25 Types of Water Birds Found in North Carolina

North Carolina is a haven for water bird enthusiasts, offering a diverse array of avian species that thrive in its coastal and inland habitats.

From majestic herons to graceful egrets and colorful ducks, the state is home to 25 Types of water birds Found in North Carolina.

In this article, we will explore these incredible creatures, their unique characteristics, and the picturesque locations where they can be found. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or simply intrigued by the beauty of nature.

join us as we embark on a journey through North Carolina’s vibrant birdlife and discover the mesmerizing world of water birds.

25 Types of Water Birds Found in North Carolina

Here is a list of 25 types of water birds that call North Carolina home

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is a magnificent water bird with a towering stature and a distinctive blue-gray plumage. It can be found in marshes, swamps, and along the shores of lakes and rivers in North Carolina.

These majestic birds have long legs, a long neck, and a sharp, pointed bill, which they use to catch their prey. Great Blue Herons are skilled hunters, patiently stalking fish, frogs, and small mammals.

Their large wingspan and slow, deliberate movements make them a captivating sight to behold.

Different Types of Water Birds
Bird NameGreat Blue Heron
HabitatMarshes, swamps, lakes, rivers
CharacteristicsTall stature, blue-gray plumage, long legs, long neck, sharp beak
DietFish, frogs, small mammals
BehaviorSkilled hunter, patient stalkers

Brown Pelican

The Brown Pelican is an iconic coastal bird that is synonymous with the beaches of North Carolina. These large birds have long bills and a unique pouch beneath their beaks, which they use to catch fish.

Brown Pelicans are known for their spectacular diving skills as they plunge headfirst into the water to catch their prey.

They have a brownish-gray plumage with a white head and neck during the breeding season. Brown Pelicans are a delightful sight along the coast, gracefully soaring above the waves and performing their impressive dives.

Bird NameBrown Pelican
HabitatCoastal areas
CharacteristicsLong bill, pouch beneath beak, brownish-gray plumage, white head and neck (breeding season)  
BehaviorSpectacular divers, graceful soarers

Also Read: 25 Types of Water Birds Found in Michigan


The Mallard is one of the most common duck species found in North Carolina. The males have vibrant green heads, a yellow bill, and a brown body, while the females have a mottled brown appearance. Mallards can be seen in lakes, ponds, and rivers, often forming small flocks.


They are adaptable birds that feed on a variety of plant matter, seeds, and small aquatic invertebrates. Mallards are known for their dabbling behavior, where they tip their bodies into the water to feed on submerged vegetation and invertebrates.

Bird NameMallard
HabitatLakes, ponds, rivers
CharacteristicsVibrant green head (male), mottled brown appearance (female), yellow bill
DietPlant matter, seeds, small aquatic invertebrates
BehaviorDabbling, forms small flocks

Wood Duck

The Wood Duck is a stunningly beautiful bird with colorful plumage. It is known for its striking patterns and vibrant hues. Wood Ducks prefer wooded swamps, marshes, and beaver ponds, where they nest in tree cavities or man-made nest boxes.

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These ducks are a sight to behold, especially during their elaborate courtship displays. The males have a glossy green head, a chestnut-colored breast, and intricate patterns on their wings, while the females have a gray-brown appearance with a distinctive white eye-ring.

Bird NameWood Duck
HabitatWooded swamps, marshes, beaver ponds
CharacteristicsColorful plumage, glossy green head (male), chestnut-colored breast (male), intricate patterns on wings (male)
DietSeeds, fruits, insects, aquatic invertebrates
BehaviorElaborate courtship displays, nests in tree cavities or nest boxes

American Coot

The American Coot is a peculiar-looking water bird with a white bill, red eyes, and a gray-black body. Despite their similar appearance to ducks, they are actually more closely related to rails and cranes.

American Coots are often found in large flocks and are known for their distinctive calls and vigorous swimming abilities. They have lobed toes instead of webbed feet, which aid in better maneuvering through dense vegetation. These birds feed on aquatic plants, algae, and small invertebrates.

Bird NameAmerican Coot
HabitatLakes, ponds, marshes
CharacteristicsWhite bill, red eyes, gray-black body, lobed toes
DietAquatic plants, algae, small invertebrates
BehaviorForms large flocks, vigorous swimmers, distinctive calls

Double-Crested Cormorant

The Double-Crested Cormorant is a medium-to-large-sized water bird with a dark plumage and a slender neck. These birds are excellent divers and can stay submerged for extended periods while hunting for fish.

Double-Crested Cormorants are commonly seen in coastal areas, lakes, and reservoirs throughout North Carolina. They have a distinctively hooked bill and webbed feet that enable them to navigate through the water with ease.

While swimming, they often hold their wings outstretched to dry. These birds are social in nature and can be found nesting in large colonies.

Bird NameDouble-Crested Cormorant
HabitatCoastal areas, lakes, reservoirs
CharacteristicsDark plumage, slender neck, hooked bill, webbed feet
BehaviorExcellent divers, holds wings outstretched to dry, nests in colonies


The Osprey, also known as the “fish hawk,” is a bird of prey that is well-adapted for catching fish. With its keen eyesight and sharp talons, the Osprey soars high above the water, searching for its next meal.


These impressive birds can be spotted near bodies of water, including rivers, lakes, and coastal regions. Ospreys have a white head, a dark brown body, and long, narrow wings that allow them to glide effortlessly.

They build large stick nests in trees or on man-made structures, often returning to the same nest year after year.

Bird NameOsprey
HabitatRivers, lakes, coastal regions
CharacteristicsWhite head, dark brown body, long, narrow wings
BehaviorExcellent hunters, builds stick nests

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle is a majestic and iconic bird of North America, and it is also found in North Carolina. With its white head and tail contrasting against a dark brown body, the Bald Eagle is a symbol of strength and freedom.

These birds primarily feed on fish and can be observed near water bodies, particularly large lakes and rivers. Bald Eagles have powerful beaks, sharp talons, and a remarkable wingspan.

They build massive nests in tall trees near the water, often reusing the same nest year after year.

Bird NameBald Eagle
HabitatLarge lakes, rivers
CharacteristicsWhite head, white tail, dark brown body, powerful beak, sharp talons
BehaviorSymbolic, builds massive nests

Also Read: 25 Types of Water Birds Found in Michigan

Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egret is a graceful water bird with pristine white plumage and long, slender black legs. It can be easily distinguished by its yellow feet and a plume of feathers on its head during the breeding season.

Snowy Egrets inhabit marshes, swamps, and shallow coastal areas, where they use their sharp beaks to catch fish and crustaceans.

These elegant birds are known for their graceful foraging techniques, which involve slowly wading through the water and using their bright yellow feet to stir up prey.

Bird NameSnowy Egret
HabitatMarshes, swamps, shallow coastal areas
CharacteristicsPristine white plumage, long, slender black legs, yellow feet (breeding season)
DietFish, crustaceans
BehaviorGraceful foragers, wades through water, uses yellow feet to stir up prey

Canada Goose

The Canada Goose is a familiar sight in North Carolina, known for its distinctive honking calls and V-shaped flying formations. These large water birds have a black head and neck, a brownish-gray body, and a white chinstrap.

canada goose

Canada Geese can be found near lakes, ponds, and rivers, often grazing on grassy areas. They are herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants and grasses.

Canada Geese are known for their strong family bonds and their impressive annual migrations.

Bird NameCanada Goose
HabitatLakes, ponds, rivers
CharacteristicsBlack head and neck, brownish-gray body, white chinstrap
DietPlants, grasses
BehaviorDistinctive calls, strong family bonds, migratory

American White Pelican

The American White Pelican is a striking bird with its large size and pure white plumage. Unlike the Brown Pelican, it does not dive for fish but rather scoops them up while swimming.

American White Pelicans are known to form large flocks during migration and can be seen in North Carolina’s coastal regions and large lakes. They have a long, broad bill, a wingspan that can reach up to nine feet, and a unique pouch beneath their bill.

These pelicans are graceful in flight and fascinating to observe.

Bird NameAmerican White Pelican
HabitatCoastal regions, large lakes
CharacteristicsLarge size, pure white plumage, long, broad bill, wingspan up to nine feet
WingspanVery large
BehaviorScoops fish while swimming, forms large flocks

Pied-Billed Grebe

The Pied-Billed Grebe is a small water bird with a distinctive black band around its bill. It is an excellent diver and spends much of its time underwater, foraging for small fish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates.

These grebes prefer freshwater habitats such as ponds, marshes, and shallow lakes. Pied-Billed Grebes have a unique ability to sink slowly into the water, hence their nickname “water-witch.”

They are known for their secretive behavior and their distinctive, haunting calls.

Bird NamePied-Billed Grebe
HabitatFreshwater habitats, ponds, marshes, shallow lakes
CharacteristicsBlack band around bill, excellent diver
DietSmall fish, insects, aquatic invertebrates
BehaviorSinks slowly into water, secretive, haunting calls

Northern Pintail

The Northern Pintail is a graceful duck with a slender body and a long, thin neck. The males have a chocolate-brown head and a white breast, while the females are mottled brown.

Types of Water Birds

Northern Pintails can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, flooded fields, and estuaries, during their migration and wintering periods. They are dabbling ducks and feed by tipping their bodies into the water to reach submerged vegetation and invertebrates.

These ducks are known for their elegant, sweeping flight and their distinctive, high-pitched whistling calls.

Bird NameNorthern Pintail
HabitatWetland habitats, marshes, flooded fields, estuaries
CharacteristicsSlender body, long neck, chocolate-brown head (male), mottled brown (female)
DietSubmerged vegetation, invertebrates
WingspanModerate to large
BehaviorDabbling ducks, elegant flight, high-pitched whistling calls

Also Read: 22 Types of Water Birds Found in Ohio

Green Heron

The Green Heron is a small heron with a greenish-black cap, a chestnut-colored neck, and a gray body. Known for its stealthy hunting technique, it waits patiently along the water’s edge and uses its sharp bill to snatch fish and other small prey.

Green Herons can be found in North Carolina’s marshes, swamps, and along the banks of streams and rivers. They are skilled at blending into their surroundings and often adopt a hunched posture to appear inconspicuous.

These herons are also known for their series of sharp, distinctive calls.

Bird NameGreen Heron
HabitatMarshes, swamps, streams, rivers
CharacteristicsGreenish-black cap, chestnut-colored neck, gray body
DietFish, small prey
BehaviorStealthy hunters, hunched posture, sharp calls

Red-Breasted Merganser

The Red-Breasted Merganser is a diving duck with a long, slender bill and a striking appearance. The males have a dark green head, a reddish-brown breast, and a gray body, while the females have a brownish-gray appearance.

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These ducks can be found in coastal areas, lakes, and rivers in North Carolina.

Red-Breasted Mergansers are skilled divers and feed primarily on fish and aquatic invertebrates. During courtship displays, the males engage in impressive head tossing and chasing behaviors.

Bird NameRed-Breasted Merganser
HabitatCoastal areas, lakes, rivers
CharacteristicsLong, slender bill, dark green head (male), reddish-brown breast (male), gray body
DietFish, aquatic invertebrates
BehaviorSkilled divers, courtship displays

Black Skimmer

The Black Skimmer is a unique bird with a distinctively long lower bill and a striking black and white appearance. It can be found along North Carolina’s coastal regions, particularly on sandy beaches and in estuaries.

Black Skimmers are known for their remarkable feeding technique, where they fly low over the water’s surface with their lower bill slicing through the water to catch fish.

They form large colonies and engage in courtship displays that involve aerial acrobatics and bill snapping.

Bird NameBlack Skimmer
HabitatCoastal regions, sandy beaches, estuaries
CharacteristicsLong lower bill, black and white plumage
BehaviorUnique feeding technique, forms colonies, courtship displays

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Common Loon

The Common Loon is a distinctive water bird known for its striking black and white plumage, red eyes, and haunting calls. It can be found in North Carolina’s lakes, ponds, and coastal waters.

common loon

Common Loons are excellent divers and spend much of their time underwater, catching fish and other aquatic prey. They have a sleek body, a long, straight bill, and a wingspan that allows for swift swimming.

During breeding season, they engage in territorial displays, including their iconic “yodel” call.

Bird NameCommon Loon
HabitatLakes, ponds, coastal waters
CharacteristicsBlack and white plumage, red eyes
DietFish, aquatic prey
BehaviorExcellent divers, territorial displays, haunting calls

American Wigeon

The American Wigeon is a medium-sized dabbling duck with a unique appearance. The males have a creamy-white forehead, a green patch behind the eye, and a pinkish-brown body, while the females have a mottled brown appearance.

These ducks can be found in wetlands, marshes, and coastal areas. American Wigeons feed on a variety of aquatic vegetation, seeds, and insects.

They are known for their whistling calls and their habit of tipping their bodies forward while feeding.

Bird NameAmerican Wigeon
HabitatWetlands, marshes, coastal areas
CharacteristicsCreamy-white forehead (male), green patch behind eye (male), pinkish-brown body (male)  
DietAquatic vegetation, seeds, insects
BehaviorWhistling calls, tips body forward while feeding

White Ibis

The White Ibis is a striking water bird with a long, curved bill and a distinctive white plumage. It can be found in coastal marshes, swamps, and wetlands in North Carolina.

These birds have long legs that enable them to wade through shallow waters while foraging for small aquatic prey, such as fish, crustaceans, and insects.

White Ibises are often seen in groups, probing the mud with their bills or flying in graceful formations with their necks outstretched.

Bird NameWhite Ibis
HabitatCoastal marshes, swamps, wetlands
CharacteristicsLong, curved bill, white plumage
DietFish, crustaceans, insects
BehaviorWading foragers, seen in groups, graceful flight

Northern Shoveler

The Northern Shoveler is a medium-sized dabbling duck with a unique shovel-shaped bill. The males have a glossy green head, a white breast, and a chestnut-brown body, while the females have a mottled brown appearance.

These ducks can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, ponds, and lakes.

Northern Shovelers feed by filtering water through their bill, capturing small aquatic invertebrates, seeds, and vegetation. They are known for their swift, circular wingbeats and their distinctive “scooping” feeding behavior.

Bird NameNorthern Shoveler
HabitatWetland habitats, marshes, ponds, lakes
CharacteristicsShovel-shaped bill, glossy green head (male), white breast (male), chestnut-brown body (male)  
DietAquatic invertebrates, seeds, vegetation
BehaviorFiltering feeders, swift wingbeats, “scooping” feeding behavior

Also Read: 25 Types of Water Birds Found in Maryland

Least Bittern

The Least Bittern is a small heron with a mottled brown plumage that helps it blend seamlessly with its marshy surroundings.

It can be found in dense emergent vegetation, such as reeds and cattails, along the edges of marshes and swamps. Least Bitterns are expert at stealthy hunting, slowly moving through the vegetation and using their long bill to snatch small fish, frogs, and invertebrates.

They are known for their distinctive, deep “coo-coo-coo” calls that resonate across wetland areas.

Bird NameLeast Bittern
HabitatMarshes, swamps, dense vegetation
CharacteristicsMottled brown plumage, long bill
DietSmall fish, frogs, invertebrates
BehaviorStealthy hunters, distinctive calls

Ruddy Duck

The Ruddy Duck is a small diving duck with a compact body and a distinctive blue bill. The males have a chestnut-colored body, a black head, and a white cheek patch, while the females have a mottled brown appearance.

These ducks can be found in lakes, ponds, and wetlands. Ruddy Ducks are excellent divers and feed on aquatic plants, seeds, and small invertebrates.

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During courtship displays, the males inflate their chest feathers and perform elaborate displays known as “bubbling.”

Bird NameRuddy Duck
HabitatLakes, ponds, wetlands
CharacteristicsBlue bill, chestnut-colored body (male), black head (male), white cheek patch (male)
DietAquatic plants, seeds, small invertebrates
BehaviorExcellent divers, elaborate courtship displays

Ring-Billed Gull

The Ring-Billed Gull is a medium-sized gull with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black ring around its yellow bill.

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It can be found in a variety of coastal and inland habitats, including beaches, lakes, and rivers. Ring-Billed Gulls are opportunistic feeders, scavenging for food and also capturing fish, insects, and small crustaceans.

They are known for their distinctive “kaw” calls and their graceful flight patterns. During the breeding season, they form colonies and engage in courtship displays.

Bird NameRing-Billed Gull
HabitatCoastal areas, lakes, rivers
CharacteristicsWhite body, gray wings, black ring around yellow bill
DietScavenges, fish, insects, small crustaceans
BehaviorOpportunistic feeders, distinctive calls, forms colonies

Also Read: 11 Types of Water Birds with Long Neck

Black-Crowned Night Heron

The Black-Crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized heron with a stocky build and a black crown on its head. It can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, swamps, and estuaries.

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These herons are primarily active during the night, hence their name, and are skilled hunters of fish, amphibians, and small invertebrates. Black-Crowned Night Herons have a unique hunched posture and a distinctive “quok” call.

They are known for their patience and their ability to stand motionless for extended periods while waiting for prey.

Bird NameBlack-Crowned Night Heron
HabitatWetland habitats, marshes, swamps, estuaries
CharacteristicsStocky build, black crown on head
DietFish, amphibians, small invertebrates
BehaviorNocturnal hunters, hunched posture, distinctive calls

Great Egret

The Great Egret is a majestic water bird with pristine white plumage, a long neck, and a yellow bill. It can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, swamps, and coastal areas.

Great Egrets are skilled hunters, patiently stalking their prey and using their sharp bill to catch fish, frogs, and small aquatic creatures. They are known for their graceful flight and their impressive wingspan.

Great Egrets are often seen wading through shallow water, their elegant form a striking sight against the natural landscape.

Bird NameGreat Egret
HabitatWetland habitats, marshes, swamps, coastal areas
CharacteristicsPristine white plumage, long neck, yellow bill
DietFish, frogs, small aquatic creatures
BehaviorSkilled hunters, graceful flight, wading through shallow water


With a wide variety of avian species gracing its inland and coastal settings, North Carolina is definitely a sanctuary for enthusiasts of water birds. The majestic Great Blue Heron, graceful Snowy Egret, unusual Least Bittern, and hardy Ruddy Duck are just a few of the aquatic birds that capture us with their beauty, grace, and amazing adaptations.

Each bird has its own unique intriguing traits and habits that make them a wonderful wonder of nature, whether they are flying through the skies, plunging into the ocean, or wading through the water.

Examining the water bird population in North Carolina provides a chance to see how interrelated species and their habitats are.

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What is the most common water bird found in North Carolina?

The most common water bird found in North Carolina is the Mallard, a species of dabbling duck known for its vibrant green head (male) and mottled brown appearance (female).

Where can I spot water birds in North Carolina?

Water birds can be spotted in various habitats across North Carolina, including coastal areas, lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, and wetlands. Some popular birding locations include the Outer Banks, Lake Mattamuskeet, and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Are water birds migratory in North Carolina?

Yes, many water bird species in North Carolina are migratory. They travel to the state during the winter months to take advantage of its milder climate and abundant food sources. Some species also breed in North Carolina during the summer.

 Do water birds have any conservation concerns?

Yes, several water bird species face conservation concerns, such as habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. It is important to support conservation efforts and initiatives that protect their habitats and promote sustainable practices to ensure their long-term survival.

Can I feed water birds in North Carolina?

It is generally recommended not to feed water birds in natural habitats. Feeding them human food can disrupt their natural diet and may lead to dependency on handouts. It is best to observe and appreciate these birds from a distance while respecting their natural behaviors and habitats.

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