Battery Island, located in the mouth of the Cape Fear River just off of nearby Southport, NC in the Cape Fear River, is home to the largest White Ibis nesting population in southeastern North Carolina.
With its long, down-curved bill and bright white plumage, the White Ibis is easily identifiable. White Ibis may be seen foraging on lawns or neighborhood ponds, especially in August after nesting season concludes, but marshes, swamps and other wetlands are their native habitat. White Ibis are highly social nesters, and they may gather by the thousands to nest in large colonies from April to July.
White Ibis roam over large areas and colonize new areas when they find suitable nesting habitat. If they nest near saltwater, they may travel 30 miles or more to find freshwater foraging habitat when they are raising young chicks. They use their pink bills to probe for food, foraging mainly by touch. Their favorite foods are crayfish and crabs, but they also eat fish, insects and worms.
White Ibis were first recorded breeding in North Carolina in 1889, however, they were not found nesting in large numbers until 1950 when more than 1,000 were discovered breeding near Lumberton, NC in Warwick Mill Bay, a freshwater wetland.
Then, in the early 1960s, they began to appear on Battery Island, an estuarine island near Southport.
Numbers grew every year, and now as many as 14,000 pairs nest on the island in a single season, making Battery Island, which Audubon North Carolina manages, globally significant to maintaining their population.
White Ibis are abundant in North Carolina, making them a responsibility species for Audubon. It’s important to maintain safe, high quality nesting sites and other habitats to ensure their populations remain healthy. Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are designated areas that are critical to bird populations in North Carolina.
For many years, Battery Island’s 100-acre Audubon Sanctuary has been the site of North Carolina’s largest gathering of breeding wading birds. Herons, egrets, and ibises flock to the island by the thousands each spring.
Since 1982, the island has been guarded and protected by the National Audubon Society.
Each year, between 9,000 and 15,000 breeding pairs of white ibises, nearly all that nest in the state, as well as hundreds of breeding pairs of herons and egrets, descend on the Sanctuary to nest and raise their young.
Battery Island has always been vital to North Carolina’s wading bird population and, recently, was designated as “globally important” for the great numbers of white ibises that nest on the island every year. (Approximately 12% of the global white ibis population nests at Battery Island.)
In 1996 the Cape Fear Garden Club of Wilmington, NC stepped forward to officially adopt the sanctuary and assist with the protection and management of the island.
Since that time, the Cape Fear Garden Club has donated more than $20,000 in support of this Audubon Sanctuary.
Battery Island is posted and patrolled throughout the year, and is off-limits to visitors.
Protecting the island, the nesting birds and their habitats is essential to conserving wading birds in North Carolina. The Cape Fear Garden Club offers a guided boat tour of the sanctuary every spring, check their website for more details.