There are many great birding spots in Wake and surrounding counties. For a more complete list and descriptions, the best resource is the North Carolina Birding Trail. The following information has been collected from the North Carolina Birding Trail and from the cited web links.
Howell Woods, officially The Rudolph Howell & Son Environmental Learning Center, is approximately 45 miles southeast of Raleigh. The Center has a great diversity of habitats and wildlife species within 2,800+ acres situated between the Neuse River and Hannah and Mill Creeks. The property consists of over 1,600 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, over 600 acres of mixed hardwood/pine, nearly 400 acres of pine forest (both longleaf and loblolly type), and nearly 100 acres of early successional habitat. Breeding species include Mississippi Kite, Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, a variety of wood warblers, Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole, among others. Restrooms are available at the park entrance.
Location: 6601 Devil’s Racetrack Road, Bentonville, NC
For more information: The Rudolph Howell & Son Environmental Learning Center
Hemlock Bluffs is on an unusual geological formation that promoted the survival of a remnant stand of Eastern Hemlocks far from the mountains. These blend with mixed hardwoods and pines to create a diverse landscape. More than 130 bird species, including 28 warblers, have been documented at this 150-acre property in southern Cary. Trails at the top of the bluff provide tree-top views and creekside trails penetrate the wetland communities. Expected birds include Ovenbird, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, and Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Great Crested and Acadian Flycatchers, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Hooded Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush. The preserve is open from 9:00 a.m. to sunset. The Stephens Nature Center, a small gift shop and restrooms open at 10:00 a.m. Dogs on 6-foot leashes are permitted.
Location: 2616 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC 27518
For more information:
Stevens Nature Center at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
Friends of Hemlock Bluffs
Prairie Ridge is the Museum of Natural Science’s outdoor classroom located in Raleigh near the Museum of Art. The habitat here includes a 10-acre restored Piedmont prairie, along with a permanent pond and vernal pools that are an additional attraction for wildlife. There is also an arboretum of lowland forest trees and shrubs including some rare and unusual species. Two short trails of mowed grass loop around this site and include the observation blind by the pond. Wake Audubon’s Chimney Swift roost tower site is located here. Species seen at Prairie Ridge include Eastern Kingbird, Summer Tanager, Field Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole. Admission is free and the gate is open Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays noon to 4:30 p.m. Dogs are not allowed. Check their website for directions and information on their public programs.
Location: 1671 Gold Star Drive, Raleigh, NC 27607
For more information: Prairie Ridge Ecostation
The Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest is a 245-acre forest that is owned and managed by North Carolina State University for timber production and wildlife habitat. Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak nest in the recent timber harvests adjacent to the picnic shelter near the forest’s main entrance. During the breeding season, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager and Ovenbird are seen along the trails. Woodcock courtship displays and breeding are special features of this property. In winter, Hermit Thrush and Winter Wren are common in the brushy areas along the creek.
Location: Off Reedy Creek Road just west of Edwards Mill Road
For more information: Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest
Historic Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre site that features the only gristmill (circa 1756) still standing in Wake County. The park is located just south of Raleigh. The park habitats include oak forest & mixed hardwoods/pine, floodplain forest, and small wetland communities in addition to the mill pond. Summer-breeding songbirds include Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Wood Thrush, Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Bunting. There are active Wood Duck boxes along the pond and boardwalks. In the winter, this is the best place in Wake County for waterfowl viewing. Over 160 bird species have been documented in the park on a list that grows each year. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset every day. Admission is free and restrooms are available starting at 8:30. Dogs are not allowed.
Location: 4620 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, NC 27603
For more information: Historic Yates Mill County Park
This gravel road is just north of the entrance to Yates Mill Pond County Park. The road goes through North Carolina State University agricultural lands, including poultry, cattle and field crop areas. Drive slowly along this road and bird from the roadside, being careful not to block driveways. After turning onto this road from Lake Wheeler Road, stop first at the small pond opposite the poultry facility. Then proceed to small creek – a good place to check from sparrows and warblers. Stop along the fields to look for Eastern Bluebirds, Kestrels, and sparrows. This is just a very birdy area. No website, restrooms or parking lot.
A pair or Red-tailed Hawks have nested and raised young from atop the First Baptist Church on Capital Square in downtown Raleigh. The nest can be viewed from the square. Nest-building and egg brooding occur in March and early April. The adults can be observed feeding the young from late April through most of May. Binoculars are good, a spotting scope is even better. Wake Audubon and NC Museum of Natural Sciences will be on the square during the nesting season with spotting scopes. Check the Wake Audubon calendar of the viewing days.
Location: Corner of N Salisbury St and W Edenton St; 99 N Salisbury St, Raleigh, NC 27603
Walnut Creek and the surrounding wetland has grown from a poor neglected area to a green building Nature Center with access to Raleigh’s award-winning greenways, where resident and migrant birds continue to find suitable habitat. The resident Red-shouldered Hawks are sure to greet birders on this trip. Restrooms available in the Nature Center. Check their website for hours.
Location: 950 Peterson Street, Raleigh, NC 27610
For more information: Walnut Creek Wetland Center
The Turnipseed Preserve is a 221-acre site located in eastern Wake County in the Marks Creek watershed, a sub-basin of the larger Neuse River watershed. Owned by Wake County, the preserve features a mixture of bottomland hardwood forest and marshes, along with open sandy meadows, rock outcrops, and mixed pine-hardwood forest. Exceptional flora and fauna of the preserve include Michaux’s sumac (Federally endangered), Sundial Lupine, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Orchard Oriole, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Peewee, among others, along with Spotted Salamander, Marbled Salamander, and the Eastern Box Turtle. Although there is an existing network of unofficial trails on site, there is no parking available and limited infrastructure for general public access. Check for opportunities to join a guided tour of this property. Wake Audubon is helping with Wood Duck nest box monitoring at this site. In the future, more land will be added and public access will be improved.
For more information: Turnipseed Preserve
This Raleigh City Park is located on the eastern side of Raleigh and is bordered by the Neuse River and Crabtree Creek. The Neuse River Raleigh Greenway runs through Anderson Point. Wake Audubon adopted this park several years ago and helped develop the management plan for the small meadow in the center of the park. Wake Audubon also hosts at least one invasive species removal effort annually. Birds of interest include Loggerhead Shrike, Prothonotary Warbler, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and raptors.
Location: 20 Anderson Point Dr, Raleigh, NC 27610
For more information: City of Raleigh – Anderson Point Park
Located in an oxbow of the Neuse River in northeast Raleigh, the nearly 146-acre Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve is a unique jewel in the Raleigh Parks & Recreation system. It consists of open upland fields as well as bottom land hardwood forests, wetlands and a system of natural river levees that have been designated a Significant Natural Heritage Area by the state. Wake Audubon works cooperatively with Raleigh Parks through an Adopt-a-Park agreement to provide and maintain birdhouses for Purple Martins and Bluebirds with owl boxes planned for the future. To date, 125 bird species have been confirmed in the Preserve along with numerous mammals, butterflies and native plants. Learn more.
Location: 2928 Horse Shoe Farm Rd, Raleigh, NC
For more information:
Friends of Horseshoe Farm
City of Raleigh – Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
Horseshoe Farm Park on Facebook
Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES)
Shelley Lake is a 53-acre flood control lake surrounded by approximately three miles of paved trails with additional connecting greenway trails. This city park offers a surprising variety of birds for a popular urban park. There is a growing Great Blue Heron rookery, nesting Piliated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Belted Kingfishers and Wood Thrushes. Free admission. Restrooms available.
Location: 1400 West Millbrook Road, Raleigh, NC
For more information: City of Raleigh – Shelley Lake Park
The NC Museum of Art is surrounded by a 164-acre art-and-nature park. The park trails wind through field and forest habitats. Nature-inspired sculptures are installed at strategic points on the trails. These include art you can go inside of, art that moves, and art that responds to the environment, including the memorable Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky. Inside the original Museum building is a gallery devoted to America’s greatest nature artist, John James Audubon. The Museum’s original, complete Audubon collection, recently treated to restore its condition, is displayed with bird specimens on loan from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. Admission is free and dogs are allowed on the trails. The park is open dawn to dusk and the museum buildings, including restrooms, are open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day except Wednesdays and some holidays.
Raleigh’s first dedicated nature preserve was donated by Dr. Annie Louise Wilkerson, a renowned Raleigh doctor with many pioneering achievements in her 53-year career in medicine. Her will stipulated that the park be maintained as a “nature preserve park” used for the primary purpose of nature and wildlife education. This 157-acre nature preserve is composed of oak-hickory forest, open fields that will be maintained as Piedmont prairie, three farm ponds and five perennial streams that shelter various aquatic species. Falls Lake is the northern boundary of the property. Woodpeckers, Wood Trushes, Ovenbirds, Vireos, Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings are among the birds commonly seen here. This “leave no trace” park is still in transition to honor Dr. Wilkerson’s wishes. It will be a dynamic and valuable resource for wildlife and wildlife education for Raleigh citizens.
Location: 5229 Awls Haven Road, Raleigh, NC 27614
Park location for GPS: 11408 Raven Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27614
For more information: Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park
Lake Crabtree County Park is a versatile 735-acre recreation site with a 520-acre flood control lake that dominates the park. Park trails pass through a variety of habitats including oak forest & mixed hardwoods/pine, floodplain forest, and small wetland communities offering outstanding birding opportunities. Bald Eagle is possible almost any month of the year, with an active nest on site, and Osprey are occasionally seen. There are abundant nesting songbirds, including Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Hooded and Yellow-throated Warblers, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, and Indigo Bunting. Waterfowl frequent the lake during the winter.
Location: 1400 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville, NC 27560
For more information: Lake Crabtree County Park
Falls Lake was created in 1981 as a flood control project of the Neuse River. The resulting 12,000-acre lake is both the primary water supply for Raleigh and a recreation destination. Public lands around the lake host seven NC Birding Trail sites as well as a portion of the statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail on the western shore. Diverse habitats from open water to woodlands, sandy beaches to successional fields makes Falls Lake an excellent destination for birds and birders. This park has the largest bird list of any of the North Carolina State Parks.
For more information: Falls Lake State Recreation Area
Umstead State Park provides a welcome natural retreat from the urban development that has grown up around it. The 5,579-acre park includes three small lakes and several miles of creeks offering birders a variety of different habitats to explore. Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers can be seen at the lakes. Scarlet Tanager, Great Horned Owl, and woodpeckers are among the nesting species. Many of the woodland birds can be found here during migration.
This 680-acre park in southwestern Wake County forms a peninsula on Harris Lake, where more than 90 bird species have been documented in recent years. The Peninsula Trail is a series of four loops varying from 0.25 to 5 miles in length. It traverses a variety of habitats and along the lake shoreline. This trail is good for forest and edge-related songbirds, as well as wintering waterfowl. Around the edge of the parking lot, beside an open play area, are large pines that are a great spot for Eastern Kingbird and Orchard Oriole during spring and summer. This area is also productive during winter. A nearby fishing pier provides easy access to Harris Lake to scan for osprey, wading birds, winter gulls and waterfowl. A longleaf pine management area at the back section of the longest loop of the Peninsula Trail provides chances to see Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Field Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Prairie Warbler and other early successional songbirds. Most of the woodland trails are productive for woodpeckers, especially during spring and winter. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day. Admission is free.
Location: 2112 County Park Drive, New Hill, NC 27562
For more information: Harris Lake County Park