Audubon North Carolina Staff Profile Series – Kim Brand

Audubon North Carolina has an amazing staff across the state dedicating their time and expertise to protecting birds and their habitats, and engaging others to support bird conservation efforts. In this blog series, we will introduce you, our supporters, to the names and faces behind Audubon NC. 

This month, get to know Kim Brand, Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator. As part of the Bird-Friendly Communities program, Kim is engaging citizens across North Carolina to take actions that help birds thrive where we all live, in cities and towns.

Kim Brand headshot Nebraska TTG 2014 orig sizeDescribe your job with Audubon NC?

My job is to empower people to take actions that help birds thrive alongside people, in cities and towns across North Carolina. I work with an amazing team of volunteers who represent dozens of partner organizations across the state, from Audubon chapters to the NC Birding Trail to NC Interfaith Power & Light. I do a lot of listening to figure out what resources people need in order to solve problems for birds – for example, addressing the limited availability of native plants – and working with our Bird-Friendly Communities team and Audubon NC to develop and deploy resources that work.

What inspired you to pursue a career in conservation?

My first inkling that I needed to work in conservation came when I did sea-turtle beach patrols early in the morning before heading to my job at an advertising agency. After being on the beach with sea turtle nests, Black Skimmers, Willets and other shorebirds, I didn’t want to go to work! Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. My commitment to conservation comes from my heart.

What brought you to work with Audubon NC for the benefit of birds?

I started out as a volunteer for my home chapter, Forsyth Audubon Society in Winston-Salem, and through my work with our Lights Out program I got to know the state staff. Curtis Smalling, our Director of Land Bird Conservation, asked me to help him create and co-lead our Bird-Friendly Communities team in early 2013, which I did as a volunteer until grant funding allowed me to join as staff in November 2013.

Kim and Curtis Smalling at Chapter Day 2014 by Mary Alice Holley.

Kim and Curtis Smalling at Chapter Day 2014 by Mary Alice Holley.

Why do you feel it’s important to protect and conserve birds in North Carolina and globally?

Birds matter for many practical reasons – because they eat insects, pollinate crops and plant forests – but for me the most important reason to protect and conserve birds here is that our beautiful state would not be worth living in without our birds. All we have to do is look out our window or step outside and listen for birds to give us joy.

Globally, planet Earth would be no fun at all without healthy bird populations! If we act to make sure that bird populations are healthy, we’ve also ensured that humans have what they need – natural areas, clean air and clean water.

How is your work with Audubon specifically helping to protect birds in NC? What particular birds does your work help protect.

My work with the Brown-headed Nuthatch nest box project – working toward our goal of distributing 10,000 nest boxes across North Carolina – helps ensure that Brown-headed Nuthatches will have places to nest, even in urban and suburban areas where leaving dead trees standing (their natural preference) is not a common practice.

My work with native plants for birds and our Local Roots program, which promotes 15 Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year, means that more native plants are getting put in the ground, and that’s good for our year-round birds like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and for migratory birds like the Wood Thrush and Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Our Lights Out program in three cities – Raleigh, Charlotte and Winston-Salem – helps those migratory birds, too, by reducing window collisions, which are a major source of bird mortality.

What is your favorite bird? Why?

My favorite bird is the tiny, adorable Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. It’s one of the first birds I learned to identify by ear. My mentor and thesis advisor Glen Woolfenden taught me the call, a quiet, sweet “pzee…pzee,” at Archbold Biological Station in Florida. Once I learned it, I realized that gnatcatchers were everywhere – all over my neighborhood and pretty much everywhere I went.

Kim Brand with bins on Ocracoke Island by Lena Gallitano.

Kim Brand with bins on Ocracoke Island by Lena Gallitano.

Opening my ears to the sound of birds gave me, forever, a ready source of joy. For me, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a symbol of the beauty that is all around us, all the time, if only we open our eyes and ears and hearts to let it in. Plus, the gnatcatcher is busy flitting about all the time, with sudden bursts of energy, and I identify with that.

What is the most exciting bird you’ve ever spotted? What happened?

The most exciting bird I’ve ever spotted is the Black-faced Solitaire in the rain forest of Panama. I was enchanted by its song echoing through the trees – not unlike our lovely Wood Thrush’s song – but did not see the bird at all. Then, suddenly, it appeared in all its silvery glory, just for a moment, and I got one good look. It was a magical moment!

What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming involved with bird conservation efforts?

Get busy! Now, more than ever before, it’s easy to become involved with bird conservation through eBird and other citizen science portals. Your local Audubon chapter, if you’re lucky enough to have one, will be delighted to have your help with everything from bird counts to nest boxes to specialized surveys of birds like Chimney Swifts or Nightjars. There is so much work that needs to be done, and anyone with an interest in birds can contribute in meaningful ways.

What would you like people to know about birds that they may not already know?

Every day, you can do something that truly helps birds, whether it’s drinking bird-friendly shade-grown coffee, or digging up some grass in your yard and replacing it with a couple of spicebushes or other native plants, that provide the food birds need.

Kim earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Florida and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of South Florida. She earned her MS in Zoology from the University of South Florida. She has served on the board of trustees of Audubon North Carolina and as vice president and secretary of the Forsyth Audubon Society.

Kim’s Awards and Recognitions

  • Audubon Toyota TogetherGreen Fellow – 2013-2014
  • Volunteer of the Year Audubon North Carolina – 2013
  • Helen G. and Allan D. Cruickshank Award Florida Ornithological Society – 2000

Kim’s Publications

  • “Breeding bird community of a suburban habitat island: Historic Bethabara Park, Winston-Salem, NC,” co-authored with Katherine K. Thorington, Southeastern Naturalist – 2014.
  • “Body mass variation in breeding Florida Scrub-Jays,” co-authored with R. Bowman, Journal of Field
  • Ornithology – 2012

FAQs about installing Brown-headed Nuthatch nest boxes

Launched in 2013, Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative is a partnership program involving more than 20 organizations dedicated to creating a more bird-friendly North Carolina. This vision statement guides the goals and projects of the group: “Bird-friendly communities give birds the opportunity to succeed by providing connected habitat dominated by native plants, minimizing threats posed by the built environment, and engaging people of all ages and backgrounds in stewardship of nature.”

Please welcome guest-blogger Dr. Mark Stanback. Dr. Stanback, professor of biology at Davidson College and advisor to Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities team, has installed more nest boxes for Brown-headed Nuthatches than anyone in the world.

Read on to find Dr. Stanback’s answers to commonly asked questions about putting up nuthatch nest boxes.

Mark Stanback checks BHNU box on Davidson campus by Drew Gill.

Mark Stanback checks BHNU box on Davidson campus by Drew Gill.

Does it matter which way the hole faces?

No, not at all.

Tree vs. pole: what is the difference in nest success?

I suspect that poles would have higher success. In general, trees are easier for predators to climb than slick poles. Also, more creatures instinctively climb trees to access food. We have data showing that 30 percent of tree-mounted boxes with bluebird nests are depredated (predators take the chicks) whereas nearly all pole-mounted boxes with predator guards are successful.

However, because the entrance holes on nuthatch boxes are considerably smaller than those on bluebird boxes, fewer things can easily reach or climb inside. So, an unprotected nuthatch nest is probably somewhat safer than an unprotected bluebird nest. And because nuthatches tend to nest slightly earlier in the spring than bluebirds, they may face fewer predators (e.g., snakes).

What type of predator baffle works best?

It’s more about the size of the baffle than the style. Discs, inverted funnels and stovepipes can all be effective IF they are large enough. A pie pan or an inverted soda bottle will stop nearly nothing. Discs need to be at least 30″ in diameter to be effective. Stovepipes need to be at least 30″ long.

How high off the ground should I mount the nest box?

In general, the higher, the better. Higher boxes are marginally safer, and birds tend to prefer higher boxes. That said, nuthatches often nest in tree stumps. Natural nests are generally within two meters of the ground. So install your box where it will be convenient for you. And if you have a predator guard on your box, height isn’t an issue.

Do nuthatches prefer boxes mounted on pine trees?

Possibly? I don’t know for sure. But it would be tricky to determine this because to test it, you’d have to install boxes on both pines and hardwoods in a mixed-forest situation. But given their love of pines, I would go with pines if I had to choose.

When is the proper time to clean out a nuthatch nest?

Unlike bluebirds, that generally take several weeks off between fledging chicks from one nest and laying eggs in their next, nuthatches will often (though not always) lay new eggs within a few days of the fledging of chicks. Consequently, it’s a bad idea to clean out a nuthatch nest as soon as the chicks leave. The female might be ready to lay her first egg when you steal the nest. If they decide to renest, they’ll appreciate having the old one. And if they don’t renest, it doesn’t hurt to leave the nest in there.

Brown-headed nuthatch nest in box by Gail Crotte.

Brown-headed nuthatch nest in box by Gail Crotte.

So when should you clean out the nest? Many people who monitor bluebird boxes clean out the old nest in late winter as part of their “getting ready for spring” ritual. This is a bad idea for nuthatches. Unlike bluebirds, nuthatches begin “nest”-building as early as December. Even if they don’t build a proper nest, they bring in soft plant material and use it to insulate their cavity. And many nuthatches have what looks like a real nest by February. So if you were to clean out your nuthatch boxes in late January, you are depriving your birds of a cozy place to sleep and probably convincing them that this box is not a good place to nest.

I generally clean out my nuthatch nests in late summer or early fall. This way all the House Wrens are done, and I can make sure the box is wasp-free, so it will be ready for fall roosting by nuthatches.

Click to learn more about the Bird-Friendly Communities program and making a home for nuthatches in your yard.

How Your Contributions Helped Birds in 2014

During 2014, Audubon asked for your support to protect birds throughout North Carolina and you responded! We had nearly 200 people donate to Audubon North Carolina for the first time and more than 800 donations altogether. Read on to see how your dollars are being put to work for the benefit of birds in North Carolina.

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina Director of Development and Communications Karen Smith Fernandez.

Finding more supporters

For 2014, Audubon North Carolina sought to increase the number of people supporting our mission with a financial contribution. The fundraising and communications teams worked to educate more folks about the great work Audubon does across our state, encouraged more individuals to make a donation, and asked more people to join the Cardinal Club monthly giving program.

Northern Cardinal by Jerry Acton, courtesy National Audubon Society

Northern Cardinal by Jerry Acton, courtesy National Audubon Society

Our core programs are where we conduct research, monitor the well-being of birds, share our data with other organizations, and help people take action where they live to help birds survive and thrive. Most people may not know it, but almost 90% of the money contributed to us comes from individuals. There are 1.5 million bird watchers in North Carolina. If we can reach more of them, and gain their support, we can take bird conservation to another level.

Mission Accomplished

The Development team tried a few new ideas to reach more people with Audubon’s mission and success stories this year. And the result was more donors, more donations and more folks signing up for the Cardinal Club. Our fiscal year operates from July 1 through June 30, and during the first six months, we raised over $400,000 from about 800 individuals, with about a third giving to us two or more years in a row! Loyalty is something we really appreciate and count on.

We are also moving closer toward our goal of gaining 100 Cardinal Club members, with 70 people signed up through December. Only 30 more to go to meet our goal for this fiscal year!

How Donations Help Birds in NC

As a state office, ANC is responsible for our entire $1.6 million budget. Contributions made to the National Audubon Society are used for work at the national level, but money donated to Audubon North Carolina specifically stays in our state and is used within our state budget. We don’t receive any funds from the National organization although we do receive many services.

We also receive money from foundations and have some investment income. The rest comes from individuals, who are concerned about the welfare of birds, believe in conservation, and know that Audubon can be counted on to be the voice for birds in North Carolina.

Annual Highlights

carl at the coast 2Carl the Cardinal: Our Carl the Cardinal campaign has run each December for the past three years. It has been fun and exciting for us to see people signing up to support Audubon all year long. We really count on those monthly donations and want to reach our goal of 100 members this year.

Audubon Sanctuary in Corolla: We have begun fundraising efforts for the Donal O’Brien, Jr. Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Corolla. This nearly 3,000-acre sanctuary supports more than 167 species of birds and we are still counting. We have been grateful to see the support from people all over the state to protect this special, pristine property.

Contributions to the Sanctuary will go toward improvements that will let us open the campus to the public and renovate existing historical structures on the property. Our plan is to have a residential research facility for scientists from all over North America. There will be immersive ecology and arts programs at the facility too.

DSC_0185New in 2014

This year, Audubon revamped our newsletter from a multi-page document discussing our programs in depth to a shorter, more photo-oriented publication. Folks seem to really like the new publication, and they can always find in-depth information on our website and fantastic blog. We also created a number of specialty e-bulletins to give folks more information on topics they are particularly interested in, such as the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Growing Bird-Friendly Native plants, the Coastal Program, the Sanctuary in Corolla, and the Working Lands.

We are consistently expanding our multi-media communications including developing promotional videos to highlight the staff and programs. Watch our latest projects on our YouTube channel.

And last but not least, Audubon’s Executive Director Heather Hahn has joined Twitter! Follow Heather as she tweets about all things bird-related and leading our state office.

Partnering For Success

There are many conservation partners who helped make 2014 a success. We received some wonderful grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the North Carolina Forest Service, Toyota TogetherGreen and other private foundations. Also, our T. Gilbert Pearson Society comprised of donors who make a gift of $1,000 or more are the heart of our fundraising work with their loyalty and significant financial support.

In Store for 2015

With some additions to our fundraising staff, we are setting out to make 2015 a record year for contributions to Audubon North Carolina. We’ll be putting a lot of effort into raising funds for the sanctuary in Corolla, a multi-phase, multi-year effort. And, we will continue to count on our existing supporters for their loyalty. Watch our social media channels (Facebook, the Audubon blog, Twitter and Pinterest) for even more updates!

We are so grateful to have the support that we do and look forward to making new friends in the coming year. Thanks for your support!

Get inspired to help birds where you live. Click here to make a donation to Audubon today. Remember to select North Carolina from the dropdown menu.

A History of Success with Coastal Sanctuaries

For more than 25 years, Audubon North Carolina has managed a network of coastal sites along our state’s coast offering a haven for nesting waterbirds. By protecting the specialized habitats that birds need, coastal birds have a chance to thrive. Read on to learn more about the birds the Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program protects.

With this blog series, we are taking a peak behind the curtain and sharing the secrets of the sanctuaries in North Carolina.

Different birds require different habitats. Audubon’s Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program is providing just that – individual, diverse habitats that offer birds what they need to thrive and raise their young during nesting season. With a safe place to go, free from human disturbance and predators, coastal bird populations are thriving along North Carolina’s coast.

Least Tern by Donald Mullaney.

Least Tern by Donald Mullaney.

Only a few dozen islands along the North Carolina coast have the right mix of characteristics to support waterbirds. These islands are essential to waterbird conservation in North Carolina because they provide the perfect place where species like the Brown Pelican and Great Egret can raise the next generation.

Setting aside this network of islands dedicated to protecting nesting birds has positioned North Carolina as a vital piece of the conservation puzzle. Recognizing and protecting these islands has long been a part of Audubon’s work.

History of Bird Conservation

Audubon has been a conservation leader in North Carolina with a focus on protecting waterbirds in our state. In the early 1900s, unregulated market hunting threatened birds across the U.S. The early Audubon leader T. Gilbert Pearson worked in North Carolina to educate the public, pass legislation to protect birds, and hired wardens to protect nesting islands.

Two islands in Pamlico Sound became the first Audubon sanctuaries in the state. Though they are gone today, lost to erosion decades ago, descendants of the birds that nested on them still occupy islands that Audubon protects.

In the 1960s and 1970s, conservation attention again focused on nesting islands. Loss of natural nesting sites to development and increasing human disturbance, and the importance of manmade dredge islands, was documented by UNC Wilmington’s Dr. James Parnell and other ornithologists. By the early 1980s an informal sanctuary program with two islands, Battery Island and Striking Island, served as the catalyst for a new kind of conservation plan. The islands would become on-the-ground research labs where conservationists could study waterbirds and apply that knowledge to conservation and develop new habitat management tools to ensure habitats could be sustained over time.

DSC_0020Dr. Parnell and his graduate students served as wardens for Battery and Striking Islands, monitoring and protecting the birds nesting there while conducting thesis research on waterbird biology and ecology.

The Coastal Islands Sanctuary Program formally opened in 1989 with Walker Golder, a student of Dr. Parnell’s, as the manager. In order to develop more comprehensive, statewide protection for waterbirds, Audubon identified important nesting islands and worked to secure their protection.

Today, with a growing network of staff, researchers and conservation partners, Audubon’s Sanctuary Program is working to ensure that waterbird nesting sites in North Carolina are protected.

“Audubon has worked closely with conservation partners throughout the state for decades to coordinate what we do to ensure islands are adequately protected and the birds have high quality habitats they need for nesting,” said Walker Golder, Director of NC Coast and Marshes Program.

Why it Works

The goal of the Coastal Sanctuaries Program is to ensure that North Carolina has diverse habitats to support diverse populations of waterbirds. We are continually working to provide places for species to nest—from wading birds, to terns and pelicans, and more.


“If birds don’t have safe places to nest and raise young, it’s pretty simple, the birds will disappear from our coast. They need high quality habitats, and that’s what we provide,” said Golder.

The birds are attracted to the islands managed by Audubon North Carolina because:

  • They have high quality habitats they need.
  • They are protected and managed to provide the best possible nesting conditions.
  • There are no nest predators like raccoons and foxes.

Habitat Management and Research

Different birds require a variety of habitats. For example, herons and egrets prefer to nest in trees and shrubs, and pelicans nest in grasses or shrubs. However, most terns – like royal, sandwich, common, least and gull-billed – prefer open, sandy areas.


To sustain these specialized habitats overtime, the Sanctuary Program was designed to develop successful conservation strategies and habitat management techniques. The sanctuaries are living laboratories where researchers can learn more about the birds that are here and apply their knowledge to future conservation work.

Audubon staff are always looking for new and innovative ways to manage coastal habitats. Some of the techniques developed locally have been used across the Atlantic Flyway.

Check back to learn about the success stories of the sanctuary system.

Vines Make for Happy Hummers

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator Kim Brand. Launched in 2013, Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative is a partnership program involving more than 20 organizations with a vision for creating a more bird-friendly North Carolina. This vision statement guides the goals and projects of the group: “Bird-friendly communities give birds the opportunity to succeed by providing connected habitat dominated by native plants, minimizing threats posed by the built environment, and engaging people of all ages and backgrounds in stewardship of nature.”

Confession: I am too lazy to mix sugar water and clean a hummingbird feeder every few days. I have never had my own hummingbird feeder. In my book, it’s much easier to plant flowers that give hummingbirds the sweet treat they seek. Vines are self-filling hummingbird feeders!

Flower nectar also provides micronutrients that are not present in sugar water, according to Susan Campbell, a hummingbird expert who has banded hundreds of hummers in North Carolina and beyond.

Planting for Humming Birds

Two great vines for attracting hummingbirds in North Carolina are cross vine and trumpet creeper. Once established, both will be covered in flowers during part of the time the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are here in North Carolina. And they’ll attract bees and other insect pollinators too.

Cross vine, Bignonia capreolata, is native to our NC mountains, piedmont and coastal plain, but may be too tender for higher-elevation areas. It produces yellow to red-orange flowers during April and May, and bears fruit during July and August. It can grow 5 to 80 feet tall, depending on the substrate. Find a spot in sun to part sun and wet to dryish soil. This vine is semi-evergreen with good fall color as the leaves turn yellow. It will grow up a tree trunk, wooden post, arbor or even a brick wall (as it does at my kids’ school in an urban area).

Cross vine by Will Stuart.

Cross vine by Will Stuart.

Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans, is also native to our NC mountains, piedmont and coastal plain, but can spread aggressively in the piedmont and coastal plain. In those warmer areas, it’s a good idea to plant in areas where you don’t mind it taking over. A garden bed surrounded by concrete would work! Trumpet creeper produces orange-red flowers from June through October, and bears fruit during September and October. It can grow 6 to 80 feet tall. Find a spot in sun to part sun and moist-to dry, well-drained soil. This plant is drought-tolerant.

Trumpet creeper by Will Stuart.

Trumpet creeper by Will Stuart.

Vines Take Hold

These two vines are not the tight-twining (think honeysuckle) type of vines. Instead, they send roots into the substrate to anchor themselves. Cross vine is unique in that it uses claws on the tips of its tendrils to climb up the tree. Later on, it will send roots into the trunk for firmer attachment. Trumpet creeper uses clinging roots to make its way up a tree or other support.

Both vines are available at many nurseries across North Carolina and included in the 2015 Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year through Audubon North Carolina’s Local Roots program. Check out the rest of the bird-lover’s dozen here!

Receive even more growing tips when you sign-up for the Local Roots e-bulletin.