Waterfowl on the Outer Banks

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina’s Donal C. O’Brien Jr. Sanctuary Director Robbie Fearn. Robbie will direct Audubon’s restoration and revitalization efforts for the Donal C. O’Brien Audubon Sanctuary and the adjacent Currituck Sound.

It’s November on the OBX and the waterfowl that overwinter here are just coming in. Each day, local hunters and birders look to sites like the Ducks Unlimited migration map and eBird to see who has been seen.

But many days, the best thing to do is just look up!

Out over the ocean, small flocks of sea ducks scurry above the waves rushing like commuters heading for a train. Late pods of pelicans move southward while Sanderlings and Willets burst forth, scattered down the beach by the passing shell collector.

In the maritime forest, dozens of species of migrating songbirds drop down to feast on the bounteous berries and insects as they head to warmer climates. Also in the forest - migrating raptors pause for a warm meal.

Photo by Mark Buckler.

As birds take advantage of the winds in passing cold fronts to relocate farther south, a great time to look for them is just after a cold front passes. After the flight, they will rest and feed.

On the sound side, a few Osprey still hover, terns twist and dive, ducks pass by in their oft ragged clumps, and geese and swan in stately “V”s come rolling in.

Osprey by Mark Miller

But the most impressive flights in the autumn are often those of the Double-crested Cormorant. Stepping out of your house, you might startle from the sudden shadow passing overhead. Erratic lines of cormorants in flocks of 10 to 50 pass one after another. They seem to come from everywhere at once. A flight to the west, another north, over-head a flight, then three or four more passing within minutes of each other. And through a break in the trees, still more.

The cormorant is a little appreciated bird, its dark plumage appearing drab to most, but it has a bright blue eye and even more blue inside its mouth. Related to such bird wonders as gannets, boobies and frigatebirds, it comes off as a lesser cousin, but when it perches on dock posts with its wings spread to dry, or when its gangly form fills the sky, flapping by in rough, ever changing lines, it seems a fine herald to the season.

To learn more about the Audubon Sanctuary and the birds that call Corolla home, visit our website.

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