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North Carolina's Best Birding Preserves

Nags Head Woods, Roanoke River and Elk Knob State Park


Cerulean Warbler

This beautiful warber is one of the more hard-to site in NC; it can be found on the Roanoke River.

Black Raven

The Common Raven is one of the world’s smartest birds, and can be seen at Elk Knob State park.

Story Highlights
  • Elk Knob State Park contains over 100 species of birds including northern saw-whet owls, broad-winged hawks, ravens, ruffed grouse and several kinds of warblers.
  • The Roanoke River is home to neotropical migrants including Prothonotary warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, American redstart, and the rare cerulean warbler.
  • More than 100 species of birds have been documented at Nags Head Woods; the preserve also serves as an important nesting area for more than 50 species.

Wild turkey are commonly found in North Carolina.

Ee-oh-lay, Ee-oh-lay. The loud, flute-like song of a wood thrush bounced around the the Camassia Slopes Preserve on the Roanoke River last week, letting me know that our breeding neotropical migratory birds are here!

I love birding in North Carolina anytime -- from amazing fall migrations, to huge floating rafts of waterfowl on the coast in the winter. But there is no time more exciting than spring, when breeding residents and summer migrants fill the air with song and call. Here are a few of my picks for birding around the state:

Elk Knob State Park

The Amphibolite Mountains in the northwestern corner of North Carolina are home to a great diversity of birds, both resident and migratory, and have been designated as an Important Bird Area by The Audubon Society.

Elk Knob covers 2,841 acres of the Amphibolites and was protected by TNC in 2002. Today it is a state park that is home to over 100 species of birds including northern saw-whet owls, broad-winged hawks, ravens, ruffed grouse, chestnut-sided warblers, black-throated blue warblers, ovenbirds, and Canada warblers.

Elk Knob State Park is part of the North Carolina Birding Trail and visitors can hike along the 1.9 mile (one-way) Summit Trail for great birding and spectacular views.

Roanoke River

The Roanoke River flows over 137 miles across North Carolina’s coastal plain and contains the largest intact bottomland forest ecosystem remaining in the mid-Atlantic. These bottomland forests and wetlands provide critical habitat for wildlife and more than 200 species of birds have been observed in the floodplain -- including 51 species of neotropical migrants. TNC has helped to protect over 94,000 acres in the Roanoke River floodplain.

During spring and summer, birders can see large numbers of neotropical migrants including Prothonotary warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, American redstart, and the rare cerulean warbler. Other commonly seen birds include wood duck, mallard and eastern wild turkey.

TNC's Roanoke Preserves are not open to the public, but the Roanoke River can be accessed via the Roanoke River Paddle Trail and the paddle trail's camping platforms. For information on planning paddle trips on the Roanoke, visit the Roanoke River Partners website; also check out the U.S. Geological Survey's and Fish and Wildlife's bird checklists.

Nags Head Woods

This extensive ecological preserve on the Outer Banks protects a remarkable range of unique habitats including forested dunes, interdune ponds, marshes, and wetlands.

The diversity of Nags Head Woods makes it a great place for birds -- more than 100 species have been document on the preserve. In addition, the preserve serves as an important nesting area for more than 50 species including green heron, wood duck, red-shouldered hawk, clapper rail, ruby-throated hummingbird, pileated woodpecker, Prothonotary warbler, and summer tanager.

When you arrive at the preserve, please visit our outdoor information counter for trail guides and more information on the flora and fauna of Nags Head Woods. Our Nags Head Woods page also includes both a trail map as well as an animal brochure that includes birds of the area.


We'd love to hear about and see pictures of your favorite birding places in North Carolina on our Facebook page. Happy birding!!

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