South Pelican Island is a dredged-sand island located in the lower Cape Fear River south of Wilmington. The island has been a haven for nesting pelicans, gulls and terns for more than two decades. The site is posted and patrolled, and is off-limits to all visitors.

Ornithological Summary

South Pelican Island, together with Ferry Slip Island, are the most important nesting sites for royal and sandwich terns in southeastern North Carolina. The site supports the largest colony of Brown Pelicans in southeastern North Carolina.

Conservation Issues

Disturbance to nesting birds, vegetation succession resulting in loss of habitat for nesting terns.

The availability of sand to maintain the island and early-succession nesting habitat is a concern. This
island has gone a decade or longer without sand, during which time the habitat for nesting terns has been greatly reduced. The island needs sand every four to seven years to maintain habitats. The island is posted and patrolled throughout the nesting season to prevent disturbance to nesting birds. Human disturbance can result in egg or chick loss, nest abandonment, and colony abandonment.


The site is protected and managed by Audubon North Carolina and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.


Bare sand, sparse, moderate-density, and dense grasses and herbs.

Land Use

Wildlife conservation.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.