Enjoy Bird Watching in Corolla, NC

February 5, 2024

Birds do fly south for the winter. Spend the off season in Corolla and the Currituck Outer Banks, and you’re certain to spot many species as you stroll the beach or any of our nature trails. Birding is a popular activity here in the cooler months; fewer crowds mean quieter spaces for wintering birds to settle. All you need are a comfortable pair of walking shoes, your camera and your binoculars to discover these magnificent creatures in the wild.

Waterfowl and Avian Royalty

It is well worth the drive to Knotts Island in winter to explore Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge. If you have booked a vacation home on our beaches, take a day to travel up US-168 to the Currituck Courthouse where you can catch the Knotts Island ferry. Call 1-800-BY-FERRY to confirm the daily schedule. Once there, your search for wintering birds begins at any of the year-round trails along the more than eight thousand acres of protected wetlands, including the Great Marsh Loop Trail, the Kuralt Trail Overlook, and the Marsh Causeway. Please note that some trails on Mackay Island are closed during certain seasons for maintenance and protection of wildlife. Visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for more detailed information on the Calendar of Events. While visiting the island you may see any of number of birds gliding across the sky including:

  • American bald eagles
  • Tundra swans
  • American widgeons
  • Green-winged teals
  • Gadwalls
  • Northern pintails
  • Snow geese

Of all the birds who nest in the refuge in wintertime, bird enthusiasts come in hopes of spotting the beautiful King Rail. While Mackay is known to have one of the largest populations of this specific bird, the King Rail is an elusive creature and shies away from other animals and humans. You must be very still and quiet when searching the mudflats; bird experts recommend visiting the refuge early in the day when the tide is low and the King Rails are feeding.

Gotta Find Them All!

Closer to the beaches, the Audubon Sanctuary and Center at Pine Island offers walking trails over 2,600 acres of lush marsh and forest bordering the Currituck Sound. Here, over 170 species of birds have been spotted over the years. Keep an eye out for ospreys, egrets, swallows, and loons among other migratory birds.

Within Corolla, there are more opportunities to bird watch at the Currituck Estuarine Reserve, which is part of the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve. Handicap-accessible boardwalk trails take visitors into over 900 acres of marsh, ocean beach, and maritime forest where many birds nest and feed.

Wherever you choose to go birding in Currituck this year, be mindful of trail regulations. Don’t litter or hike in prohibited areas, do not disturb the ecosystem by skipping rocks in the water, and take only photographs. If you are bringing your dog along, keep them leashed at all times so they do not disturb any of the animals who call these spaces home.

Flock to Corolla

If you’re looking for a winter retreat with remote beaches, cozy accommodations and amazing sunrises and sunsets, now is the time to come to Corolla. Rates are lower for vacation rentals now through the end of the season, and there is still much to enjoy here. Download our visitors guide today to plan your visit, and add the free Corolla OBX app to your phone when you arrive for local specials and events.