Wildlife & Habitat

  • Terns

    Roseate tern on Falkner Island.

    Falkner Island is the largest common tern colony and only roseate tern colony in Connecticut. Terns nest in large groups for protection from both aerial and ground predators. These seabirds lay their eggs on the ground on sand, gravel, or grass. When predators are seen, the whole colony of birds – more than 4000 on Falkner – will fly up and dive at and defecate on the predator. Roseates are federally endangered; there are only about 100 of them left in Connecticut. They nest with the more abundant common tern to protect their eggs/chicks from being eaten by gulls, crows, and herons.

  • Prickly Pear Cactus

    Prickly pear cactus on Outer Island.

    Did you know that there is a native cactus in Connecticut? Yes, Opuntia humifusa or the prickly-pear grows in all eastern states except Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Although it is rare and listed as a species of special concern in the state, you can find it on several units of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR. Its beautiful yellow flower blooms in late-spring or early-summer and only lasts for one day. In the winter, the plant pulls most of the water out of its cells to avoid freezing damage. The cactus is pollinated primarily by bees.

  • Salt Marsh Pink

    Salt marsh pink at Great Meadows

    This tiny delicate pink flower exists in only one unit on the refuge. It is state endangered and depends on open, sandy soils. Salt marsh pink is an annual plant – which means that it dies every year and grows from seed the next. Two of the reasons for its rare status in the state are habitat loss due to human development and the spread of invasive species like common reed (Phragmites australis). The refuge is working with the CT DEEP to protect this species by eliminating human disturbance, monitoring the population, and collecting seed for possible propagation.

  • Salt Marsh

    Aerial view of Great Meadows

    Salt marshes are an extremely important natural feature of the refuge. Small marshes are present at both Sheffield and Calf Islands, and large marsh areas make up much of the Great Meadows and Salt Meadow Units. These areas abound with wildlife, especially during the spring and summer months. Creatures such as crabs, snails clams and mussels thrive in the brackish waters. These smaller animals serve as food for shorebirds and waterfowl as well as land mammals like the raccoons, fishers and coyotes that call the refuge home.

  • Coastal Islands

    Coastal Islands

    The refuge contains a total of eight islands, ranging in size from under one acre to more than sixty acres. Most of the islands are within a short paddle or boat ride of the shore. Falkner Island, about three miles off the coast of Guilford, is the farthest away. The habitat of these islands is varied. Some are very rocky and have little vegetation, while others have large forest areas and marshes. Gulls prefer to nest on tiny Goose Island in Norwalk, while the habitat of trees on Sheffield and Chimon Islands attracts herons and egrets. Thousands of terns call Falkner Island home for almost five months a year. Each of these islands are invaluable as both wildlife habitat and as a place to view and learn about wildlife.