Important Bird Areas Create Protection for Birds

Sadly, many of our bird populations are declining. As their natural habitats shrink due to deforestation and urbanization, there are fewer places for birds to breed, lay eggs, rest during migration, or have a safe place for the winter. Audubon North Carolina’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) are protecting the habitats that birds need to survive and thrive.

Our IBA program defines the most critical places in our state to protect birds and serves as our blueprint for conservation. Audubon has identified 96 IBAs in North Carolina that provide essential habitats from the coast to the mountains. Working hand in hand with Birdlife International, we created a network of connected habitats across state and international boundaries throughout the Western Hemisphere, collaborating to create a landscape of protection for many species of concern.

But there is a lot that people can do to help bird populations here in North Carolina and around the world. Watch this special video to learn more about our IBA program and the birds it protects. Then click here to find out how you can help support the IBA program in North Carolina.

See the Local and Global Impacts of our NC IBAs

Have you ever wondered how local bird conservation in North Carolina could benefit birds on a global scale?

Important Bird Areas are vital to bird conservation, serving as essential sites for a number of bird species during their migration, wintering and breeding cycles. From the mountains to the coast, 4.9 million acres of land have been designated as 96 IBAs to protect our birds and their habitat.

But it doesn’t stop there! Thirty of our own IBAs are also considered significant to bird conservation on a global level, protecting migrating birds as they nest or rest here. By creating connected habitats across our state and the rest of the world, Audubon NC is contributing to the protection of our birds locally as well as globally.

Check out this infographic featuring some of our most significant success stories to learn more about Audubon’s IBA program and the birds it protects. Then click here to find out how you can help protect the IBA program in North Carolina.

North Carolina's Important Bird Areas Infographic



Global Work to Save our IBAs

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Sign-up for action alerts to help decision makers do the right thing for birds and people. Become a citizen-scientist. It’s fun and anyone can do it. Collecting data from 4.9 million acres takes a lot of resources. Donating to the IBA program means investing in the long-term conservation of North Carolina.

Learn more about IBAs through our infographic and video.

Infographic_Round 12

What do Pungo-Pocosin Lake, Lea-Hutaff Island and Highlands Plateau all have in common? They’re all home to some of North Carolina’s 96 Important Bird Areas (IBA). Audubon North Carolina’s IBA program serves to promote the conservation of vital bird habitat on a local and global scale. From the mountains to the coastal plain, scientists and conservationists are able to utilize IBAs to focus their efforts and protect declining bird populations.

Why IBAs?

IBAs have the ability to help bird populations survive and thrive! The 4.9 million acres that make-up our statewide IBA program are an integral piece of the conservation puzzle that brings together resources from partner organizations, researchers and citizen scientists all in the name of protecting our birds. These are essential habitats for one or more bird species of conservation concern during their annual cycle of breeding, nesting, migrating or wintering. Without healthy habitats for our birds to nest and rest, bird populations will decline.

IBAs have shown tangible results that can be felt across the state:

  • Pungo-Pocosin Lakes – IBA data helped stave off the placement of a Navy Outlying Landing Field where jets could have collided with the thousands of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese that winter in the refuge.
  • Lea-Hutaff – As bare sand habitat becomes increasingly scarce, Lea-Hutaff and other coastal IBAs become increasingly important for Black Skimmers and terns.
  • Highlands Plateau – This IBA is one of North Carolina’s most important sites for a variety of migrating warblers and other northern species that are at the southern point of their range in Highlands. Several conservation organizations are working together to extend and enhance this IBA.

Wood Thrush by Will Stuart.

Wood Thrush by Will Stuart.

A Global Plan for Local Conservation

As birds travel across continents and hemispheres during their migrations, their habitats are at risk all over the world. Problems they face include pollution, habitat degradation, invasive species and more.

Audubon NC is engaging our citizens to get involved in protecting many vital areas for birds as they nest and rest in our state. In North Carolina, there are 30 locations that are recognized as globally significant IBAs – IBAs that support the entire global population of a species – supporting the health of specific species of birds, such as the Wood Thrush.

And it’s paying off! Virtually every conservation organization and state and federal conservation agency in North Carolina incorporates IBA data in their planning and decision-making. This has led to healthier bird populations and stronger conservation efforts across our state.

Learn more about the Wood Thrush

The Wood thrush is just one example of the many bird species that have benefitted from our work in IBAs on a local and global level. After a significant population decline, efforts to save this beloved bird have been organized through international partnerships and researchers gaining a better understanding of its lifecycle. Learn more about the conservation of the Wood Thrush by following its journey through our global IBAs in this short video.

Local Chapter’s Engaging in Statewide Bird Conservation

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina Executive Director Heather Hahn. Heather joined the ANC team in 2011 and has successfully lead the organization and chapters in expanding our reach and impact in bird conservation across North Carolina. Read on to see Heather’s experience at the 2014 Chapter Day

Since coming to Audubon North Carolina in 2011, our annual chapter day has always been one of my favorite events. Getting to meet with members from around the state and hear what they are doing in their own communities is always inspiring, and this year’s Chapter Day proved no different!

I got to Haw River State Park in Greensboro around 9 am to set up. Our chapter members started trickling in around 9:40, and by 10:00 we had 40 people from across the state in one room to discuss what they were doing and to learn from each other.


Each chapter gave a presentation on their amazing work accomplished this year.

Cape Fear and Wake Audubon each presented on their work and methods to educate people about birds in their community. Wake Audubon discussed topic boxes they made to be used in middle-school science classrooms that focused on Chimney Swifts that have made homes in many of Wake County’s school buildings.

DSC_0026T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon from Greensboro presented on their conservation efforts in Southwest Park where they have built an overlook—and Elisha Mitchell Audubon from Asheville talked about their conservation work in the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary, which they own and manage.

New Hope Audubon shared a presentation they give to new birders—using it to explain how easy it is for people to appreciate birds, and the ways in which we can help encourage others to take up birding as a hobby or passion.

One of the most exciting things for me to see was how our chapters were so energized by Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Communities project—coordinated in North Carolina by Audubon NC staffer and Forsyth Audubon member Kim Brand. Forsyth and Mecklenburg Audubon both gave great presentations on how they were working to make urban counties more bird-friendly. After the chapter round robins were over, Kim gave a presentation on native plant gardening that chapters could use when talking to other groups about ways to help birds in their own back yards!

Looking back on what everyone presented, I am so grateful to work in a state where our local chapter members do so much for conservation. Going forward, I hope that our Bird-Friendly Communities program will continue to grow with more chapter involvement, and that chapter leaders will continue to engage their local communities about bird conservation in ways that are creative and that will inspire the next generation of bird conservationists.


Heather Hahn, Executive Director Audubon North Carolina


Bird-filled Days on the Cape Fear River

North Carolina has 96 Important Bird Areas across the state that support wildlife in very special ways while offering a recreational playground for birds and people alike. In this special blog series, each of Audubon North Carolina’s 10 chapters will take a walk through their IBAs to give readers a glimpse of what can be enjoyed in our own backyards.

Please welcome guest-blogger and member of the Cape Fear Audubon Society, Gretchen Schramm.

“The Holly Shelter-Angola Bay site is an area of extensive forested habitats, including pine savannahs, pocosin, and cypress swamp. Most of the site is part of the state-owned game lands system managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The site has one of the state’s most important longleaf pine communities and one of the best examples of pocosin habitats.” National Audubon Society

In the latter part of April, as spring was in full swing, a group of Cape Fear Audubon members congregated at the Holly Shelter Game Land for a bird-filled day.

The Holly Shelter Game Land is located 40 minutes northeast of Wilmington and covers approximately 75,000 acres of land supporting birds and their habitat. Features like floodplain forests, hardwood forests, longleaf pine savannas, pocosins, blackwater streams and the Northeast Cape Fear River all contribute to the Game Land’s unique attributes and its ideal location for birding throughout all four seasons, but especially Spring and Fall.


This area is special because it is home to many rare plants and animal species, including Longleaf Pine, pitcher plants and Venus’ flytraps, the Carolina Gopher Frog, Black Bear, deer, Rattlesnakes, salamanders and more than 140 species of birds. The diversification of plant, animal and bird life is primarily due to a wide variety of habitats within the boundaries of the Shelter. Because the majority of land is inaccessible to humans, the Shelter’s pristine condition is easily maintained contributing to the biodiversity.

Bring on the Birding

The morning was clear and warm with a slight breeze, which was most appreciated due to the number of biting insects that are present no matter what time of year. Our group consisted of about a dozen birders, many whom have years of experience under their belts and always prove to be valuable assets to our outings.

IMG_9665 The first leg of our walk along a dirt road passed through thick woods on either side and produced sightings of Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Titmice, Chickadees and more.



The trail then meanders into an open space of shrubs and pine woodlands, revealing Prairie and Pine Warblers, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, Bachman’s Sparrow, Red-headed Woodpecker and Common Yellowthroat. Holly Shelter also contains at least ten percent of Southeastern North Carolina’s population of the beautiful and rare Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

From there the trail narrows a bit and begins a new vista with the Green-tree Impoundment on the left and a southeastern floodplain forest habitat on the right. Part of the trail even runs along a dike that is parallel to the Northeast Cape Fear River. We heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Prothonotary Warblers, Vireos, Parulas, Swainson’s Warblers and Acadian Flycatchers to name a few.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

Be aware this is also home to quite a few snakes that tend to bask on the sun-dappled pathway or drape over logs jutting into the water. We encountered these uninhibited snakes during our journey. Charley Winterbauer, who was ahead of the main group by a couple hundred yards, gingerly removed a Cottonmouth from harm’s way before the rest of us got to that particular bend in the trail.


Our path led directly back to the parking lot where we retrieved our cars and said our thank yous and good-byes for now. We once again thoroughly enjoyed an outing with our enjoyable bunch of friends.

I was so thrilled with the entire experience that I drove back to Holly Shelter the next day, and again the following week. These times I went back to explore the Lodge Road side of the property, which hosts an entirely different abundance of birds and terrain.

But that’s another story for another day!

Gretchen Schramm serves on the Board of Directors of the Cape Fear Audubon Society in Wilmington.