Saving North Carolina's Climate Threatened Birds

Audubon conservation programs focus on protecting habitat and food sources that birds need now. With the information from the Birds and Climate report, we can begin to look to the areas birds are likely to need in the future and protect those too. Learn about 13 of our climate threatened species in North Carolina to get a glimpse of what birds are facing.

Audubon's Birds and  Climate Report makes it clear that many of North Carolina’s birds will be in trouble if action is not taken, and soon. The results of the study show that about half of all birds in North America  will lose a significant portion of their range over the next 60 years. Birds may not be able to adapt to the changes in their habitats that climate change is bringing, making it urgent to protect the areas they are likely to move to as indicated in the Audubon study. Take the pledge to protect North Carolina's climate threatened birds.

Importance of Ranges

A bird’s range is anywhere that it travels during its annual life cycle of wintering, breeding, nesting or migrating. A range covers all the places a bird uses as it lives its life. Right now, birds are adapted to the habitats in their range. If the areas or ranges that they use change in any significant way – for example, there is more or less rainfall – the habitat and food birds rely on in their range may not be there prompting the them to move. Research shows that many birds have already shifted their ranges northward.

Protect Birds Now

Audubon conservation programs focus on creating and protecting habitat and food sources where birds are now. With the data from Audubon's Birds and Climate report, we can begin to look to the areas birds are likely to go and protect those too. Learn about 13 of the climate-threatened species in North Carolina.

Golden-winged Warbler

The Audubon  Birds and Climate Study shows the Golden-winged Warbler is predicted to decline across its migration range– but there’s good news. Appalachia has been identified as a climate stronghold where these warblers can move to higher elevations as climate change impacts where they breed now. Maintaining suitable habitat at the mid-level and higher elevations these birds prefer will be crucial to Golden-winged Warblers being able to survive warming temperatures.

Click to learn about Audubon North Carolina’s Putting Working Lands to Work for People initiative, a program working with public and private landowners to create early successional (young forest) habitat supporting the Golden-winged Warbler population during its breeding season.

Cerulean Warbler

Maintaining large forest tracts is critical for the survival of the Cerulean Warbler. Audubon’s climate model shows that climate change impacts will cause the Cerulean Warbler to move northward toward evergreen forests at the northern end of its range. If crucial habitat is protected, these warblers may be able to remain in western NC. 

See how Important Bird Areas across North Carolina provide vital food and habitat for birds like the Cerulean Warbler. Find out how you can get involved. Click here to see how protecting privately owned land for birds can help many climate threatened birds survive the effects of climate change.

Black-throated Blue Warbler 

The Black-throated Blue Warbler is a priority bird for ANC’s Bird-Friendly Forest Project. Western North Carolina has been identified as a stronghold for this species as it retreats from other parts of its range. Protection of our large forest blocks will provide microclimates where warblers may be able to survive.

American Black Duck

American Black Ducks depend on the health of North Carolina’s coastal wetlands and marshes from Cape Fear to Currituck. The greatest climate change threat to Atlantic coast marshes is from accelerated sea level rise. Sea level rise is predicted to inundate huge areas of marsh in coming decades, posing serious threats to birds that depend completely on this intertidal habitat.

Audubon’s Atlantic Flyway Salt Marsh Initiative is built around conservation strategies to help salt marshes and their birds adapt to sea level rise. At Audubon’s Donal C. O’Brien Jr. Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Corolla, we will protect and restore Currituck Sound marshes that support Black Ducks and many other waterfowl

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swans migrate from the far northern reaches of North America to spend the winter in eastern North Carolina every year. North Carolina is one of the most important states in the Atlantic Flyway for this species and supports about 75% of the Atlantic Flyway population—65,000 to 75,000 individuals. The winter flocks of swans at places like Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and Currituck Sound is one of the great wildlife spectacles in our state.

This species is projected to lose both summer and winter habitats. It’s projected that the swan’s wintering range on both coasts will be affected as well, raising questions about how this migratory bird will adjust to the disruption in both seasons. See an interactive map of the Tundra Swan’s predicted changes in migration range here.

Piping Plover

Piping Plovers are one of the most threatened shorebirds in the US, currently listed as threatened or endangered throughout its range. Piping Plovers occur along North Carolina’s coast year-round: nesting on beaches during the spring and summer, stopping over during spring and fall migration, and overwintering on beaches and around inlets.

As habitat on islands and beaches shrinks, the competition between people and birds will increase, and so too will the threat of human disturbance and habitat loss for the fragile population. Furthermore, the desire to stabilize beaches and inlets in an attempt to hold back the ocean will increase as coastal beaches and inlets change as a result of sea level rise.

Click to learn more about conservation efforts to protect the Piping Plover.

Brown Pelican 

An icon of North Carolina’s coastal waters and a conservation success story, fewer than 200 Brown Pelicans existed in North Carolina in the 1970s.  That number has grown to 8,000 birds today! Nearly half of North Carolina’s Brown Pelicans nest on Audubon Sanctuaries, which will serve as important strongholds for the species in coming decades.

Find out more about our work to protect the Brown Pelican on our blog.

American Oystercatcher

Like many coastal species, the threat of climate change will amplify issues already posing a threat to bird populations like the American Oystercatcher. Sea level rise, changes in the frequency and severity of storms, increased erosion, impacts to foraging habitats and food resources, and the human response to shoreline movement threaten the habitat that these coastal shorebirds require for survival.

One of the most severe threats will be the increased desire to armor or otherwise stabilize beaches and coastal inlets in an attempt to hold back the ocean and stop coastal erosion. This will have a profound, negative impact on habitats that American Oystercatchers and other shorebirds require. And increased acidification of coastal waters could threaten shellfish, the primary food of North Carolina’s American Oystercatchers that is essential to their survival and reproductive success.

Impacts of climate change can be mitigated with creative habitat restoration and enhancement projects, progressive coastal land-use planning, and the protection of strategic IBAs for coastal species.

Audubon’s North Carolina Sanctuaries were established to protect habitat for oystercatchers and other coastal birds, and to serve as laboratories for the development of innovative strategies for protecting coastal habitats, including those threatened by climate change.

Wood Thrush 

One of the often-cited effects of climate change is the rampant spread of exotic invasive plants, especially non-native plants that take over a habitat and edge out natives that provide food and shelter to birds. Wood Thrush and other forest dwelling species have been shown to be sensitive to the increase of invasives in their habitat.

With the Bird-Friendly Communities program, Audubon North Carolina is working to promote the use of native plants with residents, landscape architects and city planners.

Additionally, our state program and the Audubon Society of Forsyth County chapter have been working on Wood Thrush tagging and research projects both here and on their wintering grounds in Central America to better understand the bird and protect habitat across its range.

Brown-headed Nuthatch 

A threat associated with climate change is an increase in the frequency and severity of storms. Removal of large pine trees is often a human response to storm damage preparations and impacts, but removing large mature pines removes forage and nesting habitat for the Brown-headed Nuthatch. A decline in mature pines, coupled with increased urbanization, could be a potent combined threat to this bird.

Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative seeks to replace  lost habitat with new places for nuthatches to nest. We are distributing 10,000 Nest Boxes for Nuthatches. Help a nuthatch in your yard by putting up a nest box at any time of year.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl populations have severely dropped as housing developments and shopping centers have replaced open agricultural fields. This decrease in open space is detrimental to Barn Owls, whose nests require 50 acres of surrounding open land for sufficient hunting.

Species like the Barn Owl may be dramatically impacted by these changes, and several Audubon chapters and other partners are working to better understand how this species lives and reproduces in North Carolina. The Cape Fear Audubon Society and New Hope Audubon Society Chapters are also working with landowners to install Barn Owl nest boxes to help the species population increase over time.


The Osprey is projected to have expanded potential to live year-round in places like Florida, but it’s uncertain whether this fish-eater will be able to find enough food in stable and expanded portions of its range, or how sea-level rise will affect its success in coastal areas.


Forest nesting species like the Ovenbird need intact and healthy forests for breeding success, making protection of large forest blocks a critical step in helping the population survive effects of climate change.

Ovenbirds are frequently observed as migrating birds strike the windows of tall buildings in large city centers. Audubon North Carolina’s Lights Out Program focuses conservation efforts in urban centers to have upward facing lights turned out during peak migration season. Learn more about the Lights Out Program or to get involved in your city.

Audubon North C arolina has begun a five-year initiative to combat the effects of climate change based on Audubon's Birds and Climate Change Report. Join us in helping our birds survive and thrive through a changing climate. Check back often for updates and click to sign up for action alerts as we help birds survive global warming.

How you can help, right now