University City

Follow Lake Norman's winter birds to find hot spots

Colder weather brings with it an influx of sea birds and an increase in the duck and geese population on Norman and area lakes. Loons, another migratory waterfowl, will also seen from late fall until early spring.

While certain birds travel long distances to winter on Lake Norman, others, like the osprey, choose to spend their vacation in the warmer areas of the southern United States, Mexico and Central America. The blue heron, a Lake Norman icon, is present year-round, but its population thins significantly during cold weather.

Cold temperatures, iced over ponds/lakes and a lack of forage are the driving reasons that birds fly south for the winter. These annual migrations go unnoticed by many but are welcomed by fishermen, who use seabirds and loons to help locate schools of bait that stripers, bass, hybrids and white perch feed on.

When savvy anglers see terns and gulls flying low to the water and picking up random shad from the surface, they know that larger fish are feeding below. Better yet, when seabirds begin to swirl and dive in a tight clump, it's a known fact that game fish are feeding on the surface and easy to catch.

Loons spend most of their time swimming, not flying. When they sense a school of baitfish below, they dive and spear the unsuspecting prey with their sharp beaks.

At times, dozens of loons will gather and dive in formation to round up and devour their prey. Again, this activity leads the angler to an area where game fish are likely feeding.

To a lesser degree, blue herons, kingfishers and crows also show the way to feeding fish.

While blue heron silently stalk the shallows, the noisy kingfisher dives into the water from vantage points high above. At other times, they simply fly from the sky into a school of bait swimming below. Kingfishers are a sight to see when they leap from a tree branch with the grace of an Olympic high diver to snare a meal. Since the kingfisher is rather small, it's hard to see, but it is easily recognized by the loud, rattling sound it makes while hunting.

A bird not thought to be a live fish-eater is the crow. But at times, they will dive for baitfish with the terns and gulls, or they can be seen hopping along the bank where they eat flopping baitfish that have been chased to shore by feeding bass or stripers.

In March, the osprey and blue heron return to the lake, the loons, while the seabirds and migratory waterfowl begin to fly north to start another nesting season. Their departure will be especially missed by fishermen.


Just before sunset each winter night, tens of thousands of seabirds raft up to spend the night in the open waters of Reed and Ramsey creeks. At sunrise, they fly away in groups to their daytime hunting grounds on the lake or in the mall parking lots.

Hot Spots of the Week

Spotted bass fishing has been phenomenal. Anglers fishing at dawn are reporting catches of five fish limits before the sun clears the horizon. Best results are with buzz baits thrown at rip-rap points and next to exposed rock piles and stumps. White perch and crappie are being caught in Little and Mountain Creeks on small minnows in around submerged brush piles.

The lake level on Lake Norman is about 3.8 feet from full pond and down 3 feet on Mountain Island Lake. The water's surface temperature is in the 50s and low 60s.