Beware of These 17 Dangerous Animals Flying In North Carolina’s Skies

Written by Katie Downey
Updated: July 18, 2023
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North Carolina is a beautiful mid-east coast state with something for everyone. Whether you love the mountains or the beach, North Carolina offers many possibilities. Not only does it have a breathtaking landscape, but it also has all four seasons and plenty of opportunities to enjoy each of them. Each season is an opportunity to see wildlife like you only can in North Carolina.

North Carolina has a very diverse ecosystem, and with that comes abundant wildlife. Many migratory birds make a pit stop in North Carolina as they fly to their summer or winter homes. It truly is a fantastic place to enjoy the beauty of nature and its inhabitants.

With the massive load of wildlife also comes the warnings pertaining to it. Many people are aware of what they shouldn’t and should do to ensure bears do not raid their campsite or how to stay safe from those pesky mosquitos, but what about the warnings for small pets? Sadly, that is overlooked or not thought of until something happens to remind us.

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Our skies are filled with magnificent and gigantic birds of prey known for picking up prey animals like rabbits, mice, and squirrels. But what about cats and small dogs? It’s imperative to stay educated on keeping your sweet furry or feathered best friends safe from these birds of prey. It isn’t just big birds stalking pets that get overlooked; it’s some of the smaller flying mischief makers that can ruin your and your pet’s day if you are not educated on the dangers.

Dangers in the Sky

North Carolina is home to many predatory birds, stinging and biting insects, and bats. Keeping yourself safe from any of those inhabitants is pretty easy since predatory birds are afraid of us, insect spray keeps us safe from mosquitos, and avoiding bats is pretty straightforward. When it comes to our pets, it’s a different story.


Predatory birds in North Carolina are responsible for many annual pet injuries, deaths, and disappearances. When the temperatures are pleasant, letting our furry friends get some fresh air seems like a great idea. Different types of pets require different types of protection. Many other factors come into play; age, health, supervision status, vaccination history, etc. One thing is certain; you will want to follow the recommended precautions to keep your pets, kids, and yourself safe while exploring North Carolina.

1. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

great horned owl

The great horned owl is the most aggressive predatory bird.


  • Size: 19-35 inches tall
  • Appearance: Mottled brown and grey with distinctive “horn” tufts over ears with fur-covered feet
  • Wingspan: 4.5 feet
  • Temperament: Aggressive and territorial
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Prey: Small mammals, chickens, and other birds

The great horned owl is responsible for the majority of pet incidents with predatory birds. These large predatory birds are nocturnal and sleep in trees during the daytime. They are capable of attacking and killing small animals. If you have a small dog, cat, chicken, or other small animals that like to play outside, especially close to wood lines, beware of these vast owls. If you have a guinea pig or ferret playing outside in a playpen, they are only safe if covered or you are present 100% of the time.

This also goes for all other predatory birds in this article. Owls rarely attack, but when they do, it can be fatal. The fatalities don’t come from the attack unless you have a tiny animal, but being dropped from great heights can break an animal’s neck or injure it.

2. Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Northern goshawk (accipiter gentilis) searching for food and flying in the forest of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands

Chances are that your birdfeeder is attracting more than just cute songbirds like this Northern goshawk.

©Henk Bogaard/

  • Size: 20-25 inches tall
  • Appearance: Cream and brown striped feathers covering its body with large yellow feet
  • Wingspan: 40-46 inches
  • Temperament: Aggressive and territorial
  • Habitat: Forests
  • Prey: Other birds, chickens, and mammals

The Northern goshawk is another large predatory bird with a territorial streak. They are known to attack humans and pets who get too close to their nest. These birds typically hunt rabbits and squirrels but have been known to take chickens and small cats. If you have one near your property, steering clear of its area is the best way to avoid attacks. The Northern goshawk is among the top three large raptors guilty of attacking pets.

3. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

A Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched on a pole

Red-tailed hawks are responsible for many pet attacks, though they are rare.

©Richard G Smith/

  • Size: 18-26 inches tall
  • Appearance: Reddish brown feathers on the top with a specked chest, cream-colored underside, and yellow feet
  • Wingspan: 3.4-4.8 feet
  • Temperament: Aggressive, very territorial, and protective of their young
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Prey: Mammals, chickens, and sometimes other bird

The red-tailed hawk is found everywhere in the United States year-round. They feed off other birds, mammals weighing less than five pounds, and fish. These predatory birds have found ways to live in suburban areas and can pose a threat to small pets and chickens.

The females are highly protective of their young, whereas the males are very territorial, so if you know of a nest, stay a safe distance away. The red-tailed hawk is one of the three large raptors to most frequently attack and potentially carry away very small, less than 10-pound pets and chickens.

4. Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

A sharp-shinned hawk perched on a piece of wood against a blurred background

Sharp-shinned hawks are highly aggressive and are often seen chasing much larger predatory birds in flight.

©Vizz Effect/

  • Size: 9.1-12.2 inches tall
  • Appearance: Smaller, light tan, and light brown striped feathers with yellow eyes and feet
  • Wingspan: 1.9-2.2 feet
  • Temperament: Highly aggressive and attacks larger birds and animals
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Prey: Other birds, small mammals

The sharp-shinned hawks are naturally aggressive and aren’t afraid to go after much larger predatory birds if they get too close to their nest. This is especially true during mating season when young hawks are in the nest.

They generally do not attack people or pets due to their size, but they may attack if you or your pet is too close for comfort to their nest or young. They are too small to go after chickens, though they do hunt smaller birds. If you have a birdfeeder, they may be attracted to the area because of it.

5. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Cooper's Hawk with fresh kill


Cooper’s hawk

targets smaller birds and small mammals.


  • Size: 19-35 inches tall
  • Appearance: Grey upper with cream and brown striped feathers on the underside and golden eyes
  • Wingspan: 29-37 inches
  • Temperament: Aggressive and highly protective of young and nest
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Prey: Other birds, small mammals

Cooper’s Hawks might be on the smaller side of the predatory bird scale in North Carolina, but they make up for their size with their ferocity. These hawks target smaller birds as prey and often scope out areas where songbirds feed, like birdfeeders.

If you know of a nearby nest, make sure to avoid it because they have been known to protect their young fearlessly. Cooper’s hawks will not fly off with your pet but can injure them if they are too close to a nest with young.

6. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

red shouldered hawk vs cooper's hawk

Adult red-shouldered hawks have a very rich, red coloration on their “shoulders” and chest.

©MTKhaled mahmud/

  • Size: 17-24 inches tall
  • Appearance: Reddish brown head and shoulders with a grown body and cream-colored underside, and reddish-brown eyes
  • Wingspan: 3.1-3.5 feet
  • Temperament: Aggressive when protecting their nests
  • Habitat: Wooded areas with open understory near streams or swamps
  • Prey: Reptiles, amphibians, crawfish, birds, and small mammals

The slender-bodied red-shouldered hawk prefers to nest near a water source, like a North Carolina creek, stream, swamp, lake, or river. They do not generally eat fish but hunt crawfish as a main staple to their diet.

They have been known to divebomb anyone getting too close to their nest or young. These hawks aren’t going to fly off with your dog or cat but can harm them if they get too close to their nest.

7. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Eagle with wings outstretched flies in with sunset background

The golden eagle is substantially larger than the bald eagle.

©Martin Mecnarowski/

  • Size: 2.2-3.3 inches tall
  • Appearance: Large, golden brown with some white on the wings and dark golden brown eyes
  • Wingspan: 5.5-7.7 feet
  • Temperament: Aggressive and sometimes known for carrying off small animals
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Prey: Mammals up to 15 pounds

The golden eagle is the biggest raptor and is the most commonly distributed eagle throughout the United States. These opportunistic hunters scan the ground below for moving prey like rabbits, chickens, squirrels, and marmots. Their dive can be high-speed at up to 200 mph. The golden sheen of this massive bird’s feathers makes them appear to almost glitter in the sunlight.

These large birds don’t know any difference between your cat and a wild animal in North Carolina, so they have occasionally picked up small pets and carried them off. Half the time, the mistaken prey gets dropped from high above and can be badly injured or die in the fall.

8. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Bald eagle in flight with a sockeye salmon in his claws

Bald eagle are opportunistic hunters.


  • Size: 19-35 inches tall
  • Appearance: White head, yellow eyes, brown body with white tail feathers and a large yellow beak
  • Wingspan: 4.5 feet
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Habitat: Wooded areas with tall trees near bodies of water
  • Prey: Fish, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds

The bald eagle is a national symbol of freedom, and though these large raptors may be endangered, they are steadily making a comeback near waterways nationwide and are frequently seen throughout North Carolina. It is unlikely that any sizeable predatory bird will kidnap your pet, but it occasionally happens.

Even with the given statistics, it is doubtful an eagle will take your best friend, but if you live near a nest, it’s best to be cautious and stay away from it. The bald eagle is very aggressive when it feels its young or territory is being threatened.


People have always feared bats. Bats are timid animals who are more friend than foe. Sometimes those flying insect zappers can carry rabies. At that time, these tiny creatures can become harmful to you and your pets.

Bats are susceptible to rabies, but generally, this is species-specific, meaning a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) cannot give rabies to a hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) and vice versa. They can, however, give your dog or cat rabies if they are not current on their vaccines. They can also transmit rabies to a human host. This goes for all types of bats, which has given the poor do-gooders a bad rap.

It is uncommon to find a rabid bat in North Carolina, but it does happen generally to our pets when they see a rabid bat that has lost control of its bodily functions and is dying of dehydration on the ground. A cat or dog going about their evening could find a dead or dying bat and either be bitten by it or consume it, leading to even more issues. Bat droppings can carry a harmful parasite that can cause histoplasmosis.

9. Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)

Little Brown Bat flying in the forest.

The little brown bat is the most common bat throughout North Carolina.

©Bernd Wolter/

  • Size: 3-4.5 inches tall
  • Appearance: Medium chestnut brown to glossy copper with black ears and wings
  • Wingspan: 8-9 inches
  • Temperament: Very timid except if rabid
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Rabies, histoplasmosis from droppings

These little brown bats are generally harmless and fantastic to keep around. In North Carolina, they fly around, eating up to their body weight (.29 oz) per evening. That’s a LOT of mosquitos that don’t get a chance to bite you. Like most animals, they are afraid of humans and tend to steer clear of them.

However, they do like flying around lights at night because of the bugs the light attracts. This doesn’t mean they hang out by your porchlight waiting to attack you or your pet. It is actually the opposite. They can be seen in the twilight sky near street posts, stadium lighting, and other extremely bright lights that attract insects. If you see one on the ground or out during daylight, it could be rabid. Never touch a bat.

10. Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)

Big Brown Bat

The big brown bat is abundant in suburban agricultural areas.

©Jay Ondreicka/

  • Size: 4.3-5.1 inches tall
  • Appearance: Medium chestnut brown to glossy copper with black ears and wings
  • Wingspan: 13-16 inches
  • Temperament: Very timid
  • Habitat: Wooded areas or suburban development
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Rabies, histoplasmosis from droppings

Big brown bats are slightly larger than twice the size of the little brown bat. They can also eat their weight (.62 oz) per night in flying insects, like mosquitos in North Carolina. They are attracted to bright outdoor lighting because it attracts many insects. The big brown bat is one of the fastest bats out there, clocking speeds of 40 mph! These fast insectivores can live to be 20 years old.

11. Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)

Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) 

©Elliotte Rusty Harold/

  • Size: 3 inches tall
  • Appearance: Heavy rusty orangish-red fur with white frosting, round ears, and white fur collar
  • Wingspan: 11-13 inches
  • Temperament: Very timid
  • Habitat: Farmland, wooded areas, or suburban development
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Rabies, histoplasmosis from droppings

These attractive bats claim North Carolina farm country as their favorite territory to hunt. They stick to large open areas with scattered trees like pastures and fields. Farms generally have barn cats, dogs, and people, which can all be infected with rabies.

These medium-sized bats tend to live solitary lives, or at most, with their small family. They are also one of the first bats to come out at twilight. Sometimes the male eastern red bats get up extra early for their dinner time and start flying around in the late afternoon.

12. Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)

Hoary Bat on a person's hand.

A hoary bat on a person’s hand.

©Florida Fish and Wildlife / flickr – License

  • Size: 4-6 inches tall
  • Appearance: Grey fur with frosted tips, tan and grey around the face, and a furry tail
  • Wingspan: 13-16 inches
  • Temperament: Very timid
  • Habitat: Tall trees in wooded areas or suburban development
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Rabies, histoplasmosis from droppings

The hoary bats of North Carolina are reported to have one of the highest incidences of rabies among bats, though other more recent information suggests the opposite. One thing is undoubtedly true; the hoary bat is the most widespread type of bat in the Americas. These small bats are also migratory, meaning they do not hibernate in the winter; they vacation somewhere warmer than their home.


The insects in North Carolina probably won’t carry your pets away, but they can make them and you very sick. Some can even cause death if you aren’t careful and educated about them. Mosquitos can carry horrible viruses, but kissing bugs can carry a parasite that causes Chagas. Which is worse?

13. Mosquito (Culicidae)

macro normal female mosquito isolated on green leaf

Mosquitos are a leading cause of death worldwide and they are plentiful throughout North Carolina.


  • Size: Very tiny, gnat-sized
  • Appearance: Grey, brown, black
  • Temperament: Relentless
  • Habitat: Wooded areas, suburban development near water, anywhere
  • Dangers to Pets and People: malaria, Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue virus, yellow fever virus, eastern equine encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Jamestown Canyon virus, western equine encephalitis, and La Crosse encephalitis

Mosquitos get a bad rap in North Carolina, but they deserve it. They are responsible for the spread of the following deadly viruses; malaria, Zika, West Nile, Chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever, eastern equine encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Jamestown Canyon, western equine encephalitis and La Crosse encephalitis, to name a few. Of course, most of these are very rare in the United States, with malaria only recently appearing here after a long time without it. The bottom line is that mosquitos can make you or your pets sick.

14. Bald-Faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata)

Bald-faced hornet

Bald-faced hornets are very protective of their above-ground nests.

©Ernie Cooper/

  • Size: One inch long
  • Appearance: Black and white
  • Temperament: Aggressive and relentless in pursuit
  • Habitat: Bushes or low-hanging tree limbs
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Repeated stinging capability

The bald-faced hornet is not an insect you want to cross or get too close to their nests in North Carolina. They are known to be aggressive when they think their nest is in danger. These giant hornets don’t have any trouble calling for reinforcement from their nestmates, either.

Being attacked by these hornets probably won’t kill you, but depending on the number of stings you receive, you could end up in bad shape. These hornets will go after your pets, too. If an animal is stung too many times, it can die.

15. European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

European hornet (Vespa crabro) busy building a hornet's nest.

©Ger Bosma Photos/

  • Size: 1.3 inches long
  • Appearance: Yellow face, copper top of the head and upper body, yellow and black striped abdomen
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Habitat: Paper nests in wooded areas with hollow trees, walls of houses, or other protected areas
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Able to repeatedly sting in groups to protect a nest

These hornets are attracted to sugar, and they tend to run into people when doing so. They are not dangerous but will attack if they feel their nest is threatened. If you have a nest on your North Carolina property, it’s best to avoid the area if possible or call an expert to relocate the hornets to a safer place for everyone.

The hornets usually make their nests inside walls or hollow trees, so it may be challenging to see the nest. You’ve found the nest if you see hornets come in and out of an area during the daylight hours.

16. Yellow Jacket (Vespula maculifrons)

An Eastern Yellowjacket on a Leaf

Feeding on a carnivorous diet, yellow jackets primarily prey on other insects like flies and bees.

©Randy Runtsch/

  • Size: 1 inch long
  • Appearance: Black and yellow face with black and yellow striped body
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Habitat: Paper nests underground
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Repeatedly stinging in groups when their nest is threatened

Yellow jackets in North Carolina can cause a bit of trouble for homeowners when mowing their lawns. These hornets make paper nests, like their relatives, except theirs is underground. It’s not always so easy to know where these hornets are and be able to avoid disturbing them.

Sometimes it is best to call a professional hornet relocator or exterminator. These hornets are commonly known to attack dogs since dogs tend to hear them underground and dig near their nest. Their stings can be abundant and can kill your dog.

17. Kissing Bugs (Triatominae)

Kissing Bug

The kissing bug can be blamed for Chagas disease.

©Henrik Larsson/

  • Size: 3/4 inch long
  • Appearance: reddish brown or back bodies that are oblong shaped and heads that are long and cylindrical
  • Temperament: Calm but will bite you to feed
  • Habitat: Secluded and out-of-the-way spots; under houses, dog houses, under the porch, shed, beneath bark, in rock or brush piles
  • Dangers to Pets and People: Chagas disease

Kissing bugs can be dangerous if they have Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which causes Chagas disease. These resident insects of North Carolina are most active at night and generally bite around a person’s mouth. There are 11 types of kissing bugs in the United States. These bugs usually crawl instead of fly, but the adults fly toward homes with light at night.

The kissing bugs exclusively feed every two weeks and can drink five times their weight in blood from livestock or human hosts. The parasite is transmitted in the droppings of the kissing bug, and it can make us sick if we get it into our mouth, eyes, or nose. They frequently leave feces behind when they are feeding.

Top Takeaways

  1. In North Carolina, kissing bugs, mosquitos, and hornets is far more dangerous than any predatory bird for you or your pet.
  2. Repeated stings from hornets can kill your pets, especially if they also ingest the insects.
  3. Roughly 800,000 bites from dogs need medical treatment yearly. This is considerably more than any of the dangerous pests on this list.
  4. Deaths per year from a hornet, wasp, or bee sting is 1 in 63,225.
  5. Deaths from choking are 1 in 3,461. You are MUCH more likely to die from choking than an insect sting.
  6. Stay away from all animal nests and dens, and your likelihood of being attacked becomes almost nonexistent.
  7. Birdfeeders attract songbirds and the predatory birds that eat songbirds. The risk of your pet mistakenly being attacked as a prey animal goes up with the addition of a birdfeeder.
  8. Your pet is much more likely to be injured or killed in a dog attack than its chances are of meeting the same fate with anything flying.
  9. Almost 70% of dog bites are from unneutered male dogs. Spay and neuter!
  10. Birds of prey cannot fly off with anything heavier than themselves.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean Pavone/

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About the Author

Katie Downey is a writer for A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, arachnids and insects. Katie has been writing and researching animals for more than a decade. Katie worked in animal rescue and rehabilitation with handicapped cats and farm animals for many years. As a resident of North Carolina, Katie enjoys exploring nature with her son, educating others on the positive role that insects and spiders play in the ecosystem and raising jumping spiders.

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