10 MOST Common Birds Found in Charleston, SC (2024)

What kinds of birds can you find in Charleston, South Carolina?

common birds in charleston

Despite being a large city, I think you would be surprised at the number of species that you can find in downtown Charleston and the surrounding areas. Many types of birds can adapt to the presence of humans, even building nests and raising their babies in close proximity.

In addition, there are other parks and green spaces that offer hiding spaces for shy birds.

Below, you will learn the TEN most common birds that are found around Charleston!


#1. Northern Cardinal

  • Cardinalis cardinalis

northern cardinal

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Males are a stunning red with a black mask and throat.
  • Females are pale orangish-brown with red on their crest, wings, and tail.
  • Both sexes have a crest on their head and a short, thick bill that is perfect for cracking seeds.

Northern Cardinal Range Map

northern cardinal range map

Without a doubt, the Northern Cardinal is one of the most popular birds in Charleston. They are not only beautifully colored, but they are incredibly common at backyard feeding stations!

In this video, you can see both male and female cardinals. If you look closely you can even see a juvenile!

YouTube video

Here are my three favorite ways to attract cardinals to my backyard:

  • Supply their favorite foods, which include sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, corn, and peanuts.
  • Use bird feeders that are easy for them to use, such as trays and hoppers.
  • Keep a fresh supply of water available in a birdbath.

And with a little practice, it’s easy to identify Northern Cardinals by their songs and sounds. Interestingly, unlike most other songbirds in Charleston, even females sing

  • The most common song you will probably hear is a series of clear whistled melodies that sound like the bird is saying “birdie-birdie-birdie” or “cheer-cheer-cheer.” (Listen below!)


#2. Laughing Gull

  • Leucophaeus atricilla

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 15.3 to 18.1 inches in length and have a 36.2 to 47.2-inch wingspan.
  • Adults are medium gray above and white below with reddish-black legs.
  • Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eyes, and reddish bills, and in winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head.

Laughing Gulls in Charleston are typically spotted in coastal areas like beaches, salt marshes, and mangroves.

Like many other gulls, Laughing Gulls are adept at foraging while walking, wading, swimming, or flying. Their food sources include crustaceans, insects, squid, human refuse, berries, fish, earthworms, snails, and the eggs of horseshoe crabs.

These gulls steal food from Brown Pelicans by landing on their heads and taking fish from their bill pouch. I’m sure the Brown Pelicans aren’t laughing when that happens!

YouTube video

They form massive colonies of up to 25,000 pairs during the breeding season. The colonies include terns, larger gulls, Black Skimmers, and American Oyster Catchers. Laughing Gulls are monogamous, and pairs typically stay together for multiple seasons.


#3. House Finch

  • Haemorhous mexicanus

song sparrow

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult males are rosy red around their heads and upper breasts. They have brown streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
  • Females are brown with streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
  • Both sexes have conical beaks designed to eat seeds and notched tails.

House Finches are prevalent birds in Charleston near people. Look for House Finches around buildings, backyards, parks, and other urban and suburban areas.

House Finch Range Map

house finch range map

House Finches are often the first birds to discover new bird feeders. These birds are intensely curious and rarely travel alone, so their arrival often helps other birds find your feeders too! I see them eating sunflower seed, Nyjer seed, and safflower the most in my backyard.

House Finches have a pleasant and enjoyable song, which can be heard year-round. Listen below to a series of jumbled, warbled notes.


#4. Chipping Sparrow

  • Spizella passerina

chipping sparrow

Identifying characteristics:

  • Some are brightly colored with a rusty crown, grayish belly, and a black-streaked eyeline.
  • Others are paler with a brownish crown, grayish belly, and an unstreaked neck and belly.
  • Both sexes are slim with a long tail and medium-sized bill.

Chipping Sparrows are common birds in Charleston.

Luckily, they’re easy to identify, thanks to their rust-colored crown. You’ll often see them at backyard feeding stations, eating black oil sunflower seeds and other seed mixes on the ground.

Chipping Sparrow Range Map

chipping sparrow range map

Look for them in the woods by grassy meadows. These sparrows are also common in suburban areas!

Chipping Sparrows have loud, trilling songs. Their songs are long trill notes that they repeat over and over, almost sounding mechanical. Listen below!


#5. Eastern Bluebird

eastern bluebird

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Males are vibrant blue with a rusty chest and throat and fairly easy to identify.
  • Females look similar, but the colors are much more subdued.

 

Few birds in Charleston are as pretty as the Eastern Bluebird.  Thanks to their cheerful disposition and amazing beauty, these birds are always a pleasure to see, both for birders and non-birders alike!

Eastern Bluebird Range Map

eastern bluebird range map

Look for them in meadows, fields, cemeteries, golf courses, parks, backyards, and even Christmas tree farms!

Can you attract Eastern Bluebirds to bird feeders?

The short answer is YES. You can attract these bluebirds to your backyard feeding station, as long as you make special provisions for them.   Specifically, make sure to use foods, like mealworms and berries, that they will actually eat!

You can also listen for Eastern Bluebirds!

YouTube video

Press PLAY above to hear an Eastern Bluebird!

These birds have a beautiful call. Listen for a liquid sounding warbling song that consists of 1—3 notes, which is typically given several times in a row.


#6. Great Egret

  • Ardea alba

great egret

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Large, white bird with long, black legs.
  • S-curved neck and a daggerlike yellow bill. Look for a greenish area between their eyes and the base of the bill.
  • While they fly, their neck is tucked in, and their long legs trail behind.

Appearance-wise, Great Egrets are the most stunning heron found in Charleston. These birds especially put on a show during breeding season when they grow long feathery plumes, called aigrettes, which are held up during courtship displays.

Great Egret Range Map

great egret range map

In fact, these aigrettes are so beautiful, Great Egrets were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century because these feathers made such nice decorations on ladies’ hats. The National Audubon Society was actually formed in response to help protect these birds from being slaughtered. To this day, the Great Egret serves as the symbol of the organization.

YouTube video

Slightly smaller than a Great Blue Heron, this species eats almost anything that may be in the water. The list includes reptiles, birds, amphibians, small mammals, and countless invertebrates.

Great Egrets don’t get any awards for their beautiful songs. Listen for a loud sound that is best described as a croak (“kraak).” When surprised, you may hear a fast “cuk-cuk-cuk” alarm call. LISTEN BELOW!


#7. Mourning Dove

  • Zenaida macroura


Identifying Characteristics:

  • A mostly grayish dove with large black spots on the wings and a long thin tail.
  • Look for pinkish legs, a black bill, and a distinctive blue eye-ring.
  • Males and females look the same.

The Mourning Dove is the most common dove in Charleston.

Look for them perched high up in trees or on a telephone wire near your home. They are also commonly seen on the ground, which is where they do most of their feeding.

Mourning Dove Range Map
mourning dove range map

Mourning Doves are common visitors to bird feeding stations!

To attract them, try putting out their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower. Mourning Doves need a flat place to feed, so the best feeders for them are trays or platforms. They are probably most comfortable feeding on the ground, so make sure to throw a bunch of food there too.

It’s common to hear Mourning Doves in Charleston. Listen for a low “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” In fact, this mournful sound is how the dove got its name! Many people commonly mistake this sound for an owl. (Press PLAY below!)

YouTube video

#8. Brown Pelican

brown pelican

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Large water bird with a very long bill and neck.
  • Brown skin on their giant throat patch.
  • Dark gray bodies with a white neck and pale yellow head.

It’s hard to mistake a Brown Pelican in Charleston since no other water bird looks quite like it!

Brown Pelican Range Map

brown pelican range map

 

When I’m visiting the beach, I love seeing the way that Brown Pelicans elegantly fly just over the water’s surface. While these water birds are common today, believe it or not, they almost went extinct in the mid 20th century due to DDT poisoning.

These seabirds are commonly seen along the coast as they plunge aggressively headfirst into the water. These dives are meant to stun the surrounding fish, which then are scooped up with their enormous throat pouch and swallowed whole.

YouTube video

Don’t bother listening for them, as Brown Pelicans are mostly silent creatures. You may hear loud popping sounds when they defend their nests, which is made from them snapping their bills together sharply.


#9. Turkey Vulture

  • Cathartes aura

common vultures in the united states

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 25-32 in (64-81 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 63-72 in (160-183 cm).
  • They are black, with some lighter gray feathers under the wings.
  • Their featherless faces and legs are bright red.

The Turkey Vulture, also known as the Turkey Buzzard, is the most abundant vulture in Charleston. They are relatively easy to identify, as they are all black, with a bald red head and a pinkish bill. The name derives from their loose resemblance to a Wild Turkey.

Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot these vultures while they are flying. Look for a large raptor soaring in the sky making wobbly circles, whose wings are raised high enough to look like the letter “V.” It’s thought that this flying style helps them glide at low altitudes, which keeps them close to the ground to smell for food.

Turkey Vulture Range Map

Look for Turkey Vultures wherever you can find dead animals.

These birds of prey use their highly developed sense of smell to locate carrion. Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can detect dead meat from 8 miles (13 km) away. These birds actually prefer to eat fresh food, and they try to get to animals as quickly as possible after their death.

As you can imagine, they are often seen along roadsides eating animals that have been hit by cars. They are also frequently observed soaring the skies in the open countryside.   When these raptors are frightened, they can be so full of meat that they cannot rapidly fly away. In this case, you may see them projectile vomit what they’ve eaten to lose weight and escape.


#10. Carolina Chickadee

  • Poecile carolinensis

carolina chickadees

Carolina Chickadees are small birds with a distinctive black cap and bib, dull white cheeks, a gray back, and white underparts. Both males and females look the same.

Carolina Chickadee Range Map

carolina chickadee range map

 

Look for them in a wide variety of habitats across the southeast. You should be able to spot these birds in Charleston in deciduous and mixed woodlands and swampy areas. They also adapt well to humans and are extremely common in parks and suburban and urban backyards!

Like most chickadees, they are intensely curious and intelligent. Try attracting them to your backyard by offering a mixture of sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. Because of their small size and acrobatic abilities, they can use almost every type of bird feeder.

What sounds do Carolina Chickadees make?

Press PLAY above to hear a Carolina Chickadee!

The most common song you will hear them making is a four-note whistle, which sounds like “fee-bee-fee-bay. Typically, the first and third notes are higher in pitch than the second and fourth.

They also have a call that sounds like they are saying their name “chick-a-dee-dee.” (Press PLAY Above!)


Which of these birds have you seen before in Charleston?

Leave a comment below!


To learn more about other birds in Charleston, check out my other guides!

 

The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!

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