After enduring the wet and windy months of the late winter season, spring is a welcomed sight on Hatteras Island. The return of our furry, feathered and fishy seasonal residents brings this little slice of paradise back to life, providing sights and sounds people all over the world come to experience. Bookmark this wildlife spotting guide for your next spring or summer trip to Hatteras Island so you, too, can catch a glimpse of our favorite neighbors.
The osprey resembles an eagle, but they have an all-white chest, a black patch across their eyes, and a big wing span of up to 71 inches. The osprey's primary food source is fish, and if you're lucky, you'll see them diving into the water to retrieve their prey. The most common months to see an osprey along the Outer Banks is March through September, and look for their large nests perched high up on a post or tree near water.
Local residents will you tell you that the sighting of laughing gulls at the ferry docks in Hatteras signal the arrival of Spring. Follow the sound of their loud laugh-like cawing to find these black and white gulls usually congregated on the beach, docks or parking lots. They can be found here from Spring to early Fall when they migrate south.
One of the larger shorebirds, the American Oystercatcher grows 18-19 inches long. They have a black head, dark brown sides, and a red-orange bill. American Oystercatchers diet on shellfish, insects, and worms. Their bill is used open shells and dig for insects in the sand. These oystercatchers can be found along the beaches here between March and September.
All black in color except for its white chest, the Black-Necked Stilt stands about 14 inches tall atop striking thin red legs. Comfortable in shallow freshwater and saltwater marshes, stilts find the Outer Banks an ideal habitat. In the summer months, they absorb water into their belly feathers, which they carry to their nests and use to keep their eggs cool. A good time to catch a glimpse of these birds is April through September.
Black and white in color, the Black Skimmer grows to 18 inches and has a 3 ½ foot wingspan. They have a unique black-tipped red bill and prefer coastal habitats. The Black Skimmer's primary food source is small fish and shrimp, and they are typically spotted in the Outer Banks from April through September.
We love our dolphins in the Outer Banks. Research suggests most dolphins migrate south for the winter and return to the Banks between the months of May through September to breed. They can be found in the ocean but also love the warm waters and seagrass habitat of the sounds where they can feast on croaker and spot with less worry of sharks.
There are five species of sea turtles found along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: the leatherback, hawksbill (rarely seen), Kemp's Ridley, loggerhead, and green. Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females will return to land to lay their eggs. They often migrate long distances between foraging grounds and nesting beaches. Loggerhead's nest every two to three years and will lay an average of four clutches per year. Sea turtles nest on sandy beaches at night with the majority of nesting occurring from May through September.
Channel bass (red drum)
Widely popular with locals and tourists alike, red drum fishing is historic in the Outer Banks. With over a 100 miles of accessible beach and piers up and down the coast, this is a surf fishermen's paradise. The spring red drum season generally begins in April. This run will peak by middle of May and taper off in early June.
From April to December, Blue fish come in a range of sizes for both surf fishermen and boaters. Typically 8-12 lb. blues start being caught in May and stick around until November when the fall run of 15-20 lb. giant blues arrive.
Flounder (summer, southern)
These tasty fish begin biting when the water starts to warm up in May. Southern flounder dominate the catch in inshore and southern NC waters, while summer flounder dominate the catch in offshore waters north of Cape Hatteras.
Pound for pound the strongest tuna, blackfins have made a remarkable comeback in recent years. Most are in the 5-10 lb. range but can get up to 40 lbs.
Dolphin fish (mahi-mahi)
Known for their distinctive color scheme and head shape, dolphin fish are widely considered one of the best looking creatures in the sea-and one of the tastiest. Hatteras is known as a top dolphin fishing destination with high success rates from mid-April through October.
Found in tropical and subtropical waters, Wahoo are long, slender fish known for their speed and high-quality flesh, which make them a popular catch for sport fisherman.
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National Park Service
Tuna Duck Sportfishing