The Islands

Beach at Calf Island

The McKinney National Wildlife Refuge includes 8 islands that contain a variety of important habitats from grassy upland to tidal salt marsh. Though many refuge units are small in acreage, their importance to wildlife, especially migratory birds, is enormous. Native wildlife populations have diverse habitat requirements. Each species, from roseate terns to osprey, has different needs for food, water, shelter and space. The refuge units along Connecticut's coast fill these needs by providing habitats that are forested, marshy, sandy, rocky and secluded.

The forest and shrublands of the Norwalk Islands provide regionally significant habitat for colonial nesting wading birds. The 68-acre Chimon Island Unit has supported as many as 1,200 pairs of herons, egrets and ibises. The 51-acre Sheffield Island Unit also has the potential to support nesting wading birds. Presently, America oystercatchers, osprey, killdeer, gulls and numerous songbirds nest in the various habitats of both of these large islands. The intertidal zones are home to thousands of crabs and different types of shellfish that thrive and serve as a food sources for water birds. Surrounding waters provide habitat for wintering waterfowl that seeks shelter and rest on the islands.

Goose Island, a 4-acre island approximately one-half mile east of Chimon Island, is comprised of rocky beach, brushy upland and a sand bar. This island currently provides nesting habitat for gulls and dozens of cormorants. Horseshoe crabs may be seen mating at the island, and at other parts of the refuge in Norwalk, in early summer.

Part of the Norwalk Islands, the Peach Island Unit is a 3-acre island located just 600 feet offshore. Peach Island and the surrounding mudflats are an important feeding and resting area for long-legged wading birds. At low tide in summer, it is possible to see dozens of great egrets, snowy egrets and small shorebirds feeding there. Diamondback terrapins nest there, and at many of the Norwalk Islands.

The rocky shores of 5-acre Falkner Island Unit support one of the few remaining nesting colonies of endangered roseate terns in the northeast (up to 40 pairs in recent years) and the largest common tern colony in Connecticut (2500-3000 pairs). Because of these distinctions, Falkner Island was designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Just over 200 species of birds have been recorded on or near Falkner Island since the late 19th century. Neotropical landbirds use the island's shrublands for feeding and resting during spring and fall migration. Some raptors use the island during winter migration. Migrating butterflies and dragonflies also use the island as a refuge during their crossings of Long Island Sound.

Harbor seals make use of the island as a haul-out area in the winter and gray seals have been recorded in the past. In addition, the waters surrounding Falkner Island are inhabited by many species of fin-fishes such as striped bass, bluefish, flounder, American mackerel and American eel. 

Menunketesuck Island, a 4-acre accreted sand island just offshore of the Salt Meadow Unit, contains extensive intertidal flats, sandbars and shellbars. Officially recognized as an Important Bird Area, the intertidal zone of the island is a significant foraging spot for migrant shorebirds, which roost on the island at higher tides. A summer colony of least terns and American oystercatchers has recently used the island to nest and breed.

The 5-acre Outer Island Unit, southernmost island in the Thimble Islands chain, was donated to the Service in 1995 for environmental education and scientific research purposes. There is a cooperative partnership between the Service and the Connecticut State University System to provide environmental education and scientific research programs for the public while assuring the well-being of the migratory bird species that utilize the coastal environments of Long Island Sound. This small island serves as important stopover habitat for birds migrating across Long Island Sound during the spring and fall. The northern and western portions of Outer Island are closed to the public to provide migratory birds and other wildlife an area free from human disturbance.

The 33-acre Calf Island Unit boasts a diverse coastal habitat including tidal wetlands, intertidal flats, rocky intertidal shore, sandy beach, mixed forest and coastal shrubland. The island provides excellent wading bird habitat and is located next to Great Captain's Island, which contains one of the largest heron and egret rookeries in Long Island Sound. The island typically hosts several pairs of osprey that nest in dead trees, as well as many tree swallows that raise their young in specially placed nest boxes as well as natural habitat.