Bald Head Island Conservancy

Wildlife Health

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Wildlife Health

Bald Head Island is truly a unique place to live and enjoy nature. Natural areas on the island are a haven for wildlife, but with an ever-increasing human population and rapid development, this balance is changing rapidly. To help ensure Bald Head Island’s ecological integrity and diversity, we conduct important studies of the predator/prey ecology and species of conservation concern in this important wildlife habitat.

Predator/Prey Dynamics

Bald Head Island possesses diverse, healthy habitats that are home to an abundance of wildlife species.  The ecological balance of species is delicate, with tight interdependent relationships between predator and prey populations. BHI supports multiple predator species including the American alligator, coyote, and red and grey fox, but little is known about the population dynamics of these predators. The objective of the Predator/Prey Dynamics program is to estimate Bald Head Island’s principal predator populations that include alligators and canids (red fox, gray fox, and coyote).

American Alligator

Nearly every freshwater lagoon on BHI is home to at least one large alligator (>6 feet). Given the number of large alligators, there is the potential for undesirable interactions with humans. Understanding the population structure and individual movements among lagoons is critical in reducing potentially hazardous human interactions. BHI Conservancy scientists employ nighttime spotlight surveys to determine age class structure and location of alligators across the island. As the population continues to change, accurate counts are essential to exploring management options.

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The Conservancy quantifies wild canids on BHI during summer deer spotlight surveys. Fox populations have fluctuated through time. Meanwhile, the coyote population appears to be increasing on BHI. Coyotes pose a threat to several native BHI species including foxes and sea turtles (destroying nests).  BHI Conservancy scientists conduct opportunistic searches in high sighting locations to determine if and where coyotes and foxes have active dens and/or pups. We have an active research program investigating non-lethal coyote management methods to protect sea turtle nests, and are considering non-invasive sampling methods to gain a better understanding of BHI’s coyote population size and dynamics.


Bald Head Island is designated by Audubon as an Important Bird Area (IBA), and the Conservancy focuses on understanding and protecting resident and migratory bird species. Shorebird monitoring has two different components. One is monitoring the beaches for beach-nesting species during the breeding season. Wilson’s Plover and Least Terns are two North Carolina species of special concern that are present on BHI. The BHI Conservancy protects shorebird nesting sites by posting and roping off areas during the nesting season (April through August) and contributing data about species presence, abundance and nesting to state and federal agencies. The other component is conducting monthly bird surveys to monitor species presence on the island throughout the year.


Diamondback Terrapins

Eastern diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are listed as a species of special concern in North Carolina. Terrapins are unique for their ability for life in brackish water and can be found swimming in the salt marsh creeks of BHI. They are medium-sized turtles, with the larger females ranging from 6-9 inches and the smaller males ranging from 4-5.5 inches. 

Terrapins often get caught in crabpots as by-catch and drown because they aren’t able to get out. Terrapin Excluder Devices (TEDs, also known as Bycatch Reduction Devices) are required in all crabpots in Diamondback Terrapin Management Areas including Bald Head Island from March 1 – Oct 31.

Contact to obtain Terrapin Excluder Devices for your crabpots. For more information on TEDs, see our factsheet.

We are also a site coordinators for the Terrapin Tally, a citizen science project conducted in partnership with the NC Coastal Reserve and NC Wildlife Resources Commission to measure the status of diamondback terrapin populations. Volunteers work in pairs to conduct headcount surveys on specific kayak routes to document diamondback terrapin sightings. Counts are conducted in spring, and all volunteers must attend a training session. If you are interested in participating in Terrapin Tallies on Bald Head Island, please contact

If you encounter a stranded diamondback terrapin (dead or alive), please contact our Wildlife Response Hotline. We are tracking locations and taking measurements and data from terrapins on BHI.

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