Wildlife & Habitat

Birds landing in a marsh

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the premier government agency dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats. The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 outlined the fundamental wildlife conservation mission of the Refuge System, described as ‘wildlife first’. At Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, the fish and wildlife species and the habitats are closely connected to each other and the distance from the ocean and the sound, soils, shallow water tables, and flooding frequency on the refuge. The different wetland habitats on the refuge support different suites of wildlife species. Some species, such as white-tailed deer, range over the entire refuge. Other species, such as the secretive marsh birds, are very particular about residing exclusively in brackish marshes. Most waterfowl species only reside in the refuge’s marshes and most soil vegetation units during migration. Colonial nesting birds nest on exposed soil close to the water. Shorebirds reside on beaches and drained moist soil units. Songbirds and rabbits occupy in the refuge maritime scrub shrub community. Ospreys and bald eagles nest in the tops of trees that have been killed by lightning and are located near open water so they can catch fish close to their nests.

  • Migratory Birds

    American Avocet by Jessica Miller

    Pea Island was established primarily as habitat for migratory birds.  Both the American Oystercatcher and the Least Tern are listed as species of special concern by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.  Follow the "learn more" for information about the most commonly seen and/or most frequently sought after species on this refuge.

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  • Least Terns


    Pea Island's broad sand fans and island in impoundments provide critical nesting and brooding habitat for this colonial nesting shorebird.

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  • American Oystercatchers


    American Oystercatchers take advantage of the open sand areas on Pea Island's beaches and sand islands to nest and raise their young.

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  • Loggerhead Sea Turtles


    Loggerhead sea turtles also take advantage of the Refuge 's open beaches for depositing their nests.  These giant turtles only come ashore to lay their eggs.  They spend all of their lives in the water, except for this event.

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  • Threatened & Endangered Species


    Several species of sea turtles nest on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, including loggerheads, leatherbacks, and greens (pictured left).  The refuge also provides important nesting habitat for least terns, American Oystercatchers, and Piping Plovers.

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  • Refuge Wildlife Basics


    Pea Island supports 34 species are fish; 315 are birds; 32 are reptiles and amphibians; 21 are terrestrial mammals, 8 are marine mammals, and 20 are other aquatic organisms. The refuge supports wildlife species that are important from both a regional and a national standpoint. Its position in the middle of the Atlantic Flyway and its diverse habitats makes it a haven for species that require special environments, such as the threatened species piping plover, and loggerhead and green sea turtles. 

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  • Habitat Types


    Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is situated on a typical southeastern United States barrier island system with ocean beach, dune, brackish ponds, and marsh communities dissected by tidal creeks containing submerged aquatic vegetation.

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