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Mackay Island
National Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese.
316 Marsh Causeway
Knotts Island, NC   27950 - 0039
E-mail: mackayisland@fws.gov
Phone Number: 252-429-3100
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Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge is located along the Atlantic Flyaway providing wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl.
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Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge

Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1960 to provide habitat for migratory waterfowl, primarily the greater snow goose. Located between Back Bay in Virginia and the Currituck Sound in NC, the refuge is comprised primarly of marsh habitat. This area has long been recognized for supporting significant migratory waterfowl populations and sport fishery resources.

The refuge is strategically located along the Atlantic Flyway, making it an important wintering area for ducks, geese, and tundra swans. At times, flocks of over 12,000 snow geese may be observed on the refuge after their arrival in November. Many other wildlife species such as wading birds, shorebirds, raptors, neotropical migrants, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians use refuge habitats for food, cover, and nesting. A pair of bald eagles also nest on the refuge.

About 74 percent of the refuge is slightly brackish marsh habitat, dominated by cattails, black needlerush, and giant cordgrass. The remaining habitat includes farmland, marsh impoundments, brush and typical upland and lowland Eastern pine-hardwood forest. Vegetation in these areas includes loblolly pine, sweet gum, black gum, cypress, red maple, hickory, and oak.

Getting There . . .
Mackay Island NWR is located near Knotts Island, NC. From Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach, VA, travel south. Once in NC, this road is called NC Highway 615 South. The office entrance road is located on the right about 1 mile south of the state line. The refuge may also be reached by taking the free ferry from Currituck, NC. Once on Knotts Island, you can reach the office entrance road by traveling 9.2 miles on NC Highway 615 North. The ferry has a 45-minute crossing time, and leaves Currituck, NC at 6 am, 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3:30 pm, and 5:30 pm, 7 days a week.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Dominated by cattails, black needlerush, and giant cordgrass, the area known as the Great Marsh is the predominant habitat feature of the refuge.

Other habitats include farmland, marsh impoundments, brush, and typical eastern pine-hardwood forest.

The refuge plays an important role in the conservation of the greater snow goose. Arriving in November, flocks of over 12,000 birds may occasionally be observed in the Great Marsh. Other types of waterfowl that use the refuge include Canada geese, tundra swans, and many species of ducks that include mallards, black ducks, green and blue winged teal, pintails, shovelers, wood ducks, gadwall and widgeon. Peak numbers of about 10,000 ducks usually occur in December and January. The refuge attracts many species of wading birds such as glossy ibises, great and snowy egrets, and great blue, little blue, and green herons. In the summer, osprey use dead trees and nesting platforms to raise their young. A pair of bald eagles begin nesting in the area early in the year and fledge their young by summer. Northern Harriers and other birds of prey can occasionally be spotted hunting over the refuge as well.

In addition to bird life, other forms of wildlife thrive on the refuge. This list includes muskrat, nutria, river otter, gray squirrel, raccoon, gray and red fox, and whitetail deer. Numerous turtles and snakes, including the cottonmouth, are found in abundanc

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Named after a former owner, Mackay Island is historically identified as the southwestern portion of a marshy peninsula that juts southward from Virginia into the Currituck Sound.

The earliest residents of the island were American Indians as evidenced by artifacts found the area. Early recorded property owners include John Jones (when the island was known as Jones Island), and John Mackie for whom the island was named after. Though the pronunciation remains the same, the spelling of Mackie somehow changed over the years to Mackay. Other owners included Cornelius Jones, John L. Roper of the Roper Lumber Company, and Thomas Dixon author of The Birth of a Nation.

The most influential owner of Mackay Island was a wealthy New York printing magnate and philanthropist, named Joseph P. Knapp. He purchased the island in 1918. Mr. Knapp saw a great potential for this island and built an estate here where he experimented with various wildlife management techniques, some of which are still in use today. In 1930, Mr. Knapp formed an organization called More Game Birds in America Foundation. Out of this foundation arose what is now known as Ducks Unlimited (DU).

After Mr. Knapps death, the property was sold to James Standing in 1952 and then to the Richardson Brothers Lumber Company who logged the island during the 1950s. In 1960 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the island and established Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge.

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Management Activities
Maintaining healthy wildlife populations and conserving and enhancing wetland habitats are the main goals of the refuge's management program. These goals are accomplished primarily through water management, farming, and prescribed burning.

About 800 acres in four main wetland impoundments are managed for moist soil plants or submerged aquatic vegetation. This is accomplished by seasonal manipulation of impoundment water levels. Vegetation sampling and water quality monitoring are conducted periodically in all refuge wetland and open water habitats.

About 200 acres of upland habitat is managed under a cooperative farming program. The program is managed to provide a supplemental food source for wintering waterfowl and to help limit crop depredation by waterfowl on nearby private lands.

Six-thousand acres of marsh habitat are managed with prescribed fire (about 2,000 acres burned annually on a 3-year rotation) to provide feeding habitat for wintering snow geese, to stimulate growth of beneficial plant species, to control pest plants (phragmites), and to prevent wildfire danger to adjoining private lands.

Annual wildlife surveys for wintering waterfowl are conducted to obtain population trend information. Osprey and wood duck nesting structures are maintained and surveyed annually to monitor nesting success. Wood ducks are trapped and banded as part of a national inventory program.