This site includes Pea Island National
Wildlife Refuge, which is located on North Carolina?s Outer Banks. Three water impoundments that vary in salinity from
brackish to fresh are managed for shorebirds, waterfowl, and other migratory birds. The site includes a cross-section of the Outer Banks from ocean to sound and the associated habitats. This is one of North Carolina?s most popular birding destinations and one of the state?s premier sites for shorebirds, waterfowl, and landbirds.

Ornithological Summary

Pea Island is one of North Carolina's most important sites for shorebird and waterfowl. The three impoundments are intensively managed for migratory birds, two of which are closed to the public to prevent disturbances. The site has North Carolina's largest, regularly-occurring flock of Avocets and the state's greatest number of breeding Black-necked Stilts. The refuge has one colony of terns and skimmers during most years. Many long-term research and monitoring projects have been conducted and are ongoing on the site (Criteria 5). Pea Island NWR receives much attention from birders and is an excellent location for rare or unusual bird sightings.

Species Population:
Piping Plover (FM, B) - 10, 6prs
Peregrine Falcon (FM) - 50
Gull-billed Tern (B) - 50 prs
Least Tern (B) - 150 prs
Tundra Swan (W) - 2750
Snow Goose (W) - 5,000
American Black Duck (W) - 1200
Black-bellied Plover (FM, W, SM) - 300-3000
Semipalmated Plover (FM, SM) - 2500-5000
Greater Yellowlegs (FM, SM) - 300-5000
Marbled Godwit (FM, SM) - 100-500
Sanderling (FM, W, SM) - 1000-30,000
Semipalmated Sandpiper (FM, SM) - 500-25,000
Least Sandpiper (FM, SM) - 2,000-60,000
Dunlin (FM, W, SM) - 1500-40,000
Short-billed Dowitcher (FM, SM) - 1000-15,000
American Avocet (FM, W, SM) - 30-100
Black-necked Stilt (B) - 10-20 prs
migrant landbirds (FM, SM)
waterfowl (FM, W) - 10,000-20,000

Conservation Issues

Introduced plants and animals, predation, recreational development and overuse, replacement of Bonner Bridge, global climate change, erosion, human disturbance to nesting birds.

The National Wildlife Refuge has a comprehensive conservation plan in place. The key conservation issue for the refuge is artificial (soft) stabilization of the beach with artificial dunes to protect Highway 12, and the resulting adverse impacts to shorebird and colonial waterbird habitats. The eventual fate of the Bonner Bridge and its replacement are of concern for this refuge and Important Bird Area. Of the many options considered, the construction of a bridge parallel to the existing bridge would be the most damaging to the refuge and would impact habitats for birds.


The site is protected and managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.


Ocean Beach, brackish-freshwater impoundments, ocean dune, maritime shrub thicket

Land Use

Wildlife conservation, recreation and tourism.

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