Bird conservation effort takes flight at Wrightsville Beach

Every summer, thousands of tourists flock to Southeastern North Carolina — some by land and some by air.
Published: Jul. 31, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2022 at 7:56 AM EDT
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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Every summer, thousands of tourists flock to Southeastern North Carolina — some by land and some by air. But few arrive as early as the colony of black skimmers that travels hundreds of miles to land on the southern end of Wrightsville Beach every March.

“These birds are basically raising their families right here on the very hot sand. And they need to be able to tend to their eggs, and their young, without being scared away from them by people or dogs or anything else,” said Lindsay Addison, a coastal biologist with Audubon North Carolina.

It’s that human interaction that creates safety challenges for the 260 skimmers that come here each year.

However, since Audubon North Carolina first noticed the birds gathering at the south end of the beach in 2009, efforts to protect them have taken flight. With support from the Harbor Island Garden Club, a simple fence was built around the nesting area.

Forty volunteer bird stewards from Audubon North Carolina now watch over the site, and they teach neighbors and tourists alike about how important the nesting area is. This effort is critical to supporting biodiversity not just here in the Cape Fear River area, but across North Carolina.

“This is not just a cute little quick gathering of birds, this is 30% of the skimmers in the state,” said Addison. “So if you don’t have a healthy population here, if they’re not doing well raising a good batch of young this year, then you’re not going to have a healthy population in the state.”

But the education efforts don’t stop there. Students from Wrightsville Beach Elementary also get in on the act by making colorful signs to decorate the protective fences.

An educational program teaches them about the black skimmers and their value to our coastal ecosystem. The students learn not only about the nesting and migration patterns of the skimmers, but the importance of biodiversity and environmental stewardship.

School counselor Cissie Brooks first enlisted the fifth graders to create the signs for the fenced area in 2010. While Brooks is now retired, she’s happy to see that the program still continues to create a new generation of environmental stewards.

“I’ll never forget, the first year we did, it had a little girl, her name was Summer,” Brooks said. “And at the end of the whole program, she looks at me and she goes, ‘I thought they were just birds. I didn’t know it was all that other stuff.’ And I was like, mission accomplished.”

Because whether you live here, or are just visiting, we’re all birds of a feather.

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