Chincoteague Refuge has a diversity of habitats, ranging from the beach and dunes to the vast salt marshes to the west of the islands.

  • Beach

    Beach Habitat 2

    The least diverse of the refuge’s upland plant communities is the beach. Considered pioneer species, beach plants are exposed to constantly shifting sands, limited fresh water, temperature and wind extremes, and frequent salt water. The entire community can be covered by tidal surges. The beach extends from the intertidal zone into the dunes along the entire east and south sides of the island.

    Although a harsh environment, the beach serves as a primary feeding location for the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that spend summers here or stop by during their annual migration. Hundreds of peregrine falcons also migrate through the refuge each year. These predators follow their food source of migratory birds and can be observed hunting shorebirds in coastal areas.

  • Dunes

    Beach Habitat

    The dunes serve as the first line of defense against storm surges, protecting the other wildlife habitats from being lost to salt water intrusion. The dunes and adjacent area serve as important nesting habitat for the threatened piping plover and other shorebirds, such as common and least terns, and black skimmers.

  • Shrubs

    Shrub habitat

    Shrub community composition varies with groundwater supply, elevation, proximity to salt spray, and frequency of saltwater overwash or other flooding. In general, this vegetation zone extends north and south on barrier flats and backdunes, gradually merging on the east with dunegrasses and on the west with marshes or forests. This shrub community is important for migrating and nesting songbirds, as well as to migrating monarch butterflies.

  • Maritime Forest

    Maritime Forest

    The upland forest community that occurs in several large stands on old stable dunes, generally west of shrub areas and impoundments, indicates parts of the island that have been stable for the longest time. These forests are important to the survival of the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel and of forest dwelling wildlife, such as the white tailed deer, exotic sika elk, raccoons, and many others.

  • Freshwater Areas

    Freshwater Habitat

    Naturally occurring freshwater wetlands do occur on Assateague Island; however, they are actually brackish than fresh, and they are normally inhabited by plants with limited salt tolerance.

    The refuge also contains manmade freshwater areas called moist soil management units or impoundments. Fourteen such areas covering over 2,623 acres are found on the refuge to provide submergent and emergent wetland vegetation as forage for waterfowl and habitat for other waterbirds. Management of these impoundments is directed at providing a variety of habitat types for many wildlife species.

  • Salt Marshes

    Marsh Habitat

    The regularity of tidal flooding influences the distribution of salt marsh plants. The salt marsh can normally be found to the west of the barrier islands that comprise the refuge. These areas are very productive and important for black ducks, clapper rails, and many other species.