An aerial view of Grand Isle, Louisiana taken from a sea plane.
Grand Isle aerial An aerial view of Grand Isle, Louisiana taken from a sea plane. © Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy

Places We Protect

Grand Isle

Louisiana

Working to restore Louisiana's coast.

World Class Bird Habitat

As our only accessible and inhabited barrier island, Grand Isle is dear to the hearts of many in Louisiana, and our visitors who come to enjoy the Gulf’s bounty. Few may realize, though, that other visitors rely upon the island: birds.

The magnificent oak forest that once cloaked the island has provided a refuge for that amazing group of small land birds that actually undertake a migration across the Gulf twice a year, in one of the earth’s most spectacular migratory spectacles. Much of the forest is now gone, but a few significant remnants remain, providing refuge to birds and a shady respite to those of us who live upon or visit the island.

Working with partners, The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana has preserved several small tracts of forest totaling about 41 acres, and has worked with local companies and residents to encourage restoration of former forests and promote environmental education through planting trees with school programs.

The Grand Isle School Native Plant BioLab

Grand Isle students collect, propagate, and nurture seeds from native Grand Isle trees and shrubs that make up the upper and understory of the maritime forest. The students then plant the seedlings they have grown on private and public lands. Grand Isle has long been recognized as one of the most important stopover sites for neotropical migratory birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico on their annual migration to and from North America. The trees on Grand Isle are often their first resting stop before or after making the five hundred mile flight across the Gulf. We consider the conservation of this habitat a top priority; providing shelter during migration is a key component to conservation of these birds, many of which have experienced dramatic population declines.

Critical Habitat

The number of birds that are saved by the forest on Grand Isle when adverse weather conditions coincide with migration is phenomenal. During groundings or “fall outs” hundreds, sometimes thousands of birds, representing about 100 species, including 35 species of warbler, seem to fall out of the sky, overcome with exhaustion, to seek refuge. The forest provides life-sustaining food and cover allowing the birds to rest and refuel before continuing the flight.

Only ten percent of the original wooded habitat is left on Grand Isle. These tracts of maritime forest are the largest remaining stands of live oak-hackberry forest on any barrier island on the Gulf. The rarity of this Chenier, or a sandy beach ridge covered with oaks, forest makes it globally unique and critically imperiled. Such forests need protection as unique ecosystems. With your partnership on this important project, we make a difference.

Visit our Preserves

Grand Isle’s live oak and hackberry forests are nationally recognized as premier areas to view migratory songbirds. TNC has several tracts with trails for you to explore any time of year. In the spring, we help sponsor the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Festival.

Free Birding Trail maps are available at the Grand Isle Port Commission Visitor’s Center on Hwy. LA 1.

Grand Isle Migratory Bird Festival

Started in 1998, this migratory bird festival was created in part to support the purchase and management of the Grand Isle properties, collectively called Lafitte Woods. Lafitte woods are some of the last remaining undeveloped chenier habitats (live oak ridges) on the island.   These woods and other natural habitats provide food and shelter to songbirds before and after their long journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Grand Isle is the only barrier island among the gulf coast that supports a live-oak dominated plant community. Sadly, only 10% of the island’s original forested area remains.

 Join our Spring Celebration and see songbirds in oak-hackberry woods, shorebirds and waders on beaches and in the marshes and raptors overhead!

For more information on visiting Grand Isle, contact our Grand Isle Office.