Ocean Isle Beach, NC
Cherry Grove Beach, SC
Edisto Island, SC

Sanibel Island, FL



Bird Island Coastal Reserve

Jo O'Keefe Copyright 2010. Photos may be used for educational purposes only. Contact me with inquiries.

For decades, Bird Island was the last barrier island in North Carolina, extending one fourth mile into South Carolina. As Madd Inlet filled in during the 1990s, visitors no longer had to plan walks to wade through the inlet at low tide when it was only waist deep. By 1997 Madd Inlet had filled in at the ocean end. Now Bird Island is easily accessible by walking west along Sunset Beach.

Bird Island NC

Named for its avian inhabitants, Bird Island mesmerizes visitors. The only residents are the flora and fauna that thrive in the isolation of this undeveloped island. Sand dollars are abundant during the one and a quarter mile walk to the massive rock jetty dividing North and South Carolina. Behind the jetty, a quarter mile of beach is in South Carolina. From there, visitors can see the high-rise condominiums of the SC Grand Strand, in stark contrast to the unmarred beauty of Sunset Beach and Bird Island.

Bird Island NC Jetty
Bird Island NC Jetty

There are only two many-made structures on Bird Island. The first is half of the Little River Inlet jetty. The first two photos above were taken at the far west end of Bird Island. The next two were taken from a boat. The SC jetty begins on Waties Island, also uninhabited.

The second man-made structure on Bird Island is the renowned Kindred Spirit Mailbox -- below, found halfway along the island at the base of the dune. Visitors leave their thoughts in journals inside, describing losses, joys, and the beauty of the island.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox
Kindred Spirit Mailbox
Kindred Spirit Mailbox
Woman reading journal from Kindred Spirit Mailbox
Kindred Spirit Mailbox & visitor reading journal entries

After decades of work by preservationists opposed to the development of Bird Island, the owners agreed to sell the island to the State of North Carolina in 2001. As a result, it became the Bird Island Coastal Reserve both to protect it and to allow scientists to monitor long-term changes.

Of particular interest to birders are Reddish Egrets, Egretta rufescens, one of the rarest large wading birds found in North Carolina. Bird Island and adjacent Sunset Beach have become reliable places to find this bird, usually from June through September. They are found on the open beach or on large flats around inlets and in marshes. Their feeding behavior is quite extraordinary, consisting of flapping and running around in an effort to startle prey into exposing itself.

Reddish Egrets
Egretta rufescens
Reddish Egrets, Egretta rufescens

Unlike most developed areas, Bird Island has both primary and secondary dunes. There are salt flats and marshes on the sound side of the island. Because of its pristine nature, the island provides ideal habitat for Seabeach Amaranth, Amaranthus pumilus, a threatened species once widely distributed on Atlantic Coast beaches but now restricted to a limited number of islands in North Carolina and South Carolina. The island also provides foraging and nesting habitat for a number of birds of concern, including the Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger, Least Tern, Sterna antillarum, Eastern Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris ciris, Wood Stork, Mycteria americana, Piping Plover, Charadrius melodus, and Wilson's Plover, Charadrius wilsonia. Loggerhead Turtles, Caretta caretta, also nest above the high tide

Wilson's Plover
Wilson's Plover
Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger
Wilson's Plover, Charadrius wilsonia

Further down, an enormous granite jetty marks the state line. Behind the jetty is a strip of South Carolina bordering Little River Inlet. A second jetty beyond the inlet borders uninhabited Waties Island, a pristine natural resource with maritime forest seldom left along our coastline.

Bird Island and Sunset Beach before it are ideal neighbors.

Amaranthus pumilus
Amaranthus pumilus
Sea beach Amaranth, Amaranthus pumilus Rafinesque, a threatened species, 07/30/06
Bird Island, NC
Bird Island, NC
The back side of Bird Island including a stretch of maritime forest
Ocypode quadrata
Sand Dollar near Jetty
Ghost Crab, Ocypode quadrata
Bird Island Sand Dollar
Sundown over dune
Sundown over dune
Sunset on Bird Island NC
Bird Island Sunsets
Sundown Bird Island NC
Pelican at sundown
Dusk on Bird Island