics and can imitate the songs of other bird species, as well as a variety of other sounds.

Threats and Conservation

While many of North Carolina’s grey birds are common and widespread, some species face threats from habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Wetland degradation, urbanization, and deforestation are major concerns for species that rely on specific habitats for breeding and foraging. Conservation efforts, including habitat restoration, land protection, and education, are essential for ensuring the long-term survival of these birds and maintaining the state’s rich avian diversity.

Citizen Science

Citizen science projects play a crucial role in monitoring bird populations, tracking migration patterns, and documenting changes in habitat use over time. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts across North Carolina can contribute valuable data to scientific research by participating in bird counts, surveys, and monitoring programs. By recording their observations and sharing their findings with researchers, citizen scientists can help inform conservation efforts and promote the protection of grey birds and their habitats.

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Conclusion

North Carolina’s grey birds contribute to the state’s natural beauty and ecological diversity, representing a wide range of species adapted to diverse habitats and lifestyles. From the coastal wetlands of the Outer Banks to the mountain forests of the Appalachians, these birds play vital roles in their ecosystems, serving as indicators of environmental health and contributing to the balance of nature. By appreciating and protecting these feathered inhabitants, we can ensure a brighter future for North Carolina’s avian treasures.