U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
Banner graphic displaying the Fish & Wildlife Service logo and National Wildlife Refuge System tagline

National Wildlife Refuge

8231 Beach Road
Chincoteague, VA   23336
E-mail: fw5rw_cnwr@fws.gov
Phone Number: 757-336-6122
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Gray horizontal line
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Chincoteague NWR, located primarily on the Virginia side of Assateague Island, consists of more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest. Chincoteague NWR, originally established in 1943 to provide habitat for migratory birds (with an emphasis on conserving greater snow geese), today provides habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and song birds, as well as other species of wildlife and plants. Refuge staff manage this barrier island habitat to allow many species of wildlife to coexist, each establishing their own place in the environment. In fact, more than 320 species of birds are known to occur on the refuge. The refuge has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area, is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and designated as one of the top ten birding Hotspots by the National Audubon Society.

Refuge management programs restore threatened and endangered species such as the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, the bald eagle and the piping plover. More than 2,600 acres of man-made marshes, or moist soil management units, are managed for wintering waterfowl and shorebirds during migration. Unique residents of the island, the famous Chincoteague ponies, are housed in two areas on the refuge through a special agreement with the ponies' owners, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.

With approximately 1.4 million visits a year, Chincoteague NWR is one of the most visited refuges in the nation. Chincoteague NWR provides visitors with extraordinary educational and recreational opportunities. In addition, a special partnership exists with the National Park Service which allows Assateague Island National Seashore to administer public activities on a five-mile portion of the refuge beach.

The new Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center offers educational exhibits, an auditorium and wet laboratory/classroom for visiting groups.

Getting There . . .
From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel near Norfolk, Virginia, take US 13 North to State Route 175 East to Chincoteague Island. After crossing the bridge to Chincoteague, turn left at the traffic light onto Main Street. At Maddox Blvd. turn right and follow for about 2.5 miles, which will take you directly onto the refuge.

Get Google map and directions to this refuge/WMD from a specified address:

Your full starting address AND town and state OR zip code

Google Maps opens in a new window

NOTE: When using this feature, you will be leaving the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service domain. We do not control the content or policies of the site you are about to visit. You should always check site policies before providing personal information or reusing content.

These driving directions are provided as a general guide only. No representation is made or warranty given as to their content, road conditions or route usability or expeditiousness. User assumes all risk of use.

horizontal line

Wildlife and Habitat

Through four main habitat types, Chincoteague NWR provides food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife and plants. This barrier island refuge is characterized by beach, fresh and salt water marshes, and maritime forest -- each with its own unique assemblage of plants and animals.

The beach, characterized by harsh temperatures, lack of vegetation, and changing tides, can be hard on wildlife and plants year-round. Where the sandy shoreline blends into the dunes, beach grasses grow and secure the sand. These dunes protect the marsh and woodlands from storms and high tides and provide vital habitat for the threatened piping plover and other wildlife.

The majority of the refuge's freshwater wetlands are managed as moist soil management units or "pools." These managed areas are important to all wildlife such as shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl.

The saltwater marshes which lie to the west of the barrier islands are some of the most productive habitat found anywhere. A variety of mollusks and crustaceans live and feed in the refuge's salt marshes. This habitat is vital to black ducks and many other migratory birds for nesting and feeding.

Maritime forests are located on higher ground. This habitat is primarily loblolly pine, whose pine cones are the primary food source for the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. Several species of snakes (non-poisonous), as well as rabbit, raccoon, fox, and white-tailed deer live in these woodlands. Red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and other birds of prey nest and hunt for food in the maritime forest.

Learn More>>

The first visitors to Assateague Island are thought to be Native Americans of the Nanticoke clan. Although they didn't permanently reside on Assateague, they made good use of the island's available resources. In 1671 Colonel Daniel Jenifer, a mainland merchant, sparked the first settlement on Assateague Island. To avoid the mainland fencing ordinance, the colonel attained a land grant allowing him to graze his livestock and to harvest the rich marine resources.

As the fishing industry boomed, it created more nautical travel along the Assateague shore. Shipwrecks occurred as ships traveled through the treacherous shoals and offshore bars. In fact, the famous Chincoteague Ponies are believed to be descendants of shipwreck survivors. A lighthouse was built to aid sailors. The present lighthouse was completed in 1867.

By the early 1900's, Colonel Jenifer's first settlement had culminated into a small community known as Assateague Village, nestled near the base of the lighthouse. The village reached its peak in 1915 with a population of approximately 230. By the mid-1920's, however, a series of misfortunes brought an end to the village. A major employer of the village's residents, a fish factory, closed in the early 1920's. In the mid-1920's, a Baltimore investor purchased most of the Virginia portion of Assateague Island and refused to allow villagers to cross his land to reach their traditional fishing grounds. The last villager left Assateague in 1932. In 1943 the Federal government bought the Virginia portion of Assateague and set it aside as Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Learn More>>

    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
Learn More >>

Management Activities
The most noticeable management technique on the refuge is the careful manipulation of water levels in the moist soil management units. Water control structures in these areas allow refuge staff to lower water levels in the spring to concentrate fish for wading birds to feed upon, provide ideal feeding conditions for shorebirds, grow plants as a food source for waterfowl and other birds, and maintain wetland diversity for a myriad of wildlife species. In the fall, water control structures are closed to collect rainwater. The higher water levels provide habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wetland dependent species. This careful manipulation of water levels is vital in attracting a wide variety of wildlife to the refuge.

The maritime forests are managed for the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, neotropical migrants, and resident wildlife species. Past outbreaks of the Southern pine beetle have added complexity to the forest management regime. Tree thinning and prescribed burns work to prevent Southern pine beetle outbreaks by improving the health of the forests. Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrels, which favor a clear forest understory, take advantage of these management practices.

Piping plover management is intense from March through August. This threatened shorebird nests on Chincoteague NWR beaches. Refuge staff place protective closures around nests, control predators, and monitor these birds during their refuge stay.

Protecting sensitive habitats by closing areas also helps to protect threatened and endangered species. Setting aside certain habitat areas to reduce disturbance by people helps preserve the natural heritage that many Americans have come to love and treasure.