Wildlife & Habitat

Bird in the wetlands
  • American Black Duck

    American Black Duck promo

    The American black duck is a priority species and indicator for the fall-winter migration. While their plumage is actually a very dark brown the birds appear black from any distance. Look for a small iridescent purple speculum (wing patch) when the duck is in flight to help identify these winter visitors. The best time to spot black ducks is from November to February out on Back Bay or in the impoundments on a winter tour with the Blue Goose Tram.

  • Tundra Swan

    Tundra Swan - PROMO

    The arrival of the tundra swan is our sign that winter has arrived! These beautiful creatures visit us from the northern parts of the United States and Canada every November through February. Usually they are heard before seen and are a beautiful sight soaring through the air in a typical “v” pattern.

  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle

    Loggerhead Sea Turtle

    Nothing says summer on the refuge more than the first loggerhead sea turtle nest of the season. These threatened species nest along the beaches at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge from late May through August. The eggs are protected and monitored through their 60-day incubation period and the hatchlings are seen safely to the surf as they begin their long journey to the Gulf Stream.

  • Managed Wetlands

    Managed Wetlands

    Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect and conserve migrating and wintering waterfowl that have traditionally used the Back Bay watershed. These birds need sheltered bays and areas where food is abundant during their winter here, in order that they survive the spring migration back to their breeding grounds. The refuge manages ten oligohaline (nearly fresh) impoundments, or managed wetlands to provide food and shelter for these waterfowl, as well as shorebirds and other waterbirds throughout the year. These impoundments support ideal freshwater wetlands that provide an abundance of nutritious underwater grasses (SAV) and other waterfowl food-plants, even when poor water quality prevents SAV from growing in the natural systems of Back Bay.

  • Beaches and Dunes

    Beaches and Dunes

    The barrier island’s beach and dune system is important to many species that call Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge home. Threatened loggerhead sea turtles come ashore there to nest every summer. Sandpipers, sanderlings and willets feed in the intertidal moist sand. Osprey, gannets, gulls and terns can be seen fishing offshore. Sea oats, beachgrass and wax myrtle cover the dunes and provide habitat for a variety of invertebrates, small mammals and nesting songbirds.

  • Forests


    Aside from the frequently-visited barrier island, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge consists of thousands of acres of mixed bottomland hardwood-loblolly pine forest. Much of this land was once predominantly hardwood forest, but clear-cutting and logging permitted the quick-growing loblolly pine to take over. Reforestation of hardwood species has been conducted on 117 acres of Refuge to restore some original native tree composition of our forests. These wet forests provide habitats for a variety of wildlife, including the white-tailed deer, owls, bobcat and a host of unusual thrushes, warblers and woodpeckers. They also provide canopy corridors for squirrels, migrating songbirds and hawks.