Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Birdwatching at Carolina Sandhills NWR

Great Blue Heron. Credit: USFWS

Great Blue Heron. Credit: USFWS

Birdwatching is a favorite activity at Carolina Sandhills. The Refuge is home to nearly 200 species of birds, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, the southern bald eagle, and a variety of migratory waterfowl. If you're looking for a place to flesh out your "life list" of birds you've spotted, definitely consider Carolina Sandhills as a prime destination.

Migrating ducks and geese begin to arrive in October and remain through early March. Wood ducks and a small flock of Canada geese are resident on the Refuge and nest here in spring and summer. Many species of water birds, raptors, and songbirds are found on the Refuge throughout the year. Carolina Sandhills has one of the largest remaining populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers, an endangered species that builds its nesting cavity in a living pine tree.




  • Good Birding Spots...
    The Woodland Pond Trail, located approximately one mile from the Refuge office, is a good area for spotting songbirds, possibly Bachman's sparrow. (Caution: this area can be bad for horseflies during the late spring and summer.)


Areas adjacent to the many ponds found on the refuge are usually good for making songbird observations. Pool D is an especially good location. You might also spot beaver, otter, or other small mammals.

Wood duck.  Credit: USFWS

Wood duck. Credit: USFWS


  • Black Creek and Ham Branch are both good areas for spotting neotropical migratory species. Follow Visitor's Drive from the Refuge office to the stop sign after Pool D. Turn right onto the graveled road. Follow the graveled road until you reach a gate. Park here. Walk around the gate, and go to your left to get to Black Creek, and to your right to get to Ham Branch.

Several large open fields located adjacent to Visitor's Drive provide opportunities to see raptors, wild turkey, and small mammals.

Lake Bee and the Triple Lakes area is a good place to spot wood ducks and other water fowl. Martins Lake (our largest lake) is a good site for Canada geese and mallards.

The Oxpen Farm area has a clearly-marked observation tower. The Oxpen area is good for a number of waterfowl species such as hooded mergansers and Canada geese. You can also see raptors in this area.

Many birders come to the Refuge specifically to spot a red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). Listen for this call of the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Note: Every effort should be made to minimize disturbances to the red-cockaded woodpeckers, especially at nesting and roosting cavities. Stay at least 200 feet away from cavity trees. If a bird comes to the tree calling and acting distressed, please back out of the area until this behavior subsides.

You'll find nesting trees throughout the Refuge. They are marked with a white band of paint. You are welcome to wander around the headquarters area; many birders record woodpeckers in this area.

There are several cavity trees in the recreation area at Lake Bee. One is across the Visitors Drive from the recreation area; another is along Visitors Drive near the two picnic shelters closest to the Drive.

refuge map

Click on map for detailed image


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Species listing...
Approximately 192 species have been recorded by Refuge personnel and visiting ornithologists since the Carolina Sandhills Refuge was established in 1939. Another 18 species of accidental or extremely rare occurrence have also been observed.

Click here to download the complete bird list. This list is arranged in the order established by the American Ornithological Union, and includes a key that describes what time of the year you’re likely to see each bird. Additionally, the list details how common each bird is on the Refuge, and you can use this list as a checklist of the birds you have sighted at Carolina Sandhills or in the surrounding region.

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Bird watching tips...
Having the right equipment and wearing the proper clothing can go a long ways to making your bird watching trip to Carolina Sandhills Refuge both enjoyable and productive. Refuge staff will also appreciate your assistance in allowing the birds and other wildlife the freedom to go about their daily routines. Here are some tips:

Bird watchers. Credit: USFWS

Bird watchers. Credit: USFWS

We ask that you stay at least 200 feet away from the nesting and roosting trees of the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species that is being preserved at Carolina Sandhills.

Have a pair of binoculars of at least 8x40, or a strong spotting scope. For photography, you'll need a lens of at least 400mm; longer would be better.

During the cool months, layer your clothing. Temperatures can range widely during the day. If you're sitting for long periods of time while waiting for bird view opportunities, you'll appreciate the extra layers of clothing.

Pack insect repellent during the spring and warmer months. Several areas of the Refuge have large concentrations of horseflies, and mosquitoes can often shorten a bird-watching excursion.

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Last updated: July 20, 2012