Wildlife & Habitat

Wildlife & Habitat

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds. The proximity of the refuge to the coast and its location between the eastern deciduous forest and the boreal forest creates a composition of plants and animals not found elsewhere in Maine. Major habitat types present on the refuge include forested upland, barrier beach/dune, coastal meadows, tidal salt marsh, and the distinctive rocky coast.

  • Coastal Habitat

    Coastal Habitat

    The protection of coastal habitats, including salt marsh, tidal rivers and beach-dune, is our top priority at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. We seek to broaden our understanding and management of other critical habitats and species of concern that use these habitats. The refuge evaluates and uses the most cost-effective and environmentally sound techniques to manage habitats and conserve wildlife and plants. In addition, we strengthen our biological inventory and monitoring program to allow us to better evaluate our programs and make more informed decisions.

  • Piping Plover

    Piping plover

    The piping plover, a beach-nesting shorebird, is federally threatened and state endangered in Maine. Fifty to 75% of the Maine piping plover population nests at sites on or near the refuge, including beaches in Kennebunk, Goosefare Brook, and Marshall Point at Goose Rocks. Visitors are likely to see piping plovers from May through August on many beaches near the refuge.

  • New England Cottontail

    New England Cottontail

    The species of rabbit found in Maine is the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis), which is different from the Eastern cottontail. Cottontails thrive in early successional habitat that was relatively abundant in the early to mid-20th century. As farms were abandoned, the species did very well. Subsequently, increased development and reforestation has led to a population decline as this type of habitat became increasingly rare. 

    Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge prohibited rabbit hunting as of 1998 due to ongoing population declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned in 2000 to list the New England cottontail under the Endangered Species Act.

    Currently, New England Cottontail are listed as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act and is listed as endangered in Maine. To learn more about this rabbit visit newenglandcottontail.org or download the New England Cottontail factsheet. Because they are so rare, it is unlikely that visitors will see these rabbits.

  • Saltmarsh Sparrows

    Saltmarsh Sparrow

    In 1995, sharp-tailed sparrows were divided into two separate species: the Nelson’s sparrow and the saltmarsh sparrow. Saltmarsh sparrows are found in salt marshes along the Atlantic coast from the Delmarva Peninsula north to southern Maine. Within the refuge, both species are found only on salt marshes. In fact, the saltmarsh sparrow is an obligate salt marsh species that spends its entire life cycle on salt marshes. Visitors are likely to see these sparrows during the summer months on the refuge salt marshes.

  • Shrublands


    Shrublands, or young forests, are thickets of bushes and young trees mixed with scattered grasses and wildflowers. In Maine, typical shrubland plants include dogwood, speckled alder, willow, meadowsweet, and blueberry. Impenetrable and dense, shrublands often are ignored and undervalued by people. However, for some species of wildlife like the New England cottontail, American woodcock, and Eastern towhee, shrublands provide the best possible cover. The refuge works with partners and private landowners to create shrublands for the many wildlife species that need this habitat for survival.

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