Save a Bird, Kill an Island?

IT friend Roger Hamilton just returned from a trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where a battle between birds and beachgoers is brewing…


Driving down Highway 12 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, I sense that something is wrong. “Save a bird, kill an island,” someone had scrawled across an SUV rear window. “Piping plover tastes like chix,” advertises a restaurant on its menu marquee. 

Pretty strong stuff. Better find out what’s up.

My first stop was the legendary Red Drum Tackle Shop, in the village of Buxton. “They” have closed down miles of beaches to off-road vehicles and everything else, says Bob, the owner. All for the sake of three little birds: the piping plover (pictured, above), the least tern, and the American oystercatcher. “They” are conservation groups, a U.S. district judge, and the National Park Service. The conservationists contend that people and vehicles on the beaches prevent the birds from nesting.   

“Ridiculous,” Bob scoffs. “You know where the biggest least tern nesting sites are on the Outer Banks? On the roofs of three Food Lion super markets.

“And they closed off the Point,” he explodes. He means Cape Point, one of North America’s legendary fishing holes, which is normally lined with ORVs laden with rods and coolers, and friendly people—no matter that many miles of other beaches remain open. For a 4×4 fisherman, it’s like going to New York City and being told to forget the Empire State Building because endangered pigeons are nesting on the 96th floor.

“Visitors are staying away; businesses are going bankrupt,” Bob says.   

I decide that a full-blown environmental controversy is a lot more interesting than roasting on a beach, so I head off to a refuge and come across a birdwatcher named Anna. She has heard stories of baby plovers falling into tire ruts and not being able to escape. I squint and imagine a big F-250, headed right for the little ball of fluff. The rod rack on the pickup’s front bumper bristles with black graphite shafts bearing names like “Slammer,” “Striker,” “Eliminator,” and “Ugly Stik.”

Next I go to the visitors center at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

“How does it feel to be a public enemy?” I ask a park ranger. “Awful,” replies the young woman. Even the birds are a headache.  When they move their nests, her colleagues have to rope off yet another 300-yard buffer. 

My week is over and I stop by the real estate office to hand in my keys. Yes, there’s a lot of anger, says Kim. But the Outer Banks has seen many conservation battles, and in the end, people have learned to live with nature. “As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “if we can save these birds, then let’s do it.”

Read More: Stay apprised of current conservation issues and beach closures at the official website for Cape Hatteras National Seashore. (Daily updates on closures can be requested from Cyndy Holda.) Learn more about the controversy from the Outer Banks Preservation Association and the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association.

What’s your take on the controversy? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: William Dalton via Flickr


Subscribe to this blog’s feed


  1. carol
    August 27, 2012, 5:04 pm

    Hopefully this will clear some of those travelers I met this year that hated it there. Hoping less people will go there. I have been going there for 32 years and I hate that all the US and abroad now travel there. Too many changes over hte years due to the influx of too many people. You are no longer permitted to feed the seagulls there, while riding on the Ferry.

  2. Bob Myers
    July 31, 2008, 10:03 pm

    Pedestrians are banned from walking some of the best parts of the beach, even below the tide line.
    I understand needing to limit ORV traffic. But I see a dishonest agenda when audubon loving pedestrians can’t jog main routes of the beach.
    If Hatteras Island had been left alone there would not be the dunes that keep the waves from washing over the entire island. Some of these birds are now coming here because of the stabilization that human activity has brought.
    Pea Island is off limits to humans. That should be sufficient for a total ban of human activity.

  3. Ed
    July 31, 2008, 8:54 am

    Thanks for another take on the situation. OBXObserver makes a very compelling argument.

  4. Marilyn Terrell
    July 30, 2008, 9:32 am

    Thanks for providing the update, OBX Observer!

  5. travel business opportunity
    July 30, 2008, 12:28 am

    Thats good and great information.. nice to read and enjoy.. great righting keep it up..

  6. OBX Observer
    July 29, 2008, 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the story. In point of fact, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has been letting ORVs run rampant all over the seashore for 35 years in violation of numerous federal laws.
    At its maximum point this summer, out of 64 miles of beach less than 12 miles of the seashore were closed to ORVs for species protection. 50 miles of beach were open and accessible to pedestrians. Some 26 miles were open to ORVs (other areas are closed to cars every year in front of the villages for sunbathers).
    In fact, Cape Point is now open. It was only closed to vehicle traffic to protect nests and chicks. Now that they’ve fledged, the closures have been lifted. Check the NPS website for up-to-date closure information. These areas will probably remain open until late spring when the plovers set up their nests again. Doesn’t sound like too unreasonable, does it?
    And what’s more the county’s official tourism numbers don’t support all the woe is me. If fishermen aren’t coming, it’s likely due to gas prices or because some of their advocates like to tell tales about how everything is closed. It ain’t true. Never was.
    One more thing — since the settlement went into effect, breeding pair of piping plovers increased from 6 pair to 11. The number of nesting sea turtles has nearly doubled at Hatteras. Can’t we give them a break for a few short weeks?

  7. Wayfaring Wanderer
    July 29, 2008, 7:50 pm

    Very interesting tidbit, I am currently planning a trip to the Outer Banks……