Chapter of the Month

Chapter of the Month: Mecklenburg Audubon- Important Bird Areas

Audubon North Carolina has 10 amazing chapters across the state who help put a local focus on bird preservation and conservation issues. In this special blog series, we’ll focus on a chapter each month to learn more about their history, what they are working on, and to increase the statewide understanding of special ecosystems and habitats. Each month will include a series of posts about each chapter including a post from our biologists that will share a unique research project that is happening in the chapter’s geographic footprint.

Audubon North Carolina’s Important Bird Area (IBA) Program is a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to bird populations and to biodiversity. IBA’s can be classified as sites for breeding, wintering grounds, or stopovers for migrating birds. By working with local chapters, landowners, public agencies, community groups and other nonprofits, Audubon NC aims to activate a broad network of supporters to ensure that all IBA’s are properly managed and conserved.

Mountain Island Lake (MIL), based on its bottomland forests and other critical habitat for neo-tropical migratory birds, wintering waterfowl and other resident wildlife, was designated as the first Important Bird Area in North Carolina in 1999. MIL was preserved by a coalition of conservation and government entities formed to protect the region from urban sprawl and the rapid growth of the greater Charlotte area. Governments, local citizens and nonprofit organizations including Catawba Lands Conservancy, the Foundation for Gaston County, the Foundation for the Carolinas, the Trust for Public Land, and the counties of Mecklenburg, Gaston and Lincoln formed to create the Initiative for MIL, permanently protecting more than 75% of the shoreline to date.

Cowan's Ford Wildlife Refuge

Key to Conservation in the Piedmont

Some of the last remaining, contiguous bottomland forests in the North Carolina Piedmont are found along MIL and its tributaries. These forests occur on floodplain ridges and terraces adjacent to the river channel, are occasionally flooded, but rarely disturbed by flowing water. As a result, they vary in their range of wetness and lend themselves for conversion to agricultural and residential uses.

The Piedmont bottomland forest is now a threatened and rare natural community in the state, yet along with other floodplain forests, provides critical habitat for many species of wildlife and serves as an important buffer to preserve water quality.

Supporting Wildlife Diversity

MIL has long been known as a migratory stopover and wintering area for thousands of waterfowl. To support the migrating guests, management projects have been implemented and nest boxes maintained and monitored on the lake for cavity-nesting waterfowl such as the Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser. Twenty-one species of waterfowl have been documented on the lake, and sites such as Duck Cove were even named for the large congregations of ducks and geese, sometimes exceeding thousands of individuals, that winter there.

Hooded Merganser taken by Glen Tepke.

A significantly high number and diversity of birds utilize resources in the refuge’s bottomland forests. Bottomland forests, characterized by plant species such as yellow poplar, hackberry, green ash, flowering dogwood, American holly, and buckeye offer birds a large variety of native plants for foraging, nesting, and shelter from weather and predators.

For more on the Mountain Island Lake IBA, visit the Charlotte-Mecklenburg website.

Become an IBA VIP

Do you know of an area in North Carolina that deserves “Important Bird Area” status? Let us know! The IBA Program is always open to tips on identifying sites essential to the health of NC bird communities. Once identified, we would also love your support in monitoring bird counts within IBAs. Bird watchers of ALL levels are encouraged to participate. For more information on how you can help safeguard North Carolina bird populations for generations to come, please visit:

Audubon North Carolina oversees statewide conservation projects year-round. To donate to this and other efforts protecting birds, click here.

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