Neighborhood Profile: Bird Island at Sunset Beach

Bird Island is the last undeveloped barrier island in Brunswick County, and one of the few remaining natural barrier islands in the mid-Atlantic region.  At one time, Bird Island was separated Black Skimmerfrom Sunset Beach by a tidal creek (Mad Inlet) that could only be crossed at low tide.   Accretion of sand from storms and conservation efforts has gradually filled in the tidal creek so that two separate islands became one.
Privately owned prior to 2002, Bird Island was a prime target for resort development.

Handwritten pleas, posted in the Kindred Spirit mailbox located on the island (and a destination site in its own right) stopped development of the island.  The State of North Carolina used $4.2 million dollars of public and private funding to purchase the land and create a coastal reserve, administered by the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management.

Now an uninhabited 1,300 acre State Preserve comprised of salt marsh, tidal creeks, highnatural dunes, and pristine sandy white beaches, Bird Island has become a popular destination.  It is one of ten sites that make up the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve.  This coastal ecosystem is an outdoor laboratory about processes, functions, and influences that shape and sustain the coastal area.

The shoreline, dunes, and marshland of Bird Island provides important habitat and nesting for species that are endangered, threatened, or of special concern.  Guided educational walks to Bird Island are hosted by the Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards.  Walks begin at Sunset Beach’s 40th Street walkover and the beach at 8:30 am every Wednesday from June through August, and last about 2 ½ hours.

Reddish Egret PhotoOf particular interest to birders are Reddish Egrets, Egretta rufescens, one of the rarest large wading birds found in North Carolina. Bird Island and adjacent Sunset Beach have become reliable places to find this bird, usually from June through September. They are found on the open beach or on large flats around inlets and in marshes. Their feeding behavior is quite extraordinary, consisting of flapping and running around in an effort to startle prey into exposing itself.

The island also provides foraging and nesting habitat for a number of birds of concern, including the Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger, Least Tern, Sterna antillarum, Eastern Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris, Wood Stork, Mycteria americana, Piping Plover, Charadrius melodus, and Wilson’s Plover, Charadrius wilsonia. Loggerhead Turtles, Caretta caretta, also nest above the high tide.

Come experience the privacy and solace that Bird Island offers.  The animals and birds that inhabit the island are happy to share!


Submitted by: Karen Gaspar
Ocean Isle Beach
119 Causeway Drive
Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469

Karen Gaspar - Sunset Beach