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Bird Islands a natural treasure off our coast

READ MORE: Bird Islands a natural treasure off our coast
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Southeastern North Carolina is full of natural beauty and wildlife. Some of it happened by accident.

The Bird Islands in the Lower Cape Fear River began as dredge drop-offs. Now thousands of birds from more than 10 species call the islands home.

"I get a big kick out of coming here," NC Audobon Society Coastal Biologist Lindsay Addison said while visiting the islands Friday. "It's neat to see what's happening. Every day is a little bit different. There's always something new going on, and you get to watch them through the breeding season. You see them from courtship to having an egg to having a chick to hopefully fledging that chick."

NC Audubon Society is responsible for preserving, monitoring and researching the birds along our coast.

Walker Golder is the deputy state director for NC Audubon. He's thankful the Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the Cape Fear River and placing the sand near the southern tip of New Hanover County 30 years ago.

"This island has a lot of open, bare, sandy habitat, and it's got good, coarse, quality sand, and that's what they want," Golder said. "It's also got grassy habitat, and that's what the gulls and terns like. Also on this island, there's some small shrub thicket. We have herons, egrets and a few white ibis nesting in those shrub thickets."

Golder says the birds are also successful because there are no animals or humans to disturb them.

Summertime is breeding season for the birds, and much of the Audubon Society's research deals with reproductive habits.

"We have about 4,000 pairs of Laughing Gulls, about 2,000 pairs of Royal Terns, about 800 pairs of Sandwich Terns, about 15 pairs of American Oyster Catchers, and a handful of willets, and finally, everyone's favorite, the brown pelicans. We have about 430 pairs nesting here on the island," Addison said.

"They're just constant in our environment," Golder said. "The sights, the sounds of birds. I can't imagine the North Carolina coast without these sites and sounds, but we have those because these birds nest here, and they're able to nest and raise their young here. They're able to come back year after year."

In an effort to protect the birds, the islands are not open for visitors.

None of the birds are endangered. Golder credits the ideal environment of the islands for the birds' success.

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