The wildlife on these Outer Banks is one of the great attractions for visitors. There are wild horses which have roamed here since the earliest explorers and shipwrecks. Sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs, and dolphins play in the sounds. Monarch butterflies swarm through the area migrating to south Florida and beyond. Migratory birds come and go, taking advantage of the myriad of wildlife refuges and protected park areas all along North Carolina's coastline.

Dolphins are a popular interest for Outer Banks visitors. Bottlenose dolphins can be found in the ocean and sounds along the Outer Banks. Some places offer dolphin cruises that give you a good chance to see dolphins while enjoying a pleasant boat ride. Normally these cruises are only available during the summer tourist season.

The three photos above were taken from the beach at Cape Point, Hatteras, in late February. This group of Dolphin was spotted moving south just off the beach south of the lighthouse. They made their way around the point and frolicked in the cove just west of the point.

If you are lucky, you may spot dolphins while on one of the ferrys. These two photos were taken about sunset, while crossing Pamlico Sound on the Cedar Island ferry. Several dolphin were spotted surfacing south of the ferry, then north of the ferry, then back south again. Then they seemed to disappear for a few minutes until someone spotted them riding the ferry's bow wave. The ferry's forward deck extends several feet out over the bow, so the bow itself is not visible, even when leaning as far as possible over the railing. But by pre-focusing his camera, and holding it at arms length over the side, the author was able to capture a shot of one dolphin as it shot out of the bow wave to take air.

An Osprey photographed near the Whalehead Club, Corolla, brings home a fish.

Without question, the most visible wildlife on the Outer Banks is certainly the bird population. Gulls, terns, geese, ducks, pelicans, egrets, cranes, plovers and other shore birds are a constant presence. The many songbirds flitting about in the pine forests, shrubs and marsh grasses of this coastal habitat are a bit less noticeable, unless you are paying close attention, but they are plentiful and varied. In fact, coastal North Carolina, with its plethora of protected wild habitats, is one of the hottest spots in the world for bird watchers.

Brown Pelicans are quite plentiful, usually seen skimming the waves and diving for fish. Sunrise can be a great time to watch their graceful moves, and sudden kamikaze dives. They will often hang around fish cleaning stations at piers and marinas, scavenging the leftovers from fishermen's catches.

Gulls and terns are everywhere, of course. If you throw bread crumbs, or Cheerios, or other such edibles into the air behind the ferries, or at a marina, you can draw a flock of them like a magnet. But before you do that, consider the visitors around you. Some folks aren't as fond of gulls as others. They can be boisterous, noisy and obnoxious, and so can the gulls.

Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Great Egrets, Little Egrets and Snowy Egrets are plentiful as well. The herons are more difficult to spot than the Great Egrets, and seem less inclined to hang around where there is human activity. It is a common sight to see Great Egrets and Little Egrets feeding in marshy ditches along roads, seemingly quite indifferent to the traffic which passes by them.

Ducks, geese, cormorants, plovers, sandpipers, avocets, ibis and many other kinds of shore birds abound here. Many ducks and geese winter in the protected habitats afforded by national and state refuges and parks all along the coast. Pea Island National Refuge is a good place to view wintering species.

Continue your exploration with >Wild Horses of the Outer Banks
or   > Birds of the Outer Banks

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Wild Horses of the Outer Banks
Birds of the Outer Banks

Cape Lookout Studies
(Dolphins & Sea Turtles)

Bird Checklists of NC
US Geological Survey

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