Birds of the Southeastern United States

by Felicia Greene
Brown pelicans hunt for fish while soaring high above the waves.

Brown pelicans hunt for fish while soaring high above the waves.

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The southeastern United States boasts a rich, colorful collection of bird species. Nine coastal states, ranging from North Carolina through the Gulf Coast and southeastern Texas, provide favorable ecosystems for birds with diverse living requirements. Salt marshes and rivers, coastal plains and mountain forests play vital roles in each species' survival.

Brown pelicans have become highly visible residents of southeastern beachside and coastal communities. The birds' short, squat bodies and pouch-like bills give them a quirky appearance that adds to their appeal. Surprisingly, brown pelicans have expert fishing skills, with pelican formations often circling above the surf for extended periods. When a brown pelican spots a likely meal, he executes a lightning-fast dive into the waves, slamming into his prey before slurping the fish into his spacious bill. Brown pelican populations have made a remarkable recovery from pesticide-caused near extinction.

Wild turkeys range throughout southeastern forest and shrub habitats, often moving to fields and forest edges to rummage for food each morning. Look for flocks of these oversized, awkward-looking birds scratching their way through ground vegetation, searching for nuts, seeds and insects. During the spring and summer months, male turkeys, or toms, display their plumage and gobble loudly as they strut through their territories. These large, clumsy birds can laboriously fly short distances and often roost in sturdy nearby trees at night.

Colorful Eastern bluebirds inhabit roadside areas, meadows and residential landscapes that border nearby forests. Bluebirds spend much of their time perched on posts and branches, looking for ground-dwelling insects they can easily catch. In the Southeast's cooler fall and winter months, Eastern bluebirds get their food by scouring fruiting trees for berries. Although Eastern bluebirds have traditionally nested in abandoned woodpecker holes, they have adapted well to nest boxes placed in open areas and along bluebird trails.

Southeastern residents who live near salt marshes and rivers often see huge osprey nests atop navigational markers. Although these large birds traditionally nested in tall trees that provided good fish-hunting vantage points, a decrease in natural nesting platforms has led to ospreys' adoption of other landing sites. Ospreys' oily feathers allow them to repeatedly dive into the water for their fishy meals, and the birds' powerful talons enable them to securely hold their prey until they get to their nests. Most southeastern-dwelling ospreys are migratory, returning to their Atlantic coastal breeding grounds in early spring and often sprucing up the same nest each year.

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    Author

    Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.