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Animals and Wildlife in North Carolina

north carolina

From mammals and reptiles to insects, birds, and fish, North Carolina is teeming with animals and wildlife.

Among the many rodents found in the state, the grey squirrel proudly holds the title of the official animal of North Carolina. You’ll also come across a host of other visitors in the state, including foxes, opossums, raccoons, rodents, and birds. These animals are often attracted to the inviting environments of ranches and patios, enticed by lawn feeders and water sources.

So, prepare to embrace the diverse wildlife of North Carolina as you explore its varied landscapes and encounter a wide array of fascinating creatures.

Click below to jump to a section on animals in North Carolina:

Eastern Grey Squirrel

Eastern Grey Squirrel animals in North Carolina
Scientific NameSciurus carolinensis
Common NameEastern Grey Squirrel
SizeLength: 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm)
Tail Length: 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 cm)
Weight: 0.8 to 1.5 pounds (0.35 to 0.7 kg)
Body ShapeSmall to medium-sized with a slender body and bushy tail
Fur ColorVaried, ranging from gray to brown with a white underbelly
DistributionNative to eastern and central North America
HabitatAdaptable to various habitats including forests,
urban areas, and suburban parks
DietOmnivorous, feeding on a variety of nuts, seeds,
fruits, berries, fungi, and occasionally small insects
BehaviorAgile climbers and proficient jumpers
Diurnal (active during the day)
ReproductionBreeding Season: Late winter to early spring
Gestation Period: Approximately 44 days
Litter Size: Usually 2 to 5 young
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Considered a species of least concern by the IUCN
although local populations may face threats

Meet the Eastern grey squirrels , the cheeky food scavenger of the animal kingdom! These clever critters have a nose for seeds, nuts, buds, and blossoms of trees. But here’s the fun part—they’re not just eating; they’re playing a crucial role in seed dispersal. You see, these squirrels are like nature’s little gardeners. As winter approaches, they squirrel away their food stash in various spots. They bury more than they can remember, creating secret seed banks all around. And come springtime, those buried treasures sprout and grow, bringing life to the forest. Talk about squirrel magic!

But let’s talk about their noses—oh, what sniffers they have! Eastern grey squirrels have an amazing sense of smell, which they use to locate the hidden goodies they’ve buried. And it’s not just about food—they also sniff out information about their squirrel buddies. It’s like they have their own secret scent network going on!

When danger lurks, these furry heroes don’t stay quiet. No, sir! If hunters like red foxes or red-tailed hawks are on the prowl, eastern grey squirrels take charge. They sound the alarm, letting other squirrels know it’s time to take cover. It’s like they have their own squirrel neighborhood watch program.

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Now, let’s talk family matters. Female eastern grey squirrels are the queens of multitasking. They can start having babies as young as five and a half months old. That’s like being a teenage parent in the squirrel world! They can have two litters a year, with each litter consisting of a couple of adorable squirrel pups. Talk about a busy family schedule!

When it comes to accommodations, these squirrels are quite the architects. They build cozy nests high up in the trees using leaves and twigs. It’s like having their own luxurious treetop penthouses. And if they’re feeling fancy, they might just move into a tree cavity, turning it into a squirrel mansion. Who needs a house when you have nature’s own real estate options?

With their slender bodies, sturdy limbs, and furred feet, eastern grey squirrels are the acrobats of the tree world. Their claws are like built-in mountaineering gear, allowing them to tackle vertical surfaces and tightrope-walk along thin branches. They put the “tree” in tree-mendous agility!

So, next time you spot an eastern grey squirrel hopping and scurrying around, take a moment to appreciate their hidden superpowers. From seed dispersal to scent communication, these playful creatures bring a touch of wonder and hilarity to the animal kingdom. Keep an eye out for their mischievous antics—they’re sure to make you smile!

Where to find Eastern Grey Squirrels in North Carolina

They mostly live in woodland ecosystems and large areas alongside other animals in North Carolina.

Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal : animals in north carolina
Scientific NameCardinalis cardinalis
Common NameNorthern Cardinal
SizeLength: 8.3 to 9.3 inches (21 to 24 cm)
Wingspan: 9.8 to 12.2 inches (25 to 31 cm)
Weight: 1.5 to 1.8 ounces (42 to 51 grams)
Body ShapeMedium-sized songbird with a compact, stocky body
PlumageMale: Vibrant red plumage, black face mask, and a
prominent crest
Female: Pale brownish-gray with hints of red on wings
DistributionNative to North America, primarily found in eastern
and central parts of the United States and Canada
HabitatPrefers a variety of habitats, including forests,
woodlands, gardens, and shrubby areas
DietOmnivorous, feeding on seeds, fruits, insects,
and occasionally small vertebrates
SongKnown for its melodic and whistling song
BehaviorMonogamous, often seen in pairs or small family groups
Non-migratory, resident throughout the year in many
parts of its range
ReproductionBreeding Season: Early spring to mid-summer
Nest: Cup-shaped nest made of twigs, grass, and
other plant materials
Clutch Size: Usually 2 to 4 eggs
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Considered a species of least concern by the IUCN
and population appears stable

Let’s talk about the colorful characters of the bird world—cardinals! These flashy fellas are known for their vibrant red plumage, especially the males. They are a nonmigratory bunch and love to serenade us with their clear whistled tunes. The male cardinals rock a striking reddish coat, complete with a dashing black mask and an orange beak. Meanwhile, the female cardinals flaunt hues of brown or red. These charming birds have even expanded their territory all the way up to southwestern Canada. Talk about spreading their wings!

Both male and female cardinals are talented whistlers, delighting us with their melodies all year round. And let’s talk about their family life—they are quite the busy bunch! A cardinal couple can raise up to four broods in a single year. That’s some serious multitasking in the bird world!

Now, let’s meet the desert cardinal, also known as the pyrrhuloxia. This bird, with its understated dark plumage and a touch of red on its mask, is a true representative of the American Southwest. You’ll often find this little charmer foraging amidst the thistle bushes. Its scientific name is quite a mouthful, combining the Latin name for the bullfinch with a Greek reference to its unique, short beak. Nature sure has a way with wordplay!

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While we’re on the subject of cardinals, let’s not forget about their relatives. The cardinal family, known as Cardinalidae, includes other species like the vermilion cardinal. These birds are often referred to as cardinals, too. But wait, there’s more! Another group of birds, belonging to the Paroaria genus, also shares the cardinal name. They are part of the tanager family. These delightful cardinals can be found across South America and on several Caribbean islands. Talk about a widespread family tree!

Take a moment to appreciate the stunning beauty and enchanting melodies of these cardinals. Whether they’re serenading us from the backyard or gracing us with their presence in far-off lands, they bring a touch of brilliance to our avian world. So, keep an eye out for these feathered superstars—they’re sure to captivate your heart with their vibrant colors and enchanting songs!

Dive in deeper into the world of this red wonder by reading our article on the beauty of red birds.

Where to find Northern Cardinals in North Carolina

They are mostly found living in thickets, woodland areas, suburban gardens, towns; desert washes together with other animals in North Carolina.


bleugill animals in north carolina
Scientific NameLepomis macrochirus
Common NameBluegill
SizeLength: 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm)
Weight: 0.2 to 2 pounds (0.1 to 0.9 kg)
Body ShapeSmall to medium-sized fish with a deep, compressed body
ColorationTypically olive-green on the upper body with
a yellow or orange breast and belly
DistributionNative to North America, found in freshwater lakes,
ponds, rivers, and streams throughout the continent
HabitatPrefers warm, shallow waters with vegetation and
submerged structures
DietOmnivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic insects,
small crustaceans, zooplankton, and plant matter
BehaviorOften found in schools and forms social hierarchies
ReproductionSpawning Season: Late spring to early summer
Nest: Male creates a circular nest in shallow water
Clutch Size: Usually 1,000 to 50,000 eggs
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Considered a species of least concern by the IUCN
and populations are generally stable

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of bluegills, one of the most stunning sunfish found in the freshwater regions of the central and southern United States. For more clarification check out our article on where we compare Bluegill to Sunfish.

Bluegills can be found in various freshwater habitats, not just in the United States but also in different parts of the world. Despite their small size, typically measuring around 15 to 23 cm and weighing less than 0.25 kg, they are highly sought-after game fish. One distinguishing feature of bluegills is a dark spot at the rear of their sharp dorsal fin and a faint fold at the end of their gill cover. The body color of bluegills can vary, ranging from light blue to greenish hues.

But don’t let their size fool you—bluegills are spirited competitors when it comes to fishing. They are frequently caught using lines and hooks, making them a popular catch for anglers. You’ll often find them stocked in small farm lakes, adding excitement to fishing adventures.

When water temperatures reach around 70°F, bluegills begin their spawning season. This usually occurs in May or June but can continue until water temperatures cool in the fall. With their long breeding season, bluegills have a high reproductive potential, sometimes leading to overpopulation even with low predation or fishing pressure.

These little marvels create their nests in shallow water, usually one to two feet deep, and they prefer a rocky substrate for nesting. In a small area, you might find around fifty nests, creating a bustling breeding ground. Male bluegills diligently guard the nest until the eggs hatch and the fry swim away. The young fish feed on tiny aquatic organisms, gradually transitioning to a diet of aquatic insects and their larvae. It’s no surprise that up to half of their diet can consist of midge larvae.

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So, keep an eye out for these striking bluegills in freshwater habitats. They may be small, but they certainly know how to put up a spirited fight and add a splash of color to our angling adventures. Enjoy the wonders of nature as you witness their unique spawning behaviors and marvel at their diverse diet. Get ready to reel in some excitement with these delightful sunfish!

You can learn more by reading about the Sunfish’s Journey from Microscopic to Monumental.

Where to find Bluegills in North Carolina

Bluegill fish live in shallow waters of many ponds, lakes, creeks, streams, and rivers.

Carolina Wren

cardinal wren
Scientific NameThryothorus ludovicianus
Common NameCarolina Wren
SizeLength: 4.9 to 5.5 inches (12.5 to 14 cm)
Wingspan: 9.1 to 9.8 inches (23 to 25 cm)
Weight: 0.6 to 0.8 ounces (17 to 22 grams)
Body ShapeSmall, compact bird with a round body and a long tail
PlumageRusty-brown upperparts with a rich reddish-brown
back and a creamy underbelly
DistributionNative to the eastern and central parts of North
America, including the United States and Mexico
HabitatFound in a variety of habitats, including forests,
woodlands, thickets, and suburban gardens
DietOmnivorous, feeding on insects, spiders,
small invertebrates, fruits, and seeds
SongKnown for its loud, rich, and melodious song
BehaviorCurious and active bird with a distinctive bobbing
motion of its body and tail
ReproductionBreeding Season: Late spring to summer
Nest: Dome-shaped nest made of twigs, grass, and
other plant materials
Clutch Size: Usually 3 to 7 eggs
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Considered a species of least concern by the IUCN
and populations are generally stable

Let’s explore the vibrant world of Carolina Wrens! These splendidly colored birds are a common sight in open woods and backyard spaces throughout the southeast. With their striking hues and melodious tunes, they bring joy to our surroundings. You’ll often find them busy exploring brush piles and low knots, their curiosity driving them to investigate every nook and cranny.

Carolina Wrens are committed to their partners, forming pairs that last throughout the year. They engage in beautiful “duets” where the female adds her chattering note while the male serenades with his song. It’s a harmonious display of affection and communication.

The northern edge of their range tends to fluctuate over time. In periods of mild weather, they gradually expand their territory northward. But when severe winters strike, they retreat back to the south. They navigate these ever-changing boundaries with resilience and adaptability.

Feeding in pairs, Carolina Wrens are active foragers. They eagerly explore low knots, foliage, bark, and the ground in search of insects. Caterpillars, spiders, true bugs, grasshoppers, crickets, and numerous other critters are on their menu. They also have a taste for berries, small fruits, and even indulge in the occasional reptile or tree frog delicacy. These versatile birds make the most of the available food sources, adapting their diet as needed.

When it comes to nesting, Carolina Wrens are resourceful. They choose a variety of cavities for their homes, including natural tree hollows, old woodpecker holes, crevices among fallen trees’ root systems, and even artificial sites like nesting boxes or gaps in buildings. Their nests are bulky structures made of twigs, leaves, and weeds, lined with softer materials like moss, grass, animal hair, and feathers. They even add a touch of snakeskin for extra flair. The nests are often domed, with a side entrance, and typically situated under 10 feet above the ground. Both males and females contribute to nest construction, with the female taking the lead in adding the cozy lining.

So keep an eye and ear out for these enchanting Carolina Wrens as they bring their vibrant colors, captivating melodies, and resourceful nesting habits to the world around us. Enjoy their lively presence and admire their dedication to their partners and their crafty nest-building skills.

Where to find Carolina Wrens in North Carolina

It is found living in lowland swamps, brushy thickets, bottomland woody areas, and ravines choked with rhododendron and hemlock alongside other animals in North Carolina.

Tundra Swan

tundra swan
Scientific NameCygnus columbianus
Common NameTundra Swan
SizeLength: 45 to 58 inches (115 to 148 cm)
Wingspan: 70 to 80 inches (178 to 203 cm)
Weight: 11 to 30 pounds (5 to 14 kg)
Body ShapeLarge, long-necked bird with a graceful, curved body
PlumageWhite feathers with a black beak and black legs
DistributionBreeds in the Arctic regions of North America,
Europe, and Asia
Migrates to various regions in North America,
including the United States and Mexico, for wintering
HabitatBreeds in wetlands, tundra, and coastal areas
During migration and winter, frequents open water
habitats such as lakes, rivers, and coastal estuaries
DietHerbivorous, feeding on aquatic plants, algae,
and submerged vegetation
BehaviorMonogamous, forming pair bonds that last for life
Migratory, undertaking long-distance flights
ReproductionBreeding Season: Summer in the Arctic regions
Nest: Large mound-shaped nest made of plant materials
Clutch Size: Typically 3 to 6 eggs
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Considered a species of least concern by the IUCN
and populations appear stable

Let’s take a journey to the Arctic tundra, where a magnificent native swan makes its home. This swan, known as the Whistling Swan or Tundra Swan, has fared better in the face of human settlement compared to its cousin, the Trumpeter Swan. Although the destruction of southern wetlands has impacted its winter food sources, this resourceful swan has adapted by taking advantage of agricultural fields and their leftovers.

During the breeding season, the Whistling Swan primarily forages in water, dabbling at the surface, submerging its head, or even tipping its tail up and diving straight down, sometimes reaching depths of up to three feet. But during migration and in winter, it shifts its feeding habits to open fields, where it often indulges in seeds and other plant materials, making the most of the available resources.

In the summer months, the swan’s diet consists of various aquatic plants like sedges, pondweeds, arrow leaves, algae, and small invertebrates. However, at other times of the year, it consumes a significant amount of grains found in harvested corn, wheat, and soybean fields. This adaptable diet allows the Whistling Swan to sustain itself throughout its annual migration and wintering periods.

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When it comes to courtship, these elegant birds engage in a mesmerizing display. A pair of swans face each other, wings slightly spread, and rapidly tremble while calling out loudly. It’s a captivating sight and sound that showcases their bond and readiness for nesting.

Speaking of nests, Whistling Swans choose their homes near lakes or large bodies of water, often on edges or islands with good visibility. The nest, built by both male and female, is a low mound of plant material, about one to two feet in diameter, with a central depression. It may be used for multiple years, showing the swans’ loyalty to their nesting site.

Parental care is a joint effort, with both adults tending to their young. The adults may paddle with their feet to bring submerged food to the surface for the offspring. While direct feeding of the young is rare, the adults provide guidance and protection as the fledglings mature. It takes about two to three months for the young swans to fully fledge and become independent, but they often stay with their parents for some time, learning valuable skills for their future journeys.

So, let’s marvel at the grace and adaptability of the Whistling Swan as it navigates vast distances, from the Arctic tundra to its wintering grounds. Appreciate its resourcefulness in finding food and adapting to changing environments. Witness its breathtaking courtship rituals and admire the dedication of both parents in raising their young. Nature truly has bestowed this swan with elegance and resilience.

Read about The Incredible Migration of Monarch Butterflies to explore more migration patterns!

Where to find Tundra Swans in North Carolina

It is found living in large rivers, lakes, estuaries, bays, and flooded fields in the summer and winter on shallow lakes, together with many other animals in North Carolina.

Red Knot

red knot
Scientific NameCalidris canutus
Common NameRed Knot
SizeLength: 9.8 to 10.6 inches (25 to 27 cm)
Wingspan: 20 to 23 inches (50 to 58 cm)
Weight: 3.5 to 5.3 ounces (100 to 150 grams)
Body ShapeMedium-sized shorebird with a plump body and short legs
PlumageBreeding Plumage: Bright rusty red on the head, neck,
and breast with a pale underbelly
Non-breeding Plumage: Grayish-brown with a mottled
DistributionGlobal Distribution: Found on all continents except
Breeding Range: Arctic regions of North America and
Wintering Range: Coastal areas of North and South
America, Africa, and Australasia
HabitatBreeds in tundra and Arctic coastal areas
During migration and winter, frequents sandy beaches,
mudflats, and estuaries
DietOmnivorous, feeding on a variety of invertebrates,
including mollusks, worms, crustaceans, and
small insects
MigrationRemarkable long-distance migratory bird
Undertakes annual migrations between breeding and
wintering grounds, covering thousands of miles
Conservation StatusNear Threatened
Faces threats such as habitat loss, climate change,
and disturbance along migratory routes

Red Knots may be bulkier compared to other shorebirds, but they sure know how to cover great distances during migration. In the winter, they blend in with their pale gray wings and white chest and face, resembling their shorebird relatives. But come springtime, they reveal their unique breeding plumage—a striking combination of dappled chestnut-brown wings and a distinct rosy breast and face. As adults, these birds measure around 10 to 11 inches in length.

red knot bird
Chuck Homler d/b/a Focus On Wildlife, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to dining preferences, Red Knots have quite an appetite. They feast on a variety of foods, including horseshoe crab eggs, mollusks, insects, vegetation, and seeds. During migration and winter, they take advantage of small invertebrates dwelling in the mud, such as mollusks, marine worms, and shellfish. They employ a combination of sight and touch to find their food, probing the sand or mud and using their bill’s specialized sensory organs to detect subtle differences in pressure—an excellent clue that a tasty morsel is nearby.

Just like their feathered counterparts, Red Knots have an interesting grooming ritual. They possess a small organ at the base of their tail that secretes a waxy oil. During preening, they spread this protective wax over their feathers, using their bill to distribute it across and under their plumage. As the breeding season approaches, the chemical composition of this wax changes, making it less detectable to mammalian predators. Interestingly, both male and female Red Knots take turns incubating their eggs, producing less scented wax during this critical period of nesting.

When it comes to devouring mollusks, Red Knots have a unique approach. They swallow the shells whole and grind them up in their gizzard, a vital part of their stomach. Recent studies have shown that Red Knots boast the largest gizzards among shorebirds, perfectly suited to handle their dietary preferences.

During migration, Red Knots gather in enormous numbers at specific stopover points. One notable location is Delaware Bay during the spring migration, where the birds feast on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs. It’s a spectacular sight, with almost 90% of the entire population of the Red Knot subspecies rufa present in the bay on a single day. Unfortunately, the decline in available food due to the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs has contributed to a sharp decrease in Red Knot populations.

So, let’s marvel at the remarkable journey of Red Knots as they migrate across vast distances, showcasing their stunning breeding plumage and adapting their feeding habits along the way. Keep an eye out for these resilient birds as they gather in impressive numbers during their migration stopovers, and let’s work towards preserving their essential food sources for future generations to admire their beauty.

Where to find Red Knots in North Carolina

In the summer, they live in tundra areas; in the winter, they live near shorelines.

Summary Animals in North Carolina

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Ah, North Carolina, a haven for both wildlife and quirky state symbols. From the iconic northern cardinal, proudly serving as the state bird, to the mighty white-tailed deer roaming its lands, North Carolina is teeming with fascinating creatures. Even the saltwater fish, the channel bass, and the state frog, the pine barrens tree frog, have earned their special place in the state’s heart. And let’s not forget the eastern box turtle, proudly representing the state as its official reptile, while the honey bee buzzes around as the beloved state insect.

But the wildlife in North Carolina doesn’t stop there. You’ll find a whole menagerie of creatures paying visits to ranches and patios, including sly foxes, clever opossums, mischievous raccoons, and the ever-present rodents and birds who can’t resist the temptation of lawn feeders and water basins. These furry and feathery friends certainly know how to make themselves at home.

If you’re looking for more wildlife adventures, North Carolina’s 14 national parks and 34 state parks offer a playground for both animals and nature enthusiasts. Explore the renowned Appalachian National Scenic Trail or lose yourself in the stunning Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Venture into the Uwharrie, Croatan, and Nantahala National Forests for a glimpse of the wild.

North Carolina truly showcases a wide variety of climates, providing a diverse habitat for an array of creatures. From the bustling cities to the serene wilderness, this state is a playground for mammals, reptiles, insects, birds, fish, herbivores, predators, and many other fascinating animals.

And let’s not forget the gray squirrel, proudly claiming the title of the official animal of North Carolina. Among the many rodents found in the state, this charismatic creature has captured the hearts of North Carolinians, with its acrobatic antics and nimble movements.

So, whether you’re admiring the beauty of a cardinal’s vibrant plumage or crossing paths with a curious squirrel in your backyard, North Carolina is a treasure trove for wildlife enthusiasts. Embrace the diversity of this state’s fauna, from the treetops to the forest floor, and cherish the remarkable creatures that call North Carolina their home.

If you enjoyed reading the above on animals in North Carolina, check out animals in New Mexico and West Virginia next!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kind of animals do North Carolina have?

North Carolina is home to a diverse range of animals, including mammals such as white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, foxes, and bats. It also has various bird species like cardinals, wrens, owls, and waterfowl. Reptiles and amphibians such as turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, and salamanders are found in the state as well.

What is the most common animal in North Carolina?

The most common animal in North Carolina is likely the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). These deer are widely distributed throughout the state and can be found in forests, fields, and suburban areas.

What large wildlife is in North Carolina?

North Carolina is home to several large wildlife species, including black bears, red wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and white-tailed deer. These animals are considered large in terms of their size and impact on the ecosystem.

What lives in North Carolina lakes?

North Carolina lakes are teeming with aquatic life. Common inhabitants include various species of fish like bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish. Additionally, lakes may also have turtles, frogs, water snakes, and other water-dependent animals.

Are there alligators in North Carolina?

Yes, alligators can be found in North Carolina, primarily in the southeastern part of the state, particularly in the coastal regions and their associated habitats, such as swamps, marshes, and rivers.

What animal is North Carolina known for?

North Carolina is known for its rich biodiversity and is often associated with the state bird, the cardinal (Northern Cardinal). The cardinal’s vibrant red plumage and melodious song make it a popular symbol of North Carolina’s wildlife.

Does North Carolina have a lot of bears?

Yes, North Carolina has a significant population of black bears (Ursus americanus). The state is known for its bear population, particularly in the mountainous regions such as the Great Smoky Mountains and the surrounding areas.

Are there wolves in North Carolina?

North Carolina is home to the critically endangered red wolf (Canis lupus rufus), one of the rarest wolf species in the world. The red wolf population is concentrated in the northeastern part of the state.

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