Battery Island: A Nesting Oasis for Wading Birds

This Cape Fear island hosts the largest colony of wading birds in North Carolina and is off-limits to visitors during the spring and summer.

Battery Island

Located near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, Battery Island is one of several islands in the area that support large numbers of nesting waterbirds. Although it is a natural island, Battery Island received deposits of dredged sand many years ago, which created an upland area that supports a small forest of red cedar, yaupon holly, and other trees and shrubs. In turn, these trees provide nesting habitat for the largest colony of wading birds in North Carolina. The rest of its shoreline and marshes are home to nesting Willets, American Oystercatchers, Clapper Rails, and others.

To protect these nesting birds from disturbance by people, the island is entirely off-limits to visitors during the spring and summer months. It’s patrolled by Audubon NC staff and NC Wildlife Resources Commission law enforcement staff. To report violations, call 800-662-7137.

Bird Life at Battery

Battery Island is the site of North Carolina’s largest colony of nesting wading birds (egrets, herons, and ibis), supporting 10-15,000 nesting pairs of eight wading bird species. In peak years, the island is home to approximately 10 percent of North America’s White Ibis, and is usually the largest nesting site for White Ibis in North Carolina.

Clapper Rails, Seaside Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, and other wetland species nest in the marshes that surround the wading bird colonies, and Willets and American Oystercatchers nest all along the island’s shoreline. Visitors to Southport can witness this natural spectacle from the town’s waterfront. Thousands of ibis stream back and forth all day during late spring and early summer, as chicks hatch and parents commute back and forth to feed hungry chicks.

Nesting activity begins in March, when oystercatchers, Willets, and Great Egrets begin to select territories and construct nests. By April, the other species have arrived. Although they are present in most years, the White Ibis have periodically abandoned Battery Island. Their reasons are known only to themselves, but it appears that the presence of avian predators such as Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles are the cause.

In the fall and winter months, migrating and wintering shorebirds, such as Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitchers, feed and roost along Battery’s shoreline and oyster reefs. The Cape Fear River’s wintering population of Brown Pelicans will sometimes seek shelter along its leeward shoreline as well.

Nesting Species

As many as 25 different species of bird have been documented nesting on Battery Island. Presently, these species typically are found nesting there annually.

Nesting Wading Birds at Battery Island

Great Egret Tricolored Heron Cattle Egret White Ibis
Snowy Egret Little Blue Heron Black-crowned Night-Heron Glossy Ibis

Nesting Marsh/Shorebirds at Battery Island

Clapper Rail American Oystercatcher Willet

Nesting Songbirds at Battery Island

Marsh Wren Common Yellow Throat Seaside Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird Boat-tailed Grackle  

In the 1950s and 60s, other species such as the Gull-billed Tern and Black Skimmer, also nested at Battery. At that time, the dredged sand was more recently deposited and trees had not matured, so the open sandy habitat that those species prefer was available on the island. Gull-billed Terns still inspect the shell-sand deposits on the north and southeastern sides of the island.

Conservation Issues

Challenges facing Battery Island include erosion and disturbance by people and dogs. Disturbance to nesting birds is a primary concern. Unauthorized visitors to the island stress parent birds and can cause them to flush from their nests, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to many threats, including temperature stress and predation by Fish Crows. Ship wakes and king tides wash out nests along the shoreline, and the long-term future of the island is threatened by increased erosion from expansion of the Cape Fear River channel, ship wakes, and storms.


Battery Island’s name may have originated from the many fortifications that were historically located on the Cape Fear River. In modern times, Battery Island has been protected by Audubon North Carolina since 1982, when the island was first leased from the state for the purpose of bird conservation and research.

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