Spring Birding in NC’s Brunswick Islands

plovers - birding

The beginning of spring is just days away and with it’s promise of warmer weather, spring also means the beginning of migration and nesting seasons for birds. The five barrier islands that make up NC’s Brunswick Islands – Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island and Bald Head Island- encompass a large network of bird sanctuaries.  Situated along the coast of Southeastern North Carolina, the Brunswick Islands’ varied ecosystems make it a natural haven for hundreds of species of birds. In fact, there have been more than 330 species of birds spotted in Brunswick County.  Brunswick County is also home to eight of the birding sites along the North Carolina Birding Trail!

white ibis

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has more than 45 miles of unspoiled shoreline, pristine estuaries, and salt marshes that sustain a wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds during the spring nesting season.  Battery Island, located in the Cape Fear River across from the Southport waterfront, alone is home to nearly 10 percent of the North American population of White Ibis. White Ibis is one of the most visible and prolific species with their bright white plumage that contrasts the colors in the sky. In 2012, there were more than 5,000 documented nesting pairs of this species on the six-acre island. Battery Island is a bird sanctuary protected by the National Audubon Society.

Black Skimmers - birdingIn addition to White Ibis, other shore birds and wading birds visitors to the Brunswick Islands are likely to encounter include several species of terns and gulls, American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Plovers, Egrets, and Herons. Away from the shore, in nature preserves such as the Green Swamp PreserveEv-Henwood Nature Preserve, and Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve, visitors may see a variety of warblers and sparrows as well as Brown-headed Nuthatches, Summer Tanagers, and Indigo Buntings.

More on birding and bird walks in the Brunswick Islands with Greg Loomis with Wild Bird & Garden in Southport:

We spoke with local bird enthusiast, Greg Loomis with Wild Bird & Garden in Southport about bird walks, birding in the area, and some of his favorite bird spots. His answers are shared below.

How can a visitor to Brunswick Islands get involved in birding?

“Wild Bird & Garden hosts free monthly bird walks that are open to residents and visitors. These bird walks are held on the third Wednesday of every month at 8:30 a.m. Our group walks down to the waterfront of the Southport Riverwalk & Pier. The people who participate on these walks are so knowledgeable and passionate about birding, some can even identity the type of bird by their song alone.”

What species of birds can participants on these walks expect to see?

“We see a lot of different birds on these walks including White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Seaside Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Carolina Chickadees and more.”

What is the rarest bird that you have encountered on a bird walk in the area?

“I once saw a painted bunting in Southport!” (For those who don’t know, painted buntings are one of the most spectacularly colored and visually impressive birds in the United States. Males can be easily identified by their blue head, green back, and red rump and belly. )

Are there any suggested materials or equipment participants should bring on the bird walks?

“We suggest that guests bring a pair of binoculars, but visitors or residents are able to rent them from Wild Bird & Garden if they don’t bring a pair with them.”

To learn more about birding in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, and to plan your trip, visit www.NCBrunswick.com

Follow NC’s Brunswick Islands on social media at www.facebook.com/NCBrunswick/and www.instagram.com/ncbrunswickislands/


Bird Is The Word!

In both spring and summer, and especially at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, bird is indeed the word. The five barrier islands that make up NC’s Brunswick Islands encompass a large network of bird sanctuaries. From the southernmost barrier island, where Sunset Beach stretches southwest to the protected nature preserve of Bird Island, to the community of Southport and the offshore rookeries on Battery Island, there is no shortage of incredible birding experiences in this area.

white ibis


The White Ibis is one of the most visible and prolific species with their bright white plumage that contrast against a summer-blue sky and green foliage. According to an article featured by The National Audubon Society, nearly 10 percent of the North American population of White Ibis are supported by the six-acre Battery Island, with more than 5,000 nesting pairs documented in 2012. This tiny spit of land, located just a stone’s throw off Southport’s waterfront promenade, is also home for other wading, shore and song birds. These find refuge in the island’s scrubby shrubs and trees making it the state’s largest wading bird colony and a sanctuary protected by Audubon.

young great blue heron smallIn addition, the more than 45 miles of undeveloped and under-developed shoreline and the pristine estuaries and salt marshes on the islands’ flip-side shelter and sustain a wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds during nesting season.  American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Plovers, Ibis, Egrets, and Herons are among the spring/summertime and year-round residents whose babies hatch here and start the next feathered generation.

Those of us who live here in the pristine coastal communities and barrier islands of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands understand perfectly why these birds choose to return here year after year to nest!

IMG_8855 bThese uncrowded beaches attract plenty of birders and beachgoers too, and while the birds and their fledglings are an amazing site, Audubon provides the following tips to help us protect our nesting shorebirds.  By taking small simple actions to help protect their nesting habitat, you can help them raise the next generation.

Audubon’s Tips to Share the Beach

Respect protected areas and signs. Birds, eggs, nests and chicks are well-camouflaged. Disturbance by people and their pets can cause birds to abandon their eggs and young.

Avoid disturbing groups of birds that are nesting or feeding. If the birds take flight, call loudly, or act agitated, it means you are too close.

Always keep your dog on a leash and away from the birds. Shorebirds perceive people and pets as predators.

Please don’t leave trash or fishing line on the beach. Take your trash with you and place in an appropriate trash container. Trash attracts real predators such as gulls, crows, raccoons and foxes. Fishing line can entangle and kill birds.