Wildlife & Habitat

Mallards and herring gulls on Gull Rock granite outcroppings.  Credit: Sara Giles, USFWS.

Huron National Wildlife Refuge was established as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, especially the herring gull, which has large nesting colonies on the islands. These bird sanctuaries were vital for a number of species of birds, including the herring gull, whose populations had been drastically reduced by plume hunters and egg collectors in the 1800s and early 1900s.

  • Herring Gull

    Herring gulls on Gull Rock granite outcroppings.  Credit: Sara Giles, USFWS.

    Huron National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect nesting ground for the herring gull, a year-round resident in the Great Lakes Region. They prefer to nest in areas surrounded by water where they are protected from predators and the rocky islands of Huron Refuge fit the bill perfectly. Today it is one of the most common gulls in the northeastern United States, but it was almost extirpated (locally extinct) in North America during the 19th century. Before it was outlawed, plumage hunting and egg collecting had huge impacts on many species of birds and the herring gull was no exception. In fact, these islands were established as a bird sanctuary to help protect nesting birds during this trying time, as were many other national wildlife refuges created in the early 1900s.

  • Bald Eagle

    Bald Eagle.  Credit: David Chase, 2011 Seney NWR Photo Contest.

    Our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle, has been known to nest on Lighthouse Island for the past several years. In fact, a bald eagle’s nest can be seen from the trail. This beautiful bird boasts a white head and tail when it is fully mature at five to six years of age. Young eagles are primarily brown with some white mottling and can easily be confused with the much rarer and much larger golden eagle. To survive, eagles generally hunt their prey while on the wing using their coarse talons to pick fish from the water, mammals from the ground or birds in flight. Eagles are also opportunistic and, if carrion is available, may take advantage of the easy meal. Eagles may be seen in the area year round, but are most likely to been seen in the spring, summer and fall months.

  • Cedar Waxwing

    Cedar Waxwing. Credit: Barbara Hysell, 2010 Photo Contest

    The cedar waxwing is a beautiful songbird with a unique buzzy ‘zee-zee’ song. Its brownish head with a well-defined black face mask changes to a slate gray on the back and a buff color on the belly. The wing tips are coated in a red waxy substance that gives the bird its name. The tail is tipped in a brilliant yellow band. This sociable bird can be found in large flocks throughout most of the year, usually moving southward during the harshest portion of the winter. Cedar waxwings eat mainly fruits and berries although during the breeding season they can be seen feeding on dragonflies, mayflies, and other insects.

  • Boreal Forest

    Boreal Forest.  Credit: Sara Giles, USFWS.

    The four largest islands are predominately vegetated with boreal forest. The trees growing on these islands are shallowly rooted with only about six inches of soil in most places. Many parts of the islands are exposed granite with lichens and reindeer moss growing in thick mats in places. Despite the difficulties of survival, balsam fir, white pine, red pine, white spruce, red maple, bigtooth aspen and paper birch make up the tree community. Cherry, Canada yew and other shrubs, grasses and wildflowers can also be found growing in the understory. The boreal forest is home to a number of warbler species as well as cedar waxwing, red breasted nuthatch, garter snakes, and small mammals such as the red bat, mice and voles.

  • Sphagnum Bog

    Twinflower.  Credit: Sara Giles, USFWS.

    McIntyre Island hosts a few small sphagnum bogs dotted with black spruce. Sphagnum bogs get their name from the sphagnum moss that makes up a large part of the bog's plant life. These slightly acidic bogs are home to a number of plants including lowbush blueberry, Labrador tea, twinflower and other rare and unique plants. Several species of birds are known to utilize the bogs including ruby-crowned kinglets, cedar waxwings, Tennessee warblers, white-winged crossbills and white-throated sparrows. Other animals at home in the bog include the meadow vole and red-backed vole.