North Carolina is home to a number of beautiful white birds. With little effort, you can see many of them. But, how accurately can you ID the birds you see? This resource will help you to correctly ID 16 types of white birds in North Carolina.
This includes both common and rare white birds, white morphs of birds, and birds that are primarily white but have some other colors in their plumage (the primary color is white).
White Birds in North Carolina (All-white Birds)
1 – Great Egret
Quick ID guide to Great Egret
- They have a comparatively larger bodies with beautiful all-white plumage. Their bodies look tall and thin and they have S-shaped necks.
- The leg color is black.
- Great Egrets have a yellow color, dagger-shaped bills (Great Egrets in the Americas have yellow bills)
If you are birding in North Carolina, one of the birds that you can easily spot is the Great Egret. Since they are one of the most common wading birds in North America, you will often see them foraging in shallow water or open fields.
Mostly you can see them alone, not as flocks. However, during the breeding season, they mix with other egrets and herons. Their preferred habitats are shallow ponds, rivers, lakes, and other wetlands where they look for small fish.
Great Egrets are considered either partial migrators (when they migrate to their north American range) or non-migrators. In North Carolina, you can see them year-round in eastern regions, more toward the coastal belt.
And, the best time to look for them in central parts of the state is during the breeding season and in western regions, during their migration.
2 – Snowy Egret
Quick ID guide to Snowy Egret
- They have all-white bodies. Similar to Great Egrets, they also have S-shaped necks. Snowy Egrets get long lacy plumes on the head, back, and neck during the breeding season.
- Leg and feet color: They have black legs (like Great Egrets) but their feet are bright yellow in color (non-breeding) and orange-red (breeding)
- Their bill is black in color and it has a yellow patch at the base of the bill.
Similar to many other beautiful birds, Snowy Egrets were also hunted for their feathers in the late 1800s and it led to the near extinction of this beautiful bird. But, now, they are widespread across the United States and can be seen fairly commonly in many states.
When foraging, they use their feet to stir the water and probe to make their prey move so that they can hunt them. Mostly, they forage in estuarine and freshwater habitats. You can often see them along with other egrets.
In North Carolina, Snowy Egrets can be seen in coastal regions year-round and in central parts during the breeding season. If you are birding in western regions, you have the most luck seeing them in their migration.
3 – Cattle Egret
Quick ID guide to Cattle Egret
- Cattle Egrets are also all-white birds. Their necks and legs are shorter when compared to other egrets. One of the distinguishable features in Cattle Egrets is their Oakley yellow feathers on the chest, back, and crown during the breeding season.
- Breeding adults have yellow or reddish legs and non-breeders have dark legs (blackish).
- Cattle Egrets have a stout dagger-shaped bill that is yellow in the non-breeding season and red-orange in the breeding season.
Cattle Egrets are native to Africa. But, now they have spread widely over many states of North America.
Unlike other egrets, Cattle Egrets prefer dry habitats. They don’t want their feet to get wet.
Generally, they are grassland species that mostly be seen along with livestock, looking for invertebrates that are exposed from animal feet or from tractors in fields.
Cattle Egrets have a diverse diet that usually includes insects and small animals that can easily catch in grasslands. They build their nests using sticks in trees and stay as flocks mixing with other types of herons.
In North Carolina, you can see them in mountains during migration and in other regions during the breeding season.
4 – White Ibis
Quick ID guide for White Ibis
- Adult White Ibises have white bodies and little black on their wingtips. And, one of the unique features is their red facial skin.
- Their bills are long and downward-curved. Bill color is orange-red (a distinctive feature)
- And, they have pinkish-red legs
White Ibis is one of the birds that you would easily identify when you spot. They are quite distinctive due to their long curved beaks, white plumage, and red facial skins.
White Ibis nests in large colonies. Mostly, you can see them in flocks. Salt marshes and wetlands are their main foraging habitats. And, since White Ibises are not shy, sometimes you can see them foraging close to humans.
When compared to male White Ibises, females look smaller. Also, bills of females are comparatively shorter and less curved. And, the appearance of immatures is different from adults with brown and white mixed plumage.
In North Carolina, during the migration, you can see them in southeastern regions. And, they can be seen year-round along the coastline.
5 – Little Blue Heron (Juvenile Morph)
Quick ID guide for Little Blue Heron
- Juvenile Little Blue Herons have white plumage and their appearance is quite similar to Snowy Egret. The S-shaped neck is also another similarity. And, they are comparatively smaller in size.
- Little Blue Herons have dagger-shaped bills. And the tip of the bill is black (in contrast, the entire bill of the Snowy Egret is black)
- These birds have Pale greenish legs whereas Snowy Egrets have black legs.
Adult Little Blue Herons are bluish in color. But, their juveniles have completely white plumage. Since these juveniles look similar to Snowy Egrets, it is important to pay attention to distinguishable features (as highlighted in the above quick guide) of the two species in order to correctly ID them.
The main foraging habitats of Little Blue Herons are lagoons, shallow marshes, and other fresh or saltwater habitats. They can mostly be seen as flocks in open wetlands. They mix with other herons and wading species when breeding.
The coastal plain is the best region in North Carolina to see Little Blue Herons. You can see them year-round there. In the Piedmont region (towards the coastal plains), they can be seen during the breeding season. But, only during migration, you will see them in the rest of the state.
6 – Wood Stork
Quick ID guide for Wood Stork
- Wood Stork is a large white bird with black flight feathers. One of their distinguishable features is the featherless blackish color head and upper neck.
- Another feature that differentiates them is their long downward-curved dark bill
- Wood Storks have blackish-gray legs
Wood Storks are large birds with about 3 feet in height. They are taller than most of the other wading birds. And Wood Storks have long necks, bills, and legs.
The most preferred foraging grounds of Wood Storks are marshes, swamps, forested freshwater, and coastal areas. They catch their aquatic prey (mostly fish) by stirring the water to force the prey to move and feel the movement through their feet and catch with long bills.
In North America, Wood Storks breed in Florida and nearby regions. And, it is the only stork to breed in North America.
If you like to see Wood Storks in North Carolina, look for them in the southeastern region during the non-breeding season.
7 – Northern Gannet
Quick ID guide for Northern Gannet
- The Northern Gannets are beautiful white birds. They have white bodies with black wing tips. One of their identifiable features is having a yellowish wash on the back of the head and neck.
- Its eyes are light blue in color. They have pointed tail feathers.
- Northern Gannets have long, heavy, gray color bills.
Northern Gannets are seabirds, native to the coasts of the Atlantic ocean. Juvenile Northern Gannets are brown in color with small white spots on their plumage. It takes about 4-5 years for them to get snow white beautiful feathers.
They are famous for their headfirst plunge dives for foraging. It is an eye-catching scene to watch when a large flock of Northern Gannets does plunge diving.
Since they are seabirds, they mostly stay in the ocean. But, they stay closer to shore. Hence, you can see them along the coastline in North Carolina during the non-breeding season. They breed in identified six Canadian colonies.
8 – Tundra Swan
Quick ID guide for Tundra Swan
- Tundra Swan has a large all-white body with a long distinctive neck. One of the distinguishable features of Tundra Swan is having a yellow facial patch on the face, adjacent to their eyes.
- And, clear separation between eyes and bills can be seen in Tundra Swans (This helps to differentiate them from Trumpeter Swan)
- Tundra Swan has a heavy black bill (in North American Tundra Swans)
- They have dark legs and feet.
Tundra Swans have two identified populations, North American Whistling Swans and Eurasian “Bewick’s” population.
The major distinguishable feature between these two species is Whistling swans have a black bill with a small yellow patch next to their eyes, while Bewick’s Swan has a yellow and black bill.
They are widely spread over many states of North America. Although Tundra Swans are the smallest swans, they are larger than many wading birds with about 4-5 feet in length.
Tundra Swans usually stay in flocks. But, when breeding, they mostly spread out and can be seen individually. Water bodies in Arctic tundra such as pools and lakes are their nesting grounds.
So, in North Carolina, you can see them during the non-breeding season along the coastline.
9 – White-tailed Tropicbird
Quick ID guide for White-tailed Tropicbird
- White-tailed Tropicbird is a medium size bird with white plumage. Adult birds have long tail streamers.
- On top of their wings, they have distinctive black marks. Also, the black stripe through the eyes is also distinctive.
- Their bills are orange to yellow in color.
White-tailed Tropicbirds are one of the rare white birds to see in North Carolina. They are the smallest among the three Tropicbird species. But, they are the common ones in North America compared to other species.
White-tailed Tropicbirds are seabirds and prefer tropical ocean islands when breeding. They nest on rocky cliffs along the coastal belt. But, they fly far out from land to sea during the non-breeding season.
Since they soar very high, when you see them from below and from a distance, they appear as all-white birds though they have black marks on top of their wings with longer tail streamers.
So, you can check for them during the breeding season along the coastline in North Carolina.
10 – Red-billed Tropicbird
Quick ID guide for Red-billed Tropicbird
- Red-billed Tropicbird has a white body with black wingtips and black eye lining. And, they have black barring on their wings.
- Just like other Tropicbirds, adult Red-billed Tropicbirds also have long tail streamers.
- Their bill is red in color and slightly curved downward.
Similar to other Tropicbirds, Red-billed Tropicbirds are also rare seabirds. They too have beautiful white long tail streamers that uniquely separate them from other seabirds.
One of the interesting facts about them is that they can not walk on the land. Instead, they push themselves on their breasts. That makes it hard for them to take off from the land and it demands a greater effort.
During the non-breeding season, Red-tailed Tropicbirds fly very far from shores to sea since they prefer tropical oceans. And, mostly they rest on the sea. Their waterproof plumage helps them to float on water.
Since they are not large birds (pigeon-size) and soar at greater heights, it is somewhat difficult for a beginner birder to ID them correctly. So, the best time to look for them is during the breeding season when they visit the land to nest in rock cliffs.
In North Carolina, you can look for them along the coastline during the breeding season.
11 – Great white heron/Great Blue Heron (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Great Blue Heron (White Morph)
- Great White Herons are large all-white birds with S-shaped long necks. They look similar to Great Egrets.
- They have a heavy yellow color bill.
- A distinguishable feature of them is their grayish-yellow colored legs. (Legs of Great Egrets are entirely black)
The Great White Herons are white morphs of Great Blue Herons. But, they are sometimes considered as a separate species.
These birds are one of the largest herons in the USA. Since their appearance is quite similar to Great Egrets, you may have to pay attention to their distinguishable features when you spot either of them
In comparison, Great White Herons are larger in size than Great Egrets. And also, they have stronger and heavier bills than Great Egrets. Additionally, Great Egrets have entirely black legs and yellow feet whereas Great White Herons have grayish-yellow legs.
Great White Herons prefer wetland habitats such as marshes and swamps. You will spot them foraging along in those habitats. But, if the food is abundant, they can be seen as flocks as well.
You can see them year-round in all parts of North Carolina.
12 – Rock Pigeon (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Rock Pigeon (White Morph)
- Rock Pigeons are common birds. White morphs of them have white plumage. They have a broad chest that makes them look tubby. Rock Pigeons are slightly smaller than the size of a crow.
- They have shorter dark bills.
- And also, their legs are short and reddish in color.
The most common variety of Rock pigeon is the blue-gray pigeon with black wing bars. But, different color morphs in colors such as white, rusty-red, black, and variations of those can be seen in flocks.
Although Rock Pigeons are common birds all over North America, they were introduced by European colonists in the 17th century to states. Now you will see feral pigeons even in urban areas in great numbers.
Since white Rock Pigeons mostly forage mixing with other pigeons, you will ID them without much difficulty. In North Carolina, check for them in public places such as public squares where they search for waste food.
13 – Snow goose (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Snow Goose (White Morph)
- Snow Goose (White Morph) has a white head and body with black wing tips. They are medium size birds with long necks. Most of these birds have yellowish stains on their faces.
- Their bills are pink with a black patch on them.
- And also they have pink legs
Among the two different color morphs of Snow Goose (white and blue), the white morph is the most common one. Since their numbers have grown rapidly, they are now one of the most abundant water birds in the continent.
Preferred habitats of Snow Goose are ponds, bays, marshes, and agricultural fields. They nest in Arctic Tundra and migrate to coastal and inland areas in the south to winter there. Usually, migration happens as flocks of thousands of birds.
The best place to look for them in North Carolina is the coastal plains during the non-breeding season.
14 – Ross’s Goose (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Ross’s Goose (White Morph)
- Ross’s geese have white plumage with black wing tips. They are smaller birds with shorter necks.
- Ross’s geese have a reddish color short triangular-shaped bill
- And, its legs are reddish pink in color
Even though there are two color morphs of Ross’s goose, you will see most of the time white morphs. Blue morph is very rare.
And, Ross’s Geese usually mix with flocks of Snow Geese, but you can spot them without much effort since they have clean white heads (lacks the yellow stains that Snow Geese have), shorter necks, and stubbier bills.
Ross’s geese also nest in Arctic Tundra and during the non-breeding session and in migration, they can be seen in marshes, lakes, ponds, and other wetlands mixing with large flocks of Snow Geese.
Even though their population has grown substantially, they are a rare sight in North Carolina. During the non-breeding season, they occur in the northeastern region of North Carolina.
Birds in North Carolina That Look Mostly White (Primarily White)
In addition to the primary color white, some birds have more colors in their plumage. But, when looking from distance, those birds may appear to be white since their primary color is white. Especially, beginner birders may find it difficult to ID these birds correctly.
Hence, here I have provided birds that have fallen into that category you can see in North Carolina. Even though they are not all-white birds, knowing about them would help when you are birding in North Carolina.
15 – Ring-billed gull
Quick ID guide for Ring-billed Gull
- The most distinguishable feature of Ring-billed Gull is having a black band on a yellow bill
- They have a medium size body. They have white bellies, breasts, and underwings. And also, they have white spots on their black wingtips.
- Heads of breeding adults are white, but during the non-breeding season, they get brown streaks on their white heads.
- Their legs are yellowish or greenish when breeding and they turn pale yellow in the non-breeding season.
Since Ring-billed Gulls are one of the common birds in North America, you may even see them in urban areas.
Adult birds look whitish during breeding than in non-breeding season since non-breeders have brown smudges on their white heads. And, they have gray upper wings that make them not all-white birds.
Typical habitats of Ring-billed Gulls are ponds, lakes, rivers, and beaches. But, they tend to scavenge food in urban areas.
During the non-breeding season, you can see them in coastal plains and the Piedmont region in North Carolina. But, in mountain regions, you will most probably see them during migration.
16 – Herring Gull
How to identify Herring Gull (Quickly)
- The most distinguishable feature of Herring Gulls is having a red spot on their yellow bill.
- Herring Gulls are large-sized birds. They have clean white heads when breeding and get brown streaks on their heads during the non-breeding season.
- Due to their gray back, they look grayish. But, their belly, breast, and underwing are white. So, when flying they look mostly white. Similar to Ring-billed Gulls, they too have white spots on black wingtips.
- They have pink legs.
Herring Gulls are also called “Seagulls”. Even though they were hunted to near extinction for plumage in the 19th century, now they are quite common gulls, widely spread over many states.
Herring Gulls nest in the northeastern US and Canada. And, they migrate to winter in southern regions. Typical habitats of Herring Gulls are coastal and inland water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and ponds.
You can see them in the coastal plain during the non-breeding season and the rest of the state during migration in North Carolina.
More Facts about White Birds in North Carolina!
Here I have summarized the best region in North Carolina and the best time of the year to see each of the 16 white birds listed above. You can check All About Birds to get more range data of those birds.
In addition, I have provided general data on those birds such as length (tip of the bill to tip of the tail length), wingspan and food preferences.
|White Bird||Place and time of the year to see them in North Carolina||Length||Wingspan||Food|
|Great Egret||Eastern towards the coastal plains – year-round|
Piedmont region – breeding
Mountain regions – migration
|about 39 inches||about 6 ft||Small fish, aquatic insects, frogs, crayfish|
|Snowy Egret||Coast – year-round|
Piedmont region – breeding
Mountains – migration
|about 24 inches||about 42 inches||Aquatic insects and small fish, amphibians, and snakes|
|Cattle Egret||Mountain region – migration|
Other regions – breeding
|about 20 inches||about 31 inches||Insects, spiders, frogs|
|White Ibis||Southeastern – migration|
Coastal region – year-round
|about 25 inches||about 38 inches||Aquatic insects, crustaceans, fish, frogs|
|Juvenile Little Blue Heron||Coastal Plains – year-round|
Piedmont region – breeding
Mountains – migration
|about 24 inches||about 39 inches||Crayfish, crabs, small fish, insects, and amphibians|
|Wood Stork||Southeastern region – non-breeding||about 39 inches||about 5 ft||Fish, scrab, and insects (aquatic prey)|
|Northern Gannet||Coastline – non-breeding||33– 42 inches||about 5.5 ft||Mackerel, herring, capelin, and cod|
|Tundra Swan||Coastline – non-breeding||4 – 5 ft||6.25 – 7.25 ft||Aquatic vegetation, mollusks, insects, and grain|
|White-tailed Tropicbird||Coastline – breeding||About 15 inches||about 37 inches||Small flying fish, surface-feeding fish, crabs, squids|
|Red-billed Tropicbird||Coastline – breeding||About 20 inches||about 40 inches||Flying fish and squids|
|Great Blue Heron (White Morph)||All regions – year-round||33 – 51 inches||5.25 – 6.5 ft||They prefer fish|
|Rock Pigeon (White Morph)||All regions – year-round||11 – 14 inches||20 – 26 inches||Mostly seeds and fruits and discarded human food (in cities)|
|Snow Goose (White Morph)||Coastal plains – non-breeding||27 – 33 inches||4.25 – 5.5 ft||Stems, leaves, seeds, and roots of different grass species in aquatic or terrestrial habitats|
|Ross’s Goose (White Morph)||Northeastern region – non-breeding||22 – 25 inches||about 3.25 ft||Plants, grasses, and grain|
|Ring-billed gull||Coastal area and midland – non-breeding|
Mountains – migration
|17 – 21.5 inches||41– 46 inches||Small fish, insects, earthworms, grains, and rodents|
|Herring Gull||Coastal plains – winter|
Other regions – migration
|22 – 26 inches||4 – 5 ft||Small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, worms|
So, that’s the list of white birds you can see in North Carolina. Let me know which white birds you saw and please mention any bird that should have made it to this list but I missed (It’s a challenge!).
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