Important Bird Areas

Bald Head - Smith Island

North Carolina

The site is located on the eastern bank of the lower Cape Fear River, south of Wilmington and east of Southport. It includes an area from Fort Fisher State Recreation Area south to Cape Fear and west to the intertidal sand flats near Battery Island, including open water, sandflats, mudflats, marshes east of the main river channel, and adjacent waters of the Cape Fear River. Bald Head and Middle Islands have well-developed maritime forest and are among the best examples of this habitat type in North Carolina. The site also has a spectacular tidal creek and marsh system. The diversity of habitats found at this site supports a great diversity of bird life throughout the year. This site is part of the Southport Christmas Bird Count, which consistently logs one of the highest numbers of species for North Carolina counts.

Ornithological Summary

The site includes one of the state's largest and best examples of maritime forest (Criteria 3). The site supports the state's largest population of breeding painted buntings. Thousands of shorebirds (19 species) stopover during migration and winter in the area, utilizing the extensive tidal flats, marshes, and beach. Thousands of wading birds from the nearby Battery Island colony (8-10,000+ prs.) forage in the marshes, freshwater ponds, and along tidal creeks. Waterfowl numbers have declined over the past decade, but at least 12 species of ducks are common in the river, tidal creeks, bays and ponds. The area probably supports the state's largest wintering population of common goldeneyes (10-20 birds). The lower Cape Fear River supports the state's largest group of Great Cormorants, 8-15 individuals during winter months. Peregrine falcons are common during fall migration. Least Terns (10-50 pairs), Black Skimmers (20 pairs), Willets, Wilson's Plovers and American Oystercatchers nest on area beaches. Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Seaside Sparrows and Clapper Rails are abundant in area marshes. Raptors, especially peregrines, merlins, kestrels and Sharp-shins are regular visitors during migration.

Conservation Issues

Residential and commercial development, recreational development and overuse, disturbance to birds,
predation.

Bald Head and Middle Islands are being developed, although tracts within both areas have been set aside for conservation. Most of the development will impact the maritime forest community. However, strict regulations on building sites have resulted in minimal impacts to the forest, which has helped to preserve habitat for species such as Painted Bunting. Raccoon and fox populations are unusually high, however, and are likely have a significant impact on ground-nesting birds. Also, the southern end of the Fort Fisher spit is open to vehicles, which increases recreational disturbance to nesting birds and impacts migrating and wintering shorebirds. This activity, along with increased recreational use and mammalian predation, has contributed to the decline in beach-nesting birds in recent years. The possible construction of a new port facility near Southport could have profound effects on this Important Bird Area, depending on the final outcome of this project.

Ownership

4,047 ha (10,000 acres) are protected by the North Carolina State Parks system and the North Carolina Coastal Reserve program. Additional land is protected by the Bald Head Island Conservancy. This includes all marshes, Zeke?s Island, Bluff Island, and portions of Bald Head Island and Middle Island. Most of the land on Bald Head Island and Middle Island is in private ownership.

Habitat

Maritime forest, saltmarsh, barrier beach and dune, river, sandflat and mudflat.

Land Use

Wildlife conservation, other conservation, recreation and tourism, residential development.

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