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20 birds to look and listen for this season

From the American Goldfinch to the Carolina Wren — these avians can be found all around the area.

eastern phoebe

The plump Eastern Phoebe gets its name from its song.

Photo by Andrew Cannizzaro

Hear that outside? With the nonstop chiming and chirping all over Asheville, this is the season to get into birdwatching. And lucky for us, NC is home to hundreds of year-round and migrating bird species, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy this joyful (and free) hobby.

In honor of our feathered friends, we’re sharing 20 of the birds you may be seeing or hearing in your backyard now — plus a few tips for perfecting your birdwatching approach.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

While not typically a backyard bird, you can spot these lemon-faced beauties on the Parkway.

Photo by @ncbirdwatch

Known as a relentless songbird, this sweet, lemon-faced bird loves mountain forests and can been spotted in high branches along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its song is distinct and sounds a bit like someone chanting, “Trees, trees, I love trees.”

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

ruby-throated hummingbird

This jewel-colored critter is eastern North America’s sole breeding hummingbird.

Photo by @ncbirdwatch

This zippy, compact bird is often described as jewel-like, because of its vibrant shades of green and red. You can help beckon this bird into your yard with a flower garden. Fun fact: this bird is eastern North America’s sole breeding hummingbird. In early fall, they migrate to Central America.

Tree Swallows

Tree swallows asheville

Tree Swallows love to chat.

Photo by @ncbirdwatch

These handsome, chipper blue birds are often the first spring migrants to arrive in the Blue Ridge Mountains each year. These birds are also known for having acrobatic flight patterns (especially when chasing down bugs). You can often find them nesting in tree cavities, with a song that’s high-pitched and split into three sounds: a chirp, whine, and gurgle.

American Goldfinch

American goldfinch

This bird is a permanent resident of the mountainous area of NC.

Photo by Ken Thomas

This bird has an unusual habit of being a late nester, waiting until July or August, and Goldfinches typically nest in brushy habitats like old fields or thickets. During other seasons, you’ll find them in backyards, weedy fields, open woods, and feeding on seeds high in trees like sweetgum. Its song is a twitter and warble, with one call sounding like “po-ta-to-chip.”

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina chickadee

The Chickadee particularly likes a few conifers in the forest.

Photo by Dan Pancamo

This plump songbird is one of the few in the state that’s entirely nonmigratory — you’ll find it in mature forests and woodlots, residential spaces, and remote areas. Its song is a rapid “chickadee-dee-dee.”

Carolina Wren

Carolina wren

Despite its friendly roundness, the Wren sings out aggressively for its territory.

Photo by Ken Thomas

The chunky bird has a round body and long tail of a reddish-brown palette. They creep around vegetated areas and tree trunks, yards and woodpiles. They use their pugnacious song to defend their territory, reproaching and chasing away intruders.

Eastern Bluebird

eastern bluebird

The bright hue is unmistakable.

Photo by Dehaan

Perching on trees, posts, powerlines, and fences is where you might find this bright avian — they like grassy areas and habitats with nearby open woods. Its low-pitched “tu-a-wee” has a petulant tone.

Eastern Phoebe

eastern phoebe

The plump Eastern Phoebe gets its name from its song.

This tail-wagging bird is the only flycatcher species that regularly winters in NC, and it frequently nests on rafters of houses and buildings. They also like nesting on rock ledges and around farms. In the spring, you can hear the song that gives them their name: a raspy “fee-bee.”

Eastern Screech-Owl

screech owl

These nocturnal birds only occasionally show themselves during the daylight.

Photo by Dick Daniels

The smallest of NC’s owl residents, the Eastern Screech Owl likes healthy forests, nesting in holes in trees. Mostly, they roost during the day and hunt at night, but they sometimes make an appearance when the sun is out. Pro tip: Listen for its distinctive whinnying call at night.

Eastern Towhee

eastern towhee

Look low when you search for this little guy.

The striking bird can be quite hard to spot — it’s a bird of the undergrowth. You’ll more likely hear its loud rummaging noise on the forest floor or its call of “chewink.”

Great Blue Heron

great blue heron

These big birds are hard to miss.

Photo by Mike Baird

The largest heron in North America and often called a “crane,” this wading bird is a familiar sight with a squawking and clucking call. Pro tip: Look for this leggy bird around or in bodies of water, like the French Broad.

House Finch

house finch

The bird and its twittering song are frequent feeder visitors.

First appearing in NC in the 1960s, these birds nest in shrugs and low vegetation. Its call is a sharp cheep while perched and in flight (flush from the ground, it might get a little sharper).

Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

Northern Cardinals love a feeder.

This bright red beauty is the official state bird of North Carolina and is abundant across the state during all seasons. They can be found in most forests and woodlands, wooded borders, and residential areas. The clear song is usually a string of two-parted whistles and a slow trill — like “cheer, cheer, cheer.

Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker

The bird’s red head is distinctive.

Photo by Sheila Brown

A resident of extensive and often damp forests as well as some wooded residential areas, this large woodpecker makes itself known will its loud drilling. You can also hear its song — a high, clear piping call.

Red-Tailed Hawk

red-tailed hawk

You may also hear a shrill “chwirk.”

Keep an eye out for the oft-seen hawk on telephone poles along highways and over open fields — you’ll know it by its large, stocky body and mottled brown feathers. Listen for a screaming “kee-ee-arr.

Red-Winged Blackbird

red-winged blackbird

Listen for the matter-of-fact note turning into a trill.

A year-round bird that appears in all 100 counties of NC (but more scarce in our mountains in winter time), it likes grasses in farmlands for nesting territory. Its call is distinctive, abrupt “check.”

Song Sparrow

song sparrow

The Song Sparrow first nested in the NC mountains in the 1890s.

One of the most abundant species in all of North America, the bird spends its winters and breeding season in our area. Here in the mountains, you’ll find it in farmyards, open residential areas, and shrubby sites. Its loud, clanking song ends with a trill.

Tufted Titmouse

tufted titmouse

We particularly love the tufts on the top of their heads.

Photo by @cmesker

These little birds can be found year-round here in most hardwood forests and often in residential areas. Listen for a scratchy “tsee-day-day-day” that sounds similar to a Chickadee.

Turkey Vulture

turkey vulture

The Turkey Vulture doesn’t have the same vocal organs as other birds, so their calls sound a little different.

The scavenger of the skies are often seen soaring or scavenging in fields or on roadsides — but they prefer to nest in hollow stumps or remote woods. They mostly call with a guttural hiss or nasal whine.

Wood Thrush

Wood thrush

Pro tip: You’ll likely hear the beautiful song of the wood thrush in summertime forests, but you may never glimpse it.

With a declining population, this bird has been deemed a conservation priority. It also spends its winter down in Central America — but you may not even see it in the spring because of its reclusive nature. Listen instead for its unique duet of a song.

There’s an app for that

Websites + apps have made birdwatching more accessible than ever. Here are a few we recommend:

  • Merlin is a free identification app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that includes photos, an identification + browsing tool, and a database of songs and calls for every bird you’re likely to come across in your area. Pro tip: Merlin has a sound ID. You just click “record” in the app and aim it out at the bird(s) that are chirping/singing, and it gives you who the bird is.
  • ebird.org is also from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is a valuable website for birders to find birds, keep track of bird lists, explore the latest sightings, and contribute to science. The best part of ebird is the hotspots locator. Asheville has 20+ local spots where birders have seen more than 100 species.
  • Carolina Bird Club includes all of the bird species recorded in NC, as well as information on habitat, breeding, and abundance levels.
  • North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission provides resources for birders, including trail maps, birdwatching checklists, and a guide to how to build your own birdhouses + feeders.
  • Audubon North Carolina offers state-specific information on species, conservation, resources and tips for birdwatching, and bird-friendly gardening.

B(u)y the book

Armed with a good field guide, a little knowledge can go a long way. Here are a few of our favorite books:

Join the club

Since WNC is such a hotspot for birders, there are several ways to get involved with birdwatching and other activities like bird banding.

Look closer with binoculars

You could spend some hard coin on binoculars – and you should spend what you can afford – but there’s no reason to spend $1,000+ on optics unless you get seriously into the hobby. Bins are important, though, so you should invest in something that will give you the best experience. This hobby is all about visuals and listening. It’s hard to see the birds if you can’t see the birds, right? Here are some good binoculars + scopes:

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