Ultimate Guide To Birding & Migration In The Outer Banks

25 January 2023 |  Published By: Hotels OBX

By: Jennifer Levine, AGM Comfort Inn South Oceanfront

You may remember from our birding guide, where we gave insight into a local's perspective on where to go and what you may find while birding on the Outer Banks. Now, while we are no experts on this great hobby, we enjoy hearing all the exciting news on sightings and what you have checked off your birding checklists during your visit to the Outer Banks. Our favorite at these two OBX oceanfront hotels is to look at your pictures! The excitement in our guests' voices as their day is relived and supporting documentation (photo) is shown makes us happy. We are pleased to know that you are enjoying yourself and that we can provide you with a comfortable place to stay.

OBX Oceanfront Hotel Deck Observation Area

One spot not previously mentioned that many enthusiasts have seen their birds from is the deck at our Comfort Inn South Oceanfront located in Nags Head. There is plenty of room to catch everything from the sunrise to migrating birds to a breaching whale in the winter. The deck was recently re-done, and the view is spectacular! Bring those binoculars and long lenses, and check out our OBX oceanfront hotels!

This guide includes all the information you need to know about where to go and what you can expect on your next visit to the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks offers more winter birding than you might realize. There are several popular spots to go to, all of which are just a short drive from either of our OBX oceanfront hotels.

Winter Birding Locations

Did you know that there is also an entire birding trail for the state of North Carolina? It is called the NC Birding Trail, and all sorts of interactive maps and programs are available. The Outer Banks alone boasts five locations worthy of inclusion on the map, four of which are winter birding locations. We'll get into that in a minute. Whether you are a novice or an expert, this site will certainly help you get started. Each location is also interactive, marked with a pin on the map. The selected area will pull up valuable information specific to the site you picked. Items like directions, hours, what birds you may see, etc., are listed. There is even an NC Birding Atlas. This resource allows birders from all over the state to log sightings from your backyard to specific locations along the birding trail. Imagine that. You could personally be a part of reporting and recording bird sightings. How exciting! Now, let's take a closer look at the five locations listed for The Outer Banks on the NC Birding Trail.

5 OBX Locations on the NC Birding Trail

1. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

The Southernmost birding location from our two oceanfront hotels is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The NC Birding Trail bills this location as "one of the finest birding sites in the entire state." This Refuge, nestled between the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, sits on 5,000 acres; it is a year-round spot to enjoy birding.

According to the trail, year-round residents include,

 • Seaside Sparrows
 • Piping Plovers
 • Marsh Wrens
 • Variety of wading birds

When you plan your visit to the Outer Banks, remember that winter is an ideal time to look out over the ocean to see if you can spot passing Grebes, Scoter and Merganser Ducks. It's also known to be home to snow geese and tundra swans. Of these winter birds, the Horned Grebe is a favorite of mine to spot. They have colored feathers on their heads that make them look like they are wearing little hats. I know, but I never said I was a professional.

2. Bodie Island Lighthouse

Moving North along the Outer Banks, Bodie Island Lighthouse is next on the trail. Located about 10 miles South of the Comfort Inn in Nags Head, the grounds at Bodie Island Lighthouse boast a viewing platform. A trail starts behind the visitor center and leads to a large freshwater pond.

Here, at Bodie Island Lighthouse, you may find,

 • Black-necked Stilt
 • American Avocet
 • Other waterfowl

The Bodie Island Dike Trail, which is 0.75 miles long, can be accessed from the Southern end of the parking lot. This trail will take you to the other side of the pond for your viewing pleasure.

3. Coquina Beach

When the lighthouse finishes, you take the short drive (literally across the street) to Coquina Beach. You can park in either of the two lots; however, the second is the official beach access lot with a wooden walkway and viewing platform. This is great if you want to avoid walking in the sand or over the steep dune, like me. You may see wintering waterfowl, Gull Billed Terns, American Avocets, or Black-necked Stilts at either of these two locations.

4. Roanoke Island Marsh Game Land

Our next stop is the Roanoke Island Marsh Game Land. Located in Manteo, this site has a short walking trail that loops around to provide views of the black needle rush marsh.

Here you may see,

 • Tundra Swans
 • Glossy and White Ibis
 • Osprey
 • Wading Birds

In the winter, water levels can be lower. When this happens, you will see bunches of shorebirds. Can you hear the Black Rail? While seldom seen, you may catch this bird's call throughout the Roanoke Island Marshlands.

5. Jockey's Ridge State Park

The last of these sites is Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head. This location is smack between our OBX oceanfront hotels at about 4 miles from each. While in the summer, the top of the dunes will allow you to see passing songbirds as they migrate South, you want to go to the sound side in the winter. The sound side is home to many waterfowl that winter on the Outer Banks. It's also an excellent spot to look for Raptors in the fall and early winter.

What To Bring For A Great Birding Trip 

When planning for your visit to the Outer Banks, there are certain items you should always bring along with you. These include binoculars, a field guidebook, a hat, sunscreen for protection from the sun, a camera with a telephoto lens for capturing photos of the birds you spot, insect repellent if necessary, and comfortable walking shoes. If you forget any other necessities (i.e., A toothbrush), your OBX oceanfront hotels can assist.

Tips For A Successful Birding Trip

The best way to get close enough to spot birds is by dressing in neutral colors like brown or green so that they don't notice you as quickly. Try to arrive early to ensure you have plenty of time to observe them before they fly away. Also, remember to be patient and keep an eye out for any potential nests or roosts where you might find them resting. Depending on the type of bird you want to see, you may also want to bring snacks like nuts or berries. Contact us about group travel rates if you are coming with a group. Finally, remember to enjoy yourself as well!

Plan Your Visit to The Outer Banks

No matter where you go on the Outer Banks, it is stunning this time of year. Plan a birding getaway and visit the Outer Banks this winter. Explore some of the best spots on the East Coast for viewing migratory birds. Contact us at either OBX Oceanfront hotel location, and we will be happy to set you up with a cozy spot to return to after your day of birding. Safe travels, and we'll see you soon!

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