Fired Up for Bird Habitat

Fired Up for Bird Habitat

Author: NCWRC blogger/Thursday, January 24, 2019/Categories: Blog, Wildlife Management

Throughout the winter and early spring, you are likely to see a plume of smoke rising above North Carolina’s game lands. This time of year is prescribed fire season for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Employees are gearing up and focusing on restoration efforts, habitat improvements and fuel reductions.

This year, the Commission will incorporate several islands in the Pamlico Sound into the prescribed burning program. The goal is to improve nesting habitat for colonial ground-nesting water birds and waterfowl by reintroducing fire to these native habitats. The use of fire will remove unwanted woody vegetation while promoting the growth of grasses. These fires will leave behind small sandy openings, which are ideal for ground-nesting shorebirds. Regeneration of grasses after the burn will provide excellent nesting habitat for waterfowl such as black ducks.  The Commission plans to conduct prescribed burns on four islands, including Island F, Island H, Island MN and Sandbag.

Island H, located east of Wanchese, is a dredge muck spoil location for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This island serves as a small impoundment within the Pamlico Sound, and is prime habitat for many waterfowl species. Black ducks utilize the grassy edges along the impoundment’s dike to construct well-concealed nests. Currently, the island is overrun with woody vines, blackberry and devil’s walking stick. Prescribed fire will reduce these unwanted species and promote grass growth across the island.

The remaining islands, located near Oregon Inlet and Harkers Island, are prime colonial-nesting water bird sites. Colonial-nesting water birds prefer open, sparsely vegetated areas near shallow water. The lack of disturbance and vegetation intrusion have caused suitable nesting areas for these birds to become smaller. Prescribed fire will remove dead plant material and unwanted species, restoring these islands to their native plant communities that evolved for disturbance. 

The barrier islands and interior islands of North Carolina’s sounds are supposed to constantly shift, disappear and reappear somewhere else with in our sounds.  One example of this is how Shelly Island appeared off Hatteras Island in 2017. The islands being burned are not naturally-made islands, but they serve as placeholders for sand and muck dredged from the boating channels of North Carolina. The Commission manages these islands for waterfowl and colonial-nesting bird nest sites as they are crucial to these maritime species populations. Adding fire as a management tool grants us as land managers a cheap, effective and natural way to help restore the natural processes of these ecosystems.

To avoid nesting season, prescribed burns will be restricted to the winter months. Visit for information on black ducks, shorebirds and prescribed burns.


Written by:

Travis Kornegay: Central Coast Forest Manager

Jennifer Prince: Northern Coast Forest Manager

Brent Wilson: Coastal EcoRegion Supervisor


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