Species of Local Concern
Chatham, Durham, and Orange Counties are home to several bird species that are of local or regional concern. They include the following:
The Bald Eagle is perhaps the most iconic bird in all of North America. Once in steep decline due to DDT, Bald Eagles have made a dramatic recovery in recent years. Within a couple of decades, the Bald Eagle has gone from regional rarity to a fairly common species locally. Healthy populations exist at Jordan and Falls Lakes, and eagle pairs frequently nest near local rivers and reservoirs. New Hope Audubon monitors Bald Eagles at Jordan Lake with eagle counts four times a year. To participate in an upcoming eagle count, contact us for more information.
Barn Owls have a wide distribution throughout their range, but have been in precipitous decline locally for years. Changes in farm practice, the regeneration of local forest, the use of rodenticides, and development, have all played a role. Barn Owls live in vast, open areas, such as marsh or farmland, where they can avoid their main predator, the Great Horned Owl. See the Piedmont Barn Owl Initiative for more details.
A denizen of pine forests and mixed woodlands, the Brown-headed Nuthatch breeds locally and lives in our area year round. Although abundant in some places, especially at Jordan Lake, the bird is threatened across much of its range. New Hope Audubon sells Brown-headed Nuthatch boxes online and at our monthly meetings. Placing nest boxes in areas with ample numbers of pine trees may help the local population of this Southern specialty.
Chimney Swifts are spring and summer residents that migrate from South America to breed. These fast moving birds once nested in massive, hollow trees in the eastern United States, but have since adapted to using chimneys. If you have nesting swifts in your chimney, simply close the flue damper, and consider yourself lucky. Chimney Swifts are declining over their range, partly due to the recent trend towards capping chimneys. New Hope Audubon has built several swift “towers” in the Triangle, to aid with nesting and roosting. One such tower can be observed at Sandy Creek Park in Durham. For information on swifts in fall migration and their spectacular swirling flocks as they gather for roosting in local chimneys, click here.
As recently as the 1970’s, the Eastern Bluebird was in steep decline over much of the eastern United States. The effects of DDT, and the lack of old tree cavities for nesting, were partly to blame. After several decades of awareness and conservation, and the installation by landowners of manmade nest boxes, the Eastern Bluebird has made a comeback. New Hope Audubon sells Eastern Bluebird houses online, and at our monthly meetings. Hosting a family of bluebirds is one of the easiest ways to contribute to local conservation efforts. For more information on Bluebird conservation, visit ncbluebird.org
The Eastern Meadowlark was once abundant over much of North Carolina’s farm country. Seen perched on wires or fences, these colorful members of the blackbird family nest in fields with long grasses. Changes in farming practice, particularly the early harvest of grasses for hay, have decimated local populations. Farmers and landowners can support Meadowlark conservation by waiting until the birds finish nesting before mowing for hay. New Hope Audubon recommends August 1 for hay harvest, to reduce Meadowlark chick mortality. Low intensity grazing by livestock during the nesting season may also be helpful.
The Eastern Screech-owl is a small, adorable looking owl that comes in two varieties: gray and reddish-brown. Cryptic and generally shy, the Screech-owl is more often heard than seen. Its call sounds much like the whinny of a horse, often followed by a melodious trill. Eastern Screech-owls are possibly threatened by the lack of appropriate nest holes in trees, and can be assisted by the proper placement nest boxes. New Hope Audubon sells Screech-owl boxes online, and at our monthly meetings. Placing nest boxes in almost any wooded area, including relatively urban back yards, may help support local Screech-owl populations.
As with many open field nesters, like the Bluebird, Meadowlark, and Bobwhite, the Field Sparrow is under pressure locally. This colorful sparrow was once abundant in the Triangle, but has declined due to the loss of farmland to development, and changes in farming practice. Following the land management suggestions for Eastern Meadowlark will also significantly help the Field Sparrow population.
The Northern Bobwhite, colloquially referred to as “quail,” is an iconic species of the American South. Once an abundant species across its range, the Bobwhite is now in steep decline due to fire suppression and the gradual transition of farmland back to forest. Mowing for hay during the nesting season is also taking its toll on the Bobwhite. Farmers and landowners can support Bobwhite quail by leaving brushy margins and early successional patches on their property. Proper management of pine forest, including the use of controlled burns, is optimal. For more information on Bobwhite Conservation, visit bringbackbobwhites.org
Prothonotary Warblers are cavity nesters that breed in our area in spring. Locally abundant along rivers and lakes, the bird is in decline regionally due to destruction of bottomland forest. Colloquially called the “Golden Swamp Warbler,” this canary-yellow bird adds color and character to our southern lowlands.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are residents of bottomland forest, especially where there may be dead trees. Unfortunately, development is encroaching on these types of forests locally. Although these birds are not threatened across their range, they are thought to be declining locally, as these woodpeckers are sensitive to disturbance. Leaving dead trees and snags in lowland areas, and being generally respectful of the birds, can help.
The Wood Thrush is considered the most beautiful songster in the eastern United States. The flute like song of the Wood Thrush, however, is slowly fading away, as this shy bird declines across its range. About the size of an American Robin, the Wood Thrush seeks dense, undisturbed forest to make its nest, typically close to the ground. Development is the biggest threat to this species. Maintaining areas of healthy deciduous forest is crucial to the future of the Wood Thrush.