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A yellow bird bites at blue and red berries in a forest.
Prothonotary Warbler A Prothonotary Warbler forages at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. © Jeff Lewis

Stories in North Carolina

Travels with Migratory Birds

The Nature Conservancy is working to protect and restore critical habitat for migratory birds in North Carolina.

The Nature Conservancy has protected over 720,000 acres across North Carolina—including prime birding areas in the mountains and coastal plain. We have conservation experts on the ground working to manage this critical habitat for migratory species as they travel south to winter.

Grey bird with black and yellow patches perched on a limb.
Golden-winged Warbler TNC is working to restore habitat for the golden-winged warbler and other migratory birds in the Southern Blue Ridge through management practices such as controlled burning. © Matt Williams

Southern Appalachian Mountains

In the mountains, our land protection work benefits the golden-winged warbler, a migratory songbird whose population has dwindled nearly 70 percent over the past half-century. On their journeys to winter in South and Central America, these warblers pass through the Appalachian Mountains. They are ground nesters, needing grasses and flowering plants to conceal their nests. Sadly, land that would be suitable for nesting has become overgrown.

Indigenous Peoples historically managed land in the Appalachian Mountains with fire, but fire suppression campaigns in the 20th century caused forests to fill in. The result is less habitat for warblers and other birds like them. American woodcock, hooded warbler, yellow-breasted chat, indigo bunting, grasshopper sparrow, prairie warbler, American kestrel, Bachman’s sparrow, vesper sparrow, chipping sparrow, field sparrow and song sparrow are some of the birds that depend on this and similar kinds of habitat. Managing the forest can also be achieved by cutting back vegetation that isn’t natural to the landscape.

Cattle graze on a grassy bald with a blue cloudy sky.
Big Yellow Mountain Big Yellow’s open, grassy bald peak offers a vantage point from which you can look out over range after range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The origin of the bald is unclear, but they was probably formed by a variety of factors, such as climate, grazing, and human-ignited fires. © John Warner

At TNC’s Big Yellow Mountain Preserve in Avery County, staff is working to recreate habitat like this—without burning or thinning. The top of Big Yellow is a bald, mostly grazed by cattle. Along the edges, where the bald meets the forest, we are removing cattle to allow some of the grasses to grow back. If this method works, other balds can be managed in the same way for migratory bird populations.

Southeast Coastal Plain

The prothonotary warbler inhabits swamps and bottomlands of the Coastal Plain. Common to blackwater systems, these birds have been spotted at TNC’s Black River Preserve, home to ancient bald cypress—the fifth oldest tree species in the world. They build their nests inside existing tree cavities, inside stumps, or in cypress knees.

Prothonotary warblers are occasionally seen in the Outer Banks. TNC has protected more than 200,000 acres in northeastern North Carolina, providing habitat for a variety of birds. TNC’s Nags Head Woods Preserve is home to more than 50 species of birds. Nearby, at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, birders may observe species like the black-throated warbler, American kestrel, northern parula and summer tanager.

Grey and brown bird perches on a limb.
At Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, TNC works with partners restore habitat for migratory bird species like the American kestrel. © © Jeff Lewis

The Nature Conservancy is addressing the challenges facing migratory bird populations by continuing to acquire property, restoring forest habitat, and advancing sound climate change policy. Your support makes a difference to birds in North Carolina and beyond.