May birding is spectacular on the Outer Banks

By on May 13, 2017

Indigo Bunting (Jeff Lewis)

Story and photos by Jeff Lewis

May is an amazing month for birdwatchers along the Outer Banks.

Birds are either nesting or migrating north to nest. The question for the local birder is: do I head into the woods or to the local impoundment this morning?

Would I rather look for warblers, tanagers and grosbeaks or sandpipers, plovers and godwits?

Well, the weekend consists of two days, so do both!

The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge hosts a dozen species of breeding warblers, and all are breeding by May.

Some are brightly colored and easy to see, others more drab and secretive. Learning their songs will help you find them.

In the wooded sections, listen and look for Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler and Swainson’s Warbler.

Of course, warblers aren’t the only game in town, a nice variety of woodpeckers, flycatchers, and raptors nest on the refuge, as well.

Some of these birds also reside in Nags Head Woods and other wooded areas of the Outer Banks. The importance of knowing the sounds that the birds make cannot be over-emphasized.

For every bird that you see, you’ll probably hear a dozen. There are on-line resources or old-fashioned compact discs that can be purchased to aid you. This is probably the biggest bird-finding tip that I can ever give you!

In the open habitats of the refuge, Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks are nesting, especially along the edges. The bright blue males are easy to find if you follow their song. You should also hear Eastern Meadowlarks and Northern Bobwhites, especially in the early morning hours.

An added bonus that the Alligator River Refuge offers is the possibility of seeing bears, bobcats, and wolves in the roads and fields and otters and alligators in the ditches or up on the banks.

If you bird the patches of woods along the Outer Banks, hotspots being: the Bodie Island woods, the north end of Roanoke Island, Nags Head Woods, the Duck boardwalk and the Corolla lighthouse area, you can often find a good variety of migrant songbirds that have stopped briefly to refuel before taking off again for points farther north.

You may spot a brilliant Scarlet Tanager one minute, then a Rose-breasted Grosbeak or a Black-throated Blue Warbler the next.

Over twenty species of colorful warblers are possible this time of year, plus an assortment of flycatchers, orioles, vireos, swallows and thrushes.

It can be a birder’s paradise on the right day! Early morning beats the crowds of tourists, although evening can produce good birding, as well.

Shorebirds are also migrating north to breed, with many of them headed as far as the Arctic tundra.

Spring migration gives birders a chance to see shorebirds in their finest breeding plumage.

Red Knots are actually red, Black-bellied Plovers actually have black bellies, and many other species are more brightly patterned than they will ever be during fall migration.

Black-bellied Plover (Jeff Lewis)

Even our familiar gray and white Sanderlings turn a nice brick red on their breast and upperparts. The best locations for these shorebirds are the impoundments at our local wildlife refuges and near the inlets.

The ocean beaches can produce good birding at times, especially the more secluded ones. In general, mudflats produce the greatest variety of shorebirds. Once again, early morning is usually best, in terms of bird activity, lighting and crowds/traffic.

Save the afternoon hours for time-with-the-family!

Only a few species of shorebirds nest here on the Outer Banks.

Killdeer are familiar to most people, beautiful and noisy, known for nesting on road shoulders, gravel parking lots, even in rock gardens. If you approach too closely to their nest, they will cry out and try to lure you away, fanning their wings and tail, pretending to be injured.

Much smaller, Piping Plovers nest on wide, sandy beaches, normally found near inlets or at Cape Point.

Noisy Willets nest in dense grass near salt marshes. Black-necked Stilts, with their bright red legs, nest in shallow impoundments, especially in Bodie Pond, usually in clumps of grass up on small islands. American Oystercatchers nest on high beaches or on islands.

Several species of terns nest on our beaches and/or the dredge-spoil islands in the sound.

Nesting on islands has the advantage of fewer predators.

Least, Common, Sandwich, Gull-billed and Royal Terns all nest on the Outer Banks beginning in May.

Least Terns will sometimes nest on flat rooftops. Forster’s Terns nest in the Pamlico Sound in marshy areas or on small, isolated islands.

Small numbers of Caspian Terns also nest locally, near inlets, at least some years. Black Skimmers, relatives of terns, also nest on our beaches, especially near inlets.

In our residential areas, lots of nesting is underway, as well.

Blue Jays, Cardinals, Towhees, Mockingbirds, Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Bluebirds, Robins, House Finches and several woodpeckers are feeding young by May.

Prolific Mourning Doves may actually be starting a second brood!

Many of these species nest in thick shrubs or dense tangles, while others (Robins, Doves, Blue Jays) prefer trees.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also build their tiny, lichen-covered, cup nests in trees, usually in the crotches of small branches fairly near the end.

Locating a hummingbird nest requires lots of patience and perhaps a dose of good luck. Sit quietly in the yard and watch the hummingbirds to see where they fly when they finish feeding.

If you watch long enough you may eventually see them at their nest. Good luck!

Woodpeckers nest in cavities that they carve into dead trees. These holes are also used by Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees and Brown-headed Nuthatches, or they may choose to nest in one of your bird houses!

You might see a White-tailed tropicbird on a pelagic tour, along with whales and dolphins.

For a totally different birding experience, consider an offshore (pelagic) birding trip.

May and June are two of the best months. It is a completely different world out there, with shearwaters, petrels, storm-petrels, jaegers, skuas, tropicbirds, tropical terns and phalaropes available to thrill you!

Various dolphin and whale species are also often encountered, as are sea turtles and pelagic fish. For more information, simply search “pelagic birding” or “sea birding” on-line.

Happy birding! Hope to see you out there!


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


See what people are saying:

  • Carol

    We arrived in Duck on July 24 and have been surprised that we have not seen a single shorebird (just gulls) on the beach. In past years we have seen many sanderlings, willetts, plovers and other small birds on the beach.
    What has happened?

    Friday, Jul 28 @ 7:44 am