Mammals of BHI

Click below to learn more about the different species of mammals found on Bald Head Island

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus

Identification: Two populations of bottlenose dolphins can be found on Bald Head Island - the coastal ecotype, which reaches a size of about three feet, and an offshore ecotype, which can grow to between eight and nine feet. Both are gray in color, though shading can differ within species. They can be spotted as their dorsal fin moves in and out of the water.
Habitat and Habits: Atlantic bottlenose dolphins can be found nearly anywhere in the ocean surrounding the eastern North American coast. They are carnivorous, consuming fish and crustaceans. They can live about twenty years in the wild and travel together in groups of 2-15 called pods.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Threats to bottlenose dolphins include fishery bycatch and habitat degradation, although their population numbers are currently strong.
Cool Facts:

  • Bottlenose dolphins can jump sixteen feet out of the water.
  • They can dive for eight to ten minutes before returning to the surface for air.
  • The bottlenose dolphin has a gestation period of approximately twelve months.

On BHI:  Watch for dolphins on your ferry ride to the island or on Bald Head’s beaches. Sometimes dolphins are spotted when BHI Conservancy ventures onto the beach for BHI Birding, Island Nature Tour or Kid's Night Surf Fishing


Coyote, Canis Iantrans

Identification: Coyotes are usually gray in color, but can have red or brown tones in their fur as well. They have pointed ears and a black-tipped tail. They grow to around two feet tall (at the shoulder) and between three and four feet long. Their appearance is similar to dogs and red wolves.
Habitat and Habits: Coyotes can be found anywhere in the U.S., in any state, in environments ranging from forests to urban areas. They are extremely adaptable, and play an important role in controlling smaller mammal populations with their omnivorous diet. Only about ⅓ of  the coyote pups from each litter survive to adulthood, where they can be expected to live for around six years.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Because coyotes are so adaptable with regard to their diet and habitat, their population is currently increasing and there are no known threats to their population size.
Cool Facts:

  • It has the widest range of all native canines in North America.
  • The name coyote comes from an Aztec word meaning ‘barking dog.’
  • Coyotes howl to communicate, mark their territory, and to distract predators .

On BHI: 
Look for coyotes hunting for food anywhere on the island, or join BHI Conservancy for a Bald Head After Dark tour for a chance to see one at night. 

Gray Fox

Gray Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Identification: On average, gray foxes are about three feet long and one foot tall. They have salt and pepper fur with a darker black stripe running down the center of their backs. The fur on their legs and neck has a reddish hue, which can cause them to be confused with red foxes. However, gray foxes have shorter legs and shorter fur than red foxes, and are usually smaller.
Habitat and Habits: Gray foxes can be found in a variety of habitats, but are often most successful in large wooded areas. They live one to two years on average, and mate during their first year. Mating occurs in January and February; in March and April females give birth to between three and five pups. Grey foxes are omnivores, consuming small rodents as well as some native fruits and agricultural crops. They are typically nocturnal, but can be seen in the daytime if food is readily available.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Gray foxes have been and continue to be hunted for their fur, but their population has remained stable. The fox population on Bald Head Island decreased dramatically in 2013 when a viral disease called distemper was introduced, making them more uncommon than they have been in the past.
Cool Facts:

  • Gray foxes can use their paws to climb trees.
  • They are the only native fox in North Carolina.
  • Their population suffers a 50% mortality rate yearly, though their numbers remain stable. 

On BHI: Look in the maritime forest and around the sand dunes, or join BHI Conservancy for a Bald Head After Dark tour for a chance to see one at night.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis

Identification: Gray squirrels can be identified using their gray fur on their backs and the lighter-colored fur on their stomachs. They have large, bushy tails and can grow in length to between fifteen and twenty inches.
Habitat and Habits: Eastern gray squirrels can be found most places in the eastern U.S. They frequent rural and suburban areas in addition to forests - wherever there are hardwood trees that produce nuts consumed by squirrels, it is possible to find them. They make vocal calls to communicate with other squirrels that can often be heard when walking in wooded areas. Much less active in the winter, squirrels undergo torpor to conserve energy.
Conservation: Least Concern.
There are no identified major threats to the gray squirrel species; their population is currently increasing but because they are so dependent on hardwood trees, deforestation could pose a problem in the future.
Cool Facts:

  • In its first year, a nesting squirrel has only a 25% chance of survival.
  • The nuts of trees consumed by squirrels are collectively referred to as “mast.”
  • The number of young that squirrels have is dependent on the number of resources.

On BHI: Drive through the Maritime Forest on Federal Raod, or check out the BHI Conservancy’s campus to spot a gray squirrel. Join an Island Nature Tour for a chance to see gray squirrels in addition to learning about their forest environment.


Raccoon, Procyon lotor

Identification: Raccoons are distinctive because of their black, banded mask with white trim covering their eyes. The rest of their bodies are typically gray or black and they have a large, bushy tail with four to six dark rings that makes it appear striped. Raccoons can grow to about three feet in length and weigh around twenty pounds.
Habitat and Habits: Raccoons can be found throughout the eastern U.S. where they prefer wooded areas close to a water source. Raccoons are frequently found in urban environments where they use their five fingers to pry open trash containers and search for food. They are omnivorous and nocturnal creatures that undergo torpor in the winter to conserve energy. Mating occurs early in the year and young can stay with their mother through the winter.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Although their population is currently strong, habitat fragmentation can often lead to raccoons being victims of roadkill.
Cool Facts:

  • Raccoons can run up to fifteen miles per hour.
  • Raccoons are very good swimmers and can spend hours at a time in water.
  • A newborn raccoon’s eyes take nineteen days to open and make the world visible.

Look for raccoons in the maritime forest, or join BHI Conservancy’s Bald Head After Dark or Middle Island Exploration for a chance to find one.

Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana

Identification: Opossums grow to about the size of a house cat and have a triangular-shaped head with a pointed nose. They are mostly gray with the exception of their face and tail, which are usually white. Their tail is long and prehensile, allowing them to hang from tree branches.
Habitat and Habits: Virginia opossums can live a variety of environments - something that has led to their continued population growth - but prefer wet, forested areas. They are nocturnal and omnivorous, eating almost anything. As the only marsupial in North America, they carry their young in their pouch before those young move to the mother’s back for the rest of their development.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Opossum populations are expanding their range northward as changes to the climate makes winters milder.
Cool Facts:

  • Opossums eat up to 800 ticks per night and help to limit the incidence of Lyme disease.
  • Opossums are immune to most types of snake venom.
  • An opossum’s mouth has fifty teeth.

On BHI:  You can find opossums anywhere on the island, but check the forest around the marsh at night to have the best chance of seeing one. You can also join BHI Conservancy’s Bald Head After Dark to try to see one of these creatures.

Red Fox

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes

Identification: Red foxes are generally larger than gray foxes, ranging in size from three to four feet long. They have red-orange fur on their backs and the widest portion of their tail, white fur on their face and at the very tip of their tail, and black fur on their ears and feet.
Habitat and Habits: Red foxes inhabit wooded areas as well as prairies across the U.S. They are omnivores, consuming rodents, insects, carrion, and fruit, among other things. Active mainly at night, red foxes will continue hunting even after they are sated, storing excess food among the leaves to eat later. Red foxes live to about three years and reproduce like gray foxes, mating in January-February with cubs being born in March-April.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Red foxes are found around the world, and most threats they experience are localized to their regional habitat. Habitat fragmentation can be a threat, and red foxes are still hunted for their fur in some areas. On Bald Head the red fox population is small due to the viral disease, distemper, which affected the fox poulation in 2013.
Cool Facts:

  • A red fox’s tail is one-third of their body length.
  • Red foxes can run almost thirty miles per hour.
  • Their hearing range allows them to hear and dig for prey in the ground. 

On BHI:  Check out the forest or the dunes if you’re looking to see a red fox, or join a Bald Head After Dark with BHI Conservancy to have a chance of spotting one.

Northern River Otter

Northern River Otter, Lontra canadensis

Identification: River otters can be distinguished by their short, brown fur and long, sleek bodies. Their underside is often lighter in color than their topcoat. River otters also have webbed feet and a tapered tail that both help with swimming.
Habitat and Habits: River otters can be found in most of the eastern U.S. where they inhabit both saltwater and freshwater environments. They prefer areas with little human disturbance; unpolluted and undeveloped locations are where they are most commonly found, occasionally in groups when a mother and her young are traveling together. Although described as crepuscular, daytime sightings are not uncommon. River otters tend to have more carnivorous diets, consuming fish, frogs, snakes, and other wetland animals.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Threats to river otters include habitat fragmentation and degradation, as well as hunting and/or trapping that goes unregulated.
Cool Facts:

  • Young otters are born blind and toothless but fully develop in only six months.
  • River otters can dive for up to eight minutes before coming up for air.
  • They can dive to depths of sixty feet.  

On BHI: River otters can occasionally be found in some of the ponds on the island. Join BHI Conservancy for an Middle Island Exploration in late spring or early summer for the best opportunity to see one.  

Roof Rat

Roof Rat, Rattus rattus

Identification: Roof rats have sleek bodies with fur that is usually brown, but can vary in color. Their head is pointed and their ears are big enough to reach their eyes. Roof rats grow to about four inches in size, which is similar to other species of rats and can make them moderately difficult to identify.
Habitat and Habits: Roof rats can be found in states on the southeastern coast of the U.S. They usually live in trees or other aerial habitats and are named because they can travel by scurrying across roofs. Roof rats are more active at night when they search for food. Their diet is similar to squirrels’ as they also prefer fruit and nuts from trees.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Roof rats were introduced to the United States from ships arriving from Europe. They are invasive and widely considered pests.
Cool Facts:

  • They can serve as vectors for human diseases.
  • Roof rats have bad vision and are reliant on the senses of smell and touch.
  • Young roof rats are developed and independent only three months after birth.

On BHI: Roof rats can be spotted in developed areas on the island. They can be seen and heard at night, and may be seen on BHI Conservancy’s Bald Head After Dark.

House Mouse

House Mouse, Mus musculus

Identification: House mice are small, usually growing to between two and four inches in size. They have brown or gray fur and large ears that give them keen hearing. Whiskers and a long tail are also distinctive features.
Habitat and Habits: House mice can usually be found anywhere where humans are present, and occasionally in agricultural fields. They are omnivorous, consuming insects and plant matter in the wild, or food scraps if close to humans. Reproduction occurs several times per year and litters can have up to eleven young.
Conservation: Least Concern.
There are no known threats to house mouse populations, primarily because of their close association to humans.
Cool Facts:

  • Males can be extremely territorial, especially in urban environments.
  • House mice are usually nocturnal, but can be seen during the day.
  • Female house mice can lay up to ten litters in one year.

On BHI: House mice can be found in developed areas on the developed areas on the island. They can be seen and heard at night, and may be seen on BHI Conservancy’s Bald Head After Dark.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus

Identification: White-tailed deer have tan-brown fur with distinctive white patches on their necks and on the underside of their tails. They can grow to three feet in length and four feet in height and have especially large ears to help them hear. Males grow antlers which help to distinguish them from females.
Habitat and Habits: White-tailed deer can adapt to almost any habitat that can provide food, water, and shelter. Popular locations include creek beds, pine forests, farmland, and even suburban sprawl. Most active at dawn and dusk, deer breed in the fall, with bucks marking their territory by scratching their antlers against tree bark and the ground. Bucks lose their antlers in January and February and begin to regrow them shortly before the fawns are born in May and June.
Conservation: Least Concern.
Most problems with deer are as a result of their overpopulation rather than under population. Hunting regulations have been established in some places to help control the deer population. The BHI Conservancy works to control the deer population on Bald Head using an immunocontraceptive program.
Cool Facts:

  • White tailed deer can run up to 40 miles per hour.
  • A newborn fawn can outrun a human only five days after birth.
  • A buck can lose up to 25% of its body weight chasing does during rutting season.

On BHI: Check out the sand dunes and the maritime forest if you’re looking for deer on the island.  Join BHI Conservancy’s Bald Head After Dark to spotlight for deer on South Bald Head Wynd