Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Corolla

Waterfowl Migration on Pine Island

Pine Island is not only a popular destination for visitors of the Outer Banks, it is also a stopover spot for many migrating waterfowl during these cooler months. If you’re a resident or visitor to the area, here’s everything you need to enjoy the birds traveling to and through your neighborhood this season.

Blue-winged Teal by Glenn Bartley

Starting in September, Pine Island bird watchers will begin to see Blue-winged Teals passing through while they’re in transit to their various migratory destinations in the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast, Mexico and Central and South America.  As long-distance migrants, Blue-winged Teals must leave their U.S. and Canadian breeding grounds earlier in the fall to accommodate their extended travel routes.  The dabbling ducks’ stay in Pine Island is often fleeting, as they merely use the area as a stopover to collect sustenance and rest, before continuing on their journey south.

Green-winged Teal by Glenn Bartley

Between October and November, Pine Islanders should notice a surge in the number of visitors from the duck family, including American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teals, American Widgeon, and Gadwall.  The dowdy brown- and gray-feathered Gadwalls are often overlooked, especially when sharing a habitat with the Teals with their swatches of bright colors. But an interesting way to identify them is by noting their feistiness; Gadwalls are the pirates of the bird world as they often snatch food from diving ducks as they surface.

According to the observations of Chandler Sawyer, Habitat Manager of Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary, some years the ducks will stay in the area throughout the cold season, while other years they merely stop over for 1-2 weeks before moving on to another site for their final wintering destination.


Tundra Swan by Glen Steven Holt.

Tundra Swans, one of the only two native swan species to North America, typically start to emerge on Pine Island during November.  Overall, North Carolina provides refuge during wintering for more swans than any other state on the East Coast. Nearly 65,000 to 75,000 swans migrate to North Carolina each fall to take advantage of the abundant food sources here.

Greater Scaup by Glen Tepke.

As the end of the year approaches, Greater Scaup become more prominent around the island. Greater Scaups have many nicknames across the States, including bluebill, blackhead, greyback and shuffler. Birders are divided on weather the bird earned the name "Scaup" from the "scalps," or shellfish, that it eats, or as a result of the sound of its call of "kaupkaup!". Keep your ears alert in December and January for their call, and let us know if you think that’s why they got their moniker.

Every year brings new surprises on who will show up, and when they will arrive to the party on Pine Island.  Now you know what to expect this season. Let this act as a loose guideline for all of your bird spotting adventures. Comment to tell us if you’ve already seen these, or any other migratory birds this season!

For more information on everything happening this year at Pine Island, visit our website.

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