Wildlife & Habitat

terns on nests at Breton National Wildlife Refuge

The islands of Breton National Wildlife Refuge are exposed barrier islands composed of open sand and shell beaches and overwash (areas washed over by high tides and exposed at other times), with areas of black mangrove, wax myrtle, marsh and dune grasses, and other shrubby vegetation. The habitats of the Refuge provide sanctuary for nesting seabirds and wading birds, as well as habitat for wintering shorebirds and waterfowl.

  • Seabird Colonies

    Three Pelican nestlings

    The Refuge has some of the largest seabird colonies in the nation and has been identified as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy. Historically the islands supported tremendous numbers of colonial nesting birds.  It was the decimation of these colonies by plume hunters and egg collectors that led to Teddy Roosevelt protecting the islands as Breton Island Federal Bird Reservation.  This reservation would eventually become the second unit — after Pelican Island in Florida — in what would become the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System.



  • Terns

    photo of nesting royal tern sitting on nest with chick nearby

    Large nesting colonies of Royal, Sandwich, and Caspian Terns find refuge on the islands.

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  • Waterfowl

    Redhead drake

    The Chandeleur Islands are one of only four Gulf of Mexico wintering grounds for the Redhead Duck, which primarily winter where they can feed in seagrass beds. Other species of waterfowl such as Bufflehead, Scaup, Gadwall, and Blue-winged Teal use the Refuge as a migration stopover.  Winter aerial surveys of the islands have counted thousands of ducks, primarily Redheads and Scaups.

  • Shorebirds


    Several species of shorebirds can be found at the islands, including the Wilson's Plover, American Oystercatcher, Snowy Plover, Dowichers, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Red Knots. Least and Western Sandpipers, and the Piping Plover. The eastern seaboard population of Piping Plovers is threatened, the Refuge provides critical wintering grounds for this small shorebird.