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Unusual, Strange, and Weird Birds of North Carolina

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This is a Brown Headed Cow Bird, a small black bird with a brown head.

This is a Brown Headed Cow Bird, a small black bird with a brown head.

North Carolina Birds

North Carolina is home to over 470 wild, native and introduced species. That's a lot of birds. The diverse geography of the state, and its location along the eastern migration routes, makes it a favorite layover, seasonal home or permanent residence for a wide variety of species. The Outer Banks and intra-coastal waterway are homes to dozens of sea birds and migratory waterfowl. The inner sandhill, piedmont and mountain regions are no different. You can find birds of all types, colors and behavior.

Among those species are birds commonly seen around the region, the country and the continent. Robins are one example of this. Robins are a thrush bird found tugging worms out of lawns across American. Others are less common, rarely venturing into the state or just not widely known. Birds like the Brown Headed Cowbird are easy to miss if you don't know to look for them. The unusual markings of the Cowbird are nothing compared to others on my list of favorite unusual birds in North Carolina.

Brown Headed Cowbird Song

The Brown Headed Cowbird

the brown headed cowbird is one of several small black birds with unusual markings. It is a blakc and brown bird that you might miss at first glance. This bird is completely black, except for its head. Its head is a rich dark brown that is easy to mistake for black. However, once you identify one Brown Headed Cowbird you will never look at another black bird again without checking for a brown head.

Brown Headed Cowbirds are considered a nuisance by some because they harm the young of other birds. Instead of building nests Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Then their young are raised by the unwitting parents, often at the expense of their own young. A female Cowbird may lay up to 3 dozen eggs or more over the course of the summer. At one time they were confined to the prairies of the upper mid-west but have since moved eastward as man has cleared more and more forest.

Brown Headed Cowbirds are a smallish black bird, roughly robin sized. They may appear finch like but they are a bit big to be a finch. The beak helps this illusion. It is short with a broad base, good for crunching on seeds and insects. Cowbirds prefer open areas where they can forage on the ground. You can commonly find them in mixed flocks of birds in fields, pastures, meadows or along forest edges. Brown Headed Cowbirds are often found in NC backyards. I usually have several on the ground foraging for seeds knocked out of the feeder.

Red Winged Blackbird: a small black bird with red shoulders. It will sometimes visit NC bird feeders.

Red Winged Blackbird: a small black bird with red shoulders. It will sometimes visit NC bird feeders.

Another Unusual Small Black Bird

The Red Winged Black Bird is another great and unusual small black bird found in NC back yards. Red Winged Blackbirds are also one of the most abundant birds in North America, not just North Carolina. These birds can be found along roadsides sitting on cattails or up on a telephone line where the males will puff themselves up and sing the day away. Red Winged Blackbirds are year round residents of North Carolina but some parts of the population will move up into Canada during the breeding season.

The male Red Winged Blackbird is a shiny and iridescent black with a bold red and yellow stripe on the upper wing. This stripe is a striking flash of color that will easily catch your eye. Females are less boldly colored and resemble several different kinds of sparrows. The male likes to sit up high on a perch, singing for all to hear. While this is going on the females can be found on the ground rooting around in the brush looking for food and building nests. Red Winged Black Birds like wet, marshy areas and can be found along roadside ditches, ponds, lakes, rivers and gold courses.

You can attract Red Winged Blackbirds to your back yard feeder. These birds like grains and mixed seeds, especially on the ground. If necessary you can scatter seed, grain or corn on the ground but I have found that plenty gets knocked out of my feeder naturally.

I think that the Cedar Waxwing is one of NC's most exotic looking birds.

I think that the Cedar Waxwing is one of NC's most exotic looking birds.

Exotic Cedar Waxwing

I think the Cedar Waxwing is one of North Carolina's most exotic looking birds. The ironic thing is another of North America's most widespread avians. Regardless, I like the way this bird looks. The striking mask over the eyes, the way the soft colors fade into each other and the perky tuft on top of the head are a great combination. Cedar Waxwings are a peachy brown color above that fades and blends into a rich gray-blue on the lower back and tail. The chest and belly are also a rich peach color. One of the most striking features of the birds are the bright red and yellow spots on the tips of the wings and tail. These are actually deposits of a waxy substance the birds secret.

Waxwings are year round or winter residents of North Carolina, depending on where you live. They enjoy a mix of forest and open land, particularly around lakes and rivers. They are as likely to be found eating berries or fruit from trees as they are flying around hunting insects from the air. Waxwings are a social bird that will gather in flocks. You can find them in any forested area but they prefer fruit trees. Farms, orchards and well landscaped neighborhoods are all great places to look for Waxwings.

Waxwings will come into your yard. Put up suet cakes with dried fruit at your feeder stations. You can also plant fruit trees to attract them. Cherry, hawthorne, dogwood and juniper are good choices and may already be in your yard or neighborhood.

Wood Ducks

The diverse water ways and wetlands of North Carolina are great places for ducks of all variety. The most brilliantly and most unusual looking duck commonly found in North Carolina is the Wood Duck. This duck is brilliantly painted with rich greens, bold white stripes, blue touches and rich coppery hues. It has without a doubt the boldest markings of any bird in North Carolina. Another feature unique to the Wood Duck is claws. It is one of few duck species capable of clinging to trees and branches.

Wood Ducks can be found in and around marshy, swampy areas, lakes and rivers. They like to nest in hollow trees and will even use nest boxes. Wood ducks can be found flying through wooded areas, unusual for a duck. They have a broad tail and wings that help them maneuver through the trees. Wood Ducks are year round residents in North Carolina but you may notice some movement among them from season to season.

It is unlikely you will find a Wood Duck in your back yard. Of course, many NC residents live on or near wetland areas where Wood Ducks make their home so I could be wrong. I often see them swimming in a small river near my house. The river runs through a moderately forested area just outside of Asheville.

Wood Ducks are one of the most unusual looking birds in North Carolina.

Wood Ducks are one of the most unusual looking birds in North Carolina.

More NC Birds

Questions & Answers

Question: We were camping on a creek near the Blueridge Parkway when I saw a small bird in the brook with a tail held high and wiggling. Do you have any idea what kind of bird that could be?

Answer: That could be a Carolina wren.


Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 30, 2013:

Very nice synopsis on some of your more common birds.

TMHughes (author) from Asheville, NC on April 30, 2013:

hi Thema!

you've probably seen all of these birds at one time or another. I think the most unusual thing about them is that they are all very widespread and are all among the lesser known birds of America. I think they are all very exotic looking and have as much place on TV nature channels as any other bird of the world. :-)

Thelma Raker Coffone from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on April 29, 2013:

Interesting article and nice pictures. I think I have seen some of these guys at my bird feeders. But I am only 10 miles from North Carolina!