Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region

The Wildlife and Habitats of Mattamuskeet


Providing Habitat for Waterfowl and Other Birds

A recent survey recorded over 200,000 ducks, geese and swans on Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. This represents a trend of increasing wintering waterfowl numbers on the Refuge over the past few years.

Over 100,000 tundra swan, Canada geese, snow geese, and 18 species of ducks overwinter on the refuge annually. Mattamuskeet Refuge’s position along the Atlantic Flyway makes it a prime location for wintering waterfowl. Habitats used by wintering waterfowl on the refuge consist of freshwater marsh and submerged aquatic vegetation. Wintering waterfowl consume wetland plant seeds, roots, and tubers as well as aquatic insects and small fish to meet their energetic demands (e.g. migration and maintenance). A variety of wetlands on Mattamuskeet Refuge (e.g. shallow marsh, flooded timber, and the lake) provide a combination of habitats that enable wintering waterfowl to meet their nutritional requirements.

The lake, marsh, and woodlands provide habitat for over 240 bird species. Ospreys nest in low cypress trees near the edge of the lake. Hundreds of migratory shorebirds find resting and feeding spots along the edge of the lake and throughout the marsh impoundments. Migrating warblers are popular subjects for bird watchers in the spring and fall.

Peak wintering waterfowl populations from 1999-2014 showing a big spike in 2014


Other Wildlife

Although noted primarily for its waterfowl, Mattamuskeet also provides habitat for many other species including wading birds, shorebirds, and birds of prey like the osprey and bald eagle. Mammals such as deer, bobcat, otter, black bear, and the endangered red wolf also find refuge here. A variety of amphibians including frogs, toads, and salamanders are common throughout the refuge.

The rich diversity of habitats on Mattamuskeet provide a haven for reptiles including snapping turtles, yellowbelly turtles, eastern fence lizards, and 31 species of snakes. The only venomous snakes are the copperhead, cottonmouth, canebrake rattlesnake, and the Carolina pigmy rattlesnake.


Habitat Types

Lake Mattamuskeet, dotted with bald cypress trees, is 14 miles long and 5 miles wide and varies in depth from 0.5 to 4 feet with an average depth of 2 feet. This is the average depth referenced in the CCP and new fact sheet. Dense beds of submerged aquatic vegetation desired by swan, diving ducks, and some puddle ducks are produced naturally. The lake level fluctuates with rainfall, wind tides, and evapotranspiration.

A system of 14 man-made wetland impoundments totaling nearly 2,500 acres surround the south and east sides of the lake, providing feeding and resting areas for many species of migratory birds as well as resident wildlife.

Refuge forests consist of approximately 1,000 acres of loblolly pine, including the 153-acre Salyer's Ridge Natural Area, and 2,000 acres of mixed hardwoods and bald cypress. These woodlands occur in narrow strips along the refuge boundary between the marsh and higher private lands.



Two brown waterfowl on the bank

Waterfowl. Photo: Jeff Lewis.


A baby bobcat sits in the grass

National Wildlife Refuges are a great place to observe and photograph wildlife, like this baby bobcat. Photo: Allie Stewart, USFWS. View/download on Flickr.


Four swans on the lake with teal flying above

Swans and teal together on the lake. Photo: Allie Stewart, USFWS. View/download on Flickr.

Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
85 Mattamuskeet Road
Swan Quarter, NC 27885
(252) 926-4021 FAX: (252) 926-1743

Last Updated: 10/27/14