Cape Hatteras National Seashore encompasses about 110 km (68 miles) of barrier islands, including much of the area known as the Outer Banks. The National Seashore represents approximately 20 percent of the coastline of North Carolina. It is a diverse landscape and a good example of a mid Atlantic barrier island system. The area known as Buxton Woods is one of North Carolina?s best examples of maritime forest and includes an extensive freshwater marsh system. The National Seashore is popular with tourists and attracts over 2 million visitors annually. It is vital to nesting, migrating, and wintering waterbirds and shorebirds on Atlantic Coast beaches.

Ornithological Summary

Barrier beach/dune habitat and maritime forest are extensive and significant (Criteria 3). Dozens of scientific studies of birds, bird populations, and bird habitats conducted have contributed significantly to the overall knowledge of birds (Criteria 5).

Species Population:
Piping Plover (SM, FM, B) - 8-12 prs
Least Tern (B) - 200-300 prs
Common Tern (B) - 500-700 prs
Black Skimmer (B) - 300-400 prs
Gull-billed Tern (B) - 20-30 prs
American Black Duck (all) - 100s
Willet (all) - 3000
Red Knot (SM, FM) - 4700
Sanderling (SM, W, FM) - 35-40,000
American Oystercatcher (B) - 30 prs
Peregrine Falcon (FM) - 3-4/day
Other shorebirds (SM, W, FM) - 20, 000
Wading birds (all) - 600-900
Gulls (W) - 600-900
Neotropical migrants (FM)
Red-breasted Merganser (W)- 500-3,000
Northern Gannet (W)- 200-1500
Waterfowl (W)- 5-10,000

Conservation Issues

Disturbance to birds, off-road vehicle use, predation, inadequate protection and management, recreational development and overuse, invasive plants and animals, artificial stabilization of the beach, other development.

Significant off-road vehicle use and other recreational pursuits occur at this site. Presently, there is no year-round protection for migrating and wintering shorebirds that depend on ocean beaches. Predation from feral cats, foxes, and raccoons places significant stress on nesting shorebirds and colonial waterbirds. Areas of beach nesting bird habitat have been degraded by the construction and maintenance of an artificial dune that protects Highway 12. Migrating and wintering shorebirds face chronic threats from unregulated vehicle use and human disturbance. Sea level rise has resulted in erosion and loss of habitat, and how the National Park Service responds to this threat will influence the quantity and quality of remaining habitat.


The site is managed by the National Park Service. Current conservation and management efforts include monitoring and protection of colonial nesting birds and shorebirds. The development of a regulation for off road vehicles within the Seashore is underway.


maritime forest, scrub/scrub, barrier beach/dune, saltmarsh, brackish marsh

Land Use

Wildlife conservation, other conservation, recreation and tourism, water supply, hunting, fishing.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.