Birds

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Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge provides a variety of habitat for over 250 species of birds.  For a complete list, download our Refuge Bird List.  Below, we have highlighted some of our more sought-after and/or most common species.

  • Barred Owl

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    Although primarily nocturnal, Barred Owls can sometimes be seen during the day, where they appear unconcerned, allowing great views. These owls are slightly smaller than Great Horned Owls, and can be distinguished from the former by their lack of ear tufts as well as their dark eyes. Barred Owls give a loud “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all” call, that can be heard from great distances. Barred Owls prefer wetter habitats than Great Horned Owls and feed on a great variety of aquatic and land animals. They can sometimes be seen along the canals on the refuge, sitting on a low perch next to the water watching for frogs.

  • Black-throated Green Warbler

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    Black-throated Green Warblers are one of the earliest warblers to arrive on the refuge and can be found by listening for their song, a buzzy “zee-zee-zee-zee zoo zee”. Like most songbirds, they are most active and can be more easily located in the early morning hours. Also, Black-throated Greens stop singing fairly early in the year and become difficult to locate once the temperatures soar. Look for them high in conifers, especially in stands of Atlantic White Cedars and Bald Cypress trees. 

  • Blue Grosbeak

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    Like an oversized Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeaks share the same habitats as well. Look for the oversized bill and rusty reddish wing bars to help distinguish them from Indigo Buntings.  Also, Blue Grosbeaks have a habit of flicking their tails sideways. Both Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings can appear black up against the bright sky. 

  • Great Blue Heron

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     These magnificent birds can be found along the canals and waterways in many parts of the refuge, where they search for frogs and fish. They build crude stick nests over the water in trees in an inaccessible portion of the refuge.

     

  • Green-winged Teal

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    At times in winter, this colorful little dabbler is found in large flocks in the flooded moist soil units on the refuge, feeding alongside pintails, wigeon, mallards and many other species of waterfowl. The males are striking with their red and green heads and soft gray bodies. Females (hens) are brown.

  • Great Horned Owl

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    The familiar “hoot-owl,”  this large, powerful, widespread owl is quite the predator, consuming most anything that it can catch, from reptiles to small mammals and birds; even other owls are fair game. Great Horned Owls are nocturnal, but can sometimes be seen during the day when they are flushed by too close an approach. They normally use an abandoned crow or hawk nest or a large tree cavity and begin nesting in January. They can be heard calling (hooting) from great distances on calm nights. Great Horned Owls are named for the tufts of feather on the top of their heads, resembling ears. 

  • Indigo Bunting

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    These common birds of woodland edges and farm fields can be found along Wildlife Drive from mid-April until fall. The brilliant blue males sing from conspicuous perches in the fallow portions of the fields. The females are a warm brown. Note the conical, seed-eating bill.

  • Northern Bobwhite

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    Bobwhites, a popular game bird, are declining in many areas. They are still fairly common on the Alligator Refuge, especially in and around the farm fields. A permanent resident, listen for the “bob-white” calls from the males in spring. “Quail” are often not seen until they are flushed by approaching too closely.

  • Northern Pintail

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    One of the most common “puddle” or “dabbler” ducks on the Alligator Refuge is the Northern Pintail The male (drake) is beautiful with its brown and white patterned head and neck and its long “pin” tail. These ducks occur in large flocks in the flooded farm fields and can be easily seen along Sawyer Lake Road. Binoculars or a spotting scope are recommended for better views of any waterfowl.

     

  • Pileated Woodpecker

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    The largest of seven species of woodpeckers that nest on the Alligator Refuge, the Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive bird. The boldly patterned head with a bright red crest sets them apart from all other woodpeckers. They nest in oval-shaped cavities in dead trees, usually raising from 3 to 5 chicks. Their loud calls and drumming can be heard from great distances.

     

  • Prairie Warbler

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    In early April Prairie Warblers migrate to the Alligator River NWR from their winter homes in the tropics and are common summer residents in second growth habitats over much of the refuge. During spring and early summer these yellow, tail-bobbing warblers can be found by listening for their songs, a series of melodic, ascending notes. Luckily for bird-watchers, this warbler is typically found fairly low in trees. If you can get a good view of a male, look for the beautiful chestnut streaks on the back.

  • Prothonotary Warbler

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    These “golden swamp warblers” are one of the most stunning breeding passerine species on the refuge. Arriving in April to build nests in tree cavities in the wet pocosin habitat, these common wood-warblers are easy to find in any of the forested areas of the refuge, often seen in low shrubs next to the canals. Prothonotary Warblers are early fall migrants, usually leaving the refuge on their way south by early September.

  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker

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    Although difficult to observe on this refuge, the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a permanent resident, nesting in holes in living pine trees. The sap from the live tree protects the nestlings from predators. These small woodpeckers form family groups that share nesting duties. A good field mark for identifying RCW’s, as they are often called, is the prominent white cheek on each side of the head.  

  • Red-tailed Hawk

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    The Alligator River NWR is known for the impressive numbers and species of raptors that reside here, either as permanent residents or as seasonal visitors. Best known among the diurnal species is the Red-tailed Hawk. A year-round resident, numbers increase in fall and winter as migrants come here to feast on the abundant rodent prey found in the open fields. Red-tailed Hawks may be seen perched on prominent perches or soaring high in the sky. Search the skies for them especially during the heat of the day when rising thermals assist the birds in near effortless soaring. The red tail is a good field mark only if the bird is an adult, otherwise look for the “breast band” of dark, irregular streaking. 

  • Short-eared Owl

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    Highly sought after by birders, these winter resident owls are crepuscular; they are most active during the twilight hours. Look for them from December through March from Milltail and Long Curve roads by scanning the fields at dawn and dusk. They are more easily seen when silhouetted against the sky. During the day Short-eared Owls are difficult to find as they roost out in the fields on the ground, hidden by vegetation.

  • Swainson's Warbler

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    Secretive and elusive, Swainson’s Warblers are highly sought after by birders. These rather plain brown warblers nest in impenetrable stands of cane in pocosin habitats and thus are much easier to hear than see.

  • Tundra Swan

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    Tundra Swans are one of the most popular waterfowl species during the winter on the Alligator Refuge. These beautiful and enormous birds can be seen in the “moist soil units” - flooded or sometimes dry farm fields from about November until March. Good areas to look are in the flooded fields along Sawyer Lake and River Roads. In the evenings, the swans flying to their nocturnal roosts are an awesome sight against the orange sunset!

  • Wild Turkey

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    Increasing in most parts of the state, Wild Turkeys can sometimes be seen on the Alligator Refuge. Search the fields, especially along the edges of woodlots, while driving along any of the farm field roads. If turkeys are located, look carefully for young birds (poults) in late spring and early summer.

    Mornings and evenings are the best times to find Wild Turkeys.

  • Wood Duck

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    Considered by many to be our most beautiful duck, Wood Ducks are permanent residents of the refuge. They nest in tree cavities, usually near or over the water. Egg laying begins in late winter and chicks normally hatch in April or May. Wood Ducks are usually seen on the refuge as they flush out of the canals and fly rapidly away, but sometimes the young can be viewed in summer at close range in the same habitat.