Southern Specialties

April 1, 2008
Brown-headed nuthatch

Brown-headed nuthatch. © F. Truslow / VIREO

Birders from outside the South frequently come to North Carolina in order to add what birders call the "Southern specialties" to their life lists. The brown-headed nuthatch, red-cockaded woodpecker, Swainson's warbler, and Bachman's sparrow breed primarily in Southern states from Virginia to Louisiana.

Of the four, the brown-headed nuthatch is the only one found in the Triangle area. The tiny, short-tailed bird, a year-round occupant, is usually found circling the trunk of a pine tree, sometimes with its head facing down. It makes a thin call that sounds like a squeeze toy.

Seeing the other Southern specialties requires a day trip and some persistence, as they are all rare or reclusive. The red-cockaded woodpecker nests in longleaf pine forests in the sandhills and coastal plain, where Bachman's sparrows can also be found.

Swainson's warblers eschew the Piedmont to breed in wooded areas in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and in the coastal pocosins.

Visitors looking for an encounter with these species should consult regional bird guides and online resources such as Carolinabirds.