World Wildlife Day – OBX Edition

March 3, 2020

An international day for celebrating animals and raising awareness to their protection and conservation.

Happy World Wildlife Day! We are so eager to share this special day with you all! On this international day of celebrating, we’re proud to share what the Outer Banks contributes to the intricate worldwide web of wildlife.  I mean, it is the beautiful nature of this sandbar that draws visitors from across the world, right?

With our unique location, we have a diverse array of creatures that hail from the ocean, wetlands, maritime forests, dunes, and more. The ocean is home to the largest and most diverse ecosystems known to humankind. Wetlands are home to 40% of all plant and animal species. We have a lot going on here!

We’re happy to scratch the surface of our local wildlife for you. We’ll include helpful information on how you can help ensure their safety and protection, so future generations can continue marveling at these animals!

Colonial Spanish Mustangs

The Outer Banks, and recently exclusively only Corolla, is home to one of the last populations of the Colonial Spanish Mustang. They are a robust, though critically endangered, breed. Their beauty has inspired many, and history lives on through these horses. Arriving on ships with the Spaniards before the United States was even a nation, they still stand on the same beaches generations later. Stalky in stature, they have certainly adapted to life on a sandbar.

In the 1920’s it was estimated that the population was roughly 5,000-6,000 horses in size.  Today the population stands around 100. Foaling season, in the spring-late summer, is an exciting time for potential herd growth, as we see foals born on our beaches.

Their roundness and plump stomachs are due to the salty nature of their environment and diet. It causes water retention and bloating of their big ole bellies. Being isolated on this barrier island, exposed only to what is indigenous in the area, their digestive tract is specialized to only digest what naturally grows here. Beach grasses, persimmons, and sea oats, to name a few, have sustained and nourished them for years.

With that being said, this is why it is so important to never feed a wild horse apples, carrots, or whatever you might feed your domesticated horse. They are not adapted to a regular horse’s diet. These items are indigestible and thus, fatal. Sometimes people will pick grass and feed them. This is also dangerous to the horses (and humans) because they will become dependent upon humans for food, and will become habituated to human interaction — resulting in their removal from the beach. In an effort to keep the horses wild, and unhabituated, law mandates a minimum of a 50-foot distance from the horses at all times.

They have no natural predators. Their biggest threat has always been humans and development. The more we treat them like the critically endangered wild animals that they are, and respect their habitat, the more likely they’ll be on our beaches for future generations to enjoy!

Keeping Wild Horses Safe:

Corolla Wild Horse Fund
  • Never feed
  • Always maintain min. 50 ft, even if they approach you
  • Do not manipulate their behavior (clicking, whistling etc. habituates horses)
  • Opt for renting/buying property that is not in their shrinking, final habitat of Swan Beach & Carova

We love our wild mustangs and take any opportunity we can to educate the population on their endangerment, and steps we can take to protect them. Let’s keep them wild, free and happily on the beach!

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Turtles

NEST

Where to start with our shelled friends? We have so many! There’s an amazing variety of terrapin on the OBX. Five different types of sea turtles nest upon our beaches, including: Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green Turtles.

Fun facts about sea turtles:

  • Sea turtles will nest in the same location that they were born, and will return for subsequent nesting. This means generations of sea turtles have been born in the same place. How neat!
  • The temperature of the environment will determine the the turtle’s sex. Who knew!

Chances are, if you’re driving along the residential areas in the spring and summertime, you may have to stop and allow a turtle/tortoise to cross over; or you may be on the beach and see a designated sea turtle nesting area.  What can we do in these situations to help and ensure their safety?

If you see a turtle crossing the road, so long as the road is not busy, allow it to cross over on its own.  Stop your car and put on 4-way flashers to alert other motorists. If you feel it’s necessary to assist, ensure your safety first. Always send a turtle off in the direction it was headed. Never turn the turtle around.

US Fish and Wildlife

Tips to keep Sea Turtle Nests Safe:

  • Have a fun day on the beach, digging holes and building towering sandcastles, but just ensure your area is leveled when you leave for the day. It throws off nesting and the turtles or hatchlings fall into the holes.
  • Turn off your lights at night. Hatchlings follow light. Once they’ve hatched they need to immediately make their way into the water. If there is light pollution, they will go towards the light, rather than the sea.
  • If you see a designated sea turtle nesting site, maintain a respectable distance, and keep pets leashed.

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Dolphin (Porpoise)

Facing South

A crowd pleaser, for sure! Everyone loves to see these beauties swim and surf by. Dolphins are highly intelligent and social mammals. Their brains are more complex than the human brain, using echolocation, to “see” what lies ahead and to communicate with their fellow pod pals. There is a large variety of porpoise. We commonly see the Bottlenose on the OBX. Not exclusive to the ocean, one can also find dolphin in the sound.

How can we ensure the safety of dolphin?
Conscious consumption of seafood, not feeding them when we see them in the wild, reducing use of plastics, and never releasing balloons into the sky –which inevitably end up in the ocean.

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Purple Martins

Atlas Obscura

The Outer Banks is a significant and essential hub for migratory birds. There are an overwhelming amount of birds that could be mentioned during World Wildlife Day, and we feel that the Purple Martin is often gets overlooked for the flashier seabirds.

Purple Martins migrate en masse from Brazil. Flatteringly enough, they’ve found their favorite spot to roost: the William Umstead Bridge (AKA Old Manns Harbor Bridge) in Nags Head! With the loss of habitat, they now heavily rely on manmade structures to roost. They’ll seek refuge in bridges and buildings, and traditionally, purple martin houses.

What are purple martin houses? They are a prime example of the symbiotic relationship between man and animal.

Purple Martin Conservation Association

Hollowed-out gourds have adorned people’s property since native americans predominated the area. The birds need a place to roost and rest, and humans can benefit off of the birds’  snack preferences. You see, the purple martin’s diet consists of unwanted insects. Historically, they were used to help control insect population surrounding gardens and crops.

How can we help keep the Purple Martin safe?

By respecting the lowered speed limit on the Umstead Bridge during roosting season. Typically, the speed limit is 55 mph on the bridge. However, speeding drivers eliminated so many of these low-flying birds. Now, during their roosting season (July-August) the speed limit is lowered to 20 mph. Admiring the birds from afar can help prevent any unnecessary car-bird collisions. BeBops Memorial Pier was installed by the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society, this allows for great views of the birds. There are also boat tours that can take you to the roosting birds.  

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Fox

Doug Gardner – Wild Photo Adventures

Adorable and beneficial, fox call this beach home.  They help control rodent populations and are an important contributor to the food chain and overall ecosystem.

Have a fox den nearby? Consider yourself lucky! The fox are rearing their fuzzy and adorable kits! Fox will only den while they’re raising their babies. Do not be alarmed if you see them out during the day – this is not abnormal behavior. Instead, grab your camera and snag a wildlife snapshot!

How to protect the fuzzy fox of our area? Respect their space, admire from a distance, and do not call a “critter getter” if they den nearby. The latter is so important, because of the laws regarding relocation of wild animals. Relocation of wild animals is illegal; therefore a call to a “critter getter” results in the animal’s termination.

NC Wildlife Commission

To prevent unwanted fox interactions: seal any areas on homes exterior that can be used as dens, install lights or a radio in areas you don’t want them to den in, and keep food sources at bay (sealing garbage and bringing pet food indoors).

Fox are not aggressive towards humans; they are more scared of us than we are of them. Allow them to raise their heart-melting kits in peace, and remember, they’ll be abandoning their den mid-summer once the kits are old enough.

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The list of wildlife goes on and on, including pelicans, ibis, tuna, billfish, boar, snakes, and bald eagle, to name a few! We can all live in harmony with our beautiful neighbors, if we just take the time to understand them.  We hope to see these creatures inspire future generations of OBX-lovers like us.

To see the teeming wildlife of the Outer Banks firsthand, Southern Shores Realty is happy to accommodate your stay. Check out our list of home by clicking here.

Happy World Wildlife Day, y’all!

Published on 3/3/20 by Kelly Knutson

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