Sand stretches for eight miles off the elbow of Cape Cod, forming the barrier islands of North Monomoy, South Monomoy and Minimoy. Here, among the varied habitats of oceans, dunes, freshwater ponds, mudflats, salt and freshwater marshes, lies the 7,604-acre Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge provides important resting, nesting and feeding habitat for a wide variety of migratory birds including, to date, 40 species of shorebirds.
The fall shorebird migration route originates in the Arctic and eastern Canada and heads south, taking them along an “outer coast” flyway that covers the whole outer Cape from Provincetown to Chatham and west to the towns of Brewster and Harwich. Most of the shorebirds within the local area get funneled toward the Monomoy system that also includes South Beach which is also located in Chatham.
The barrier islands are constantly changing, but the dynamics of the area seem to be beneficial to shorebirds. Sand, eroding and drifting from the outer beaches of Cape Cod, is the foundation of the island refuge. Here, on the edge of the vast Atlantic, storms, high winds, tide and surf endlessly change terrain and shore. Yet in this apparently unstable world, a remarkable array of lasting habitats and niches have evolved, in which shorebirds thrive.
- 1944 Designated a National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
- 1970 Designated a National Wilderness Area
- 1999 Designated a Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Regional Site
- 2001 Designated an Important Bird Area (IBA)
Adjacent lands and harbors continue to grow in population and use. Recreational boating, fishing, birding and beach use continue as growing activities within the refuge boundaries. Commercial fishing activities are also conducted within the refuge boundary and immediately adjacent to the boundary.
As part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the lands are protected by all laws and regulations associated with powers of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Monomoy Refuge also provides additional protection by creating seasonal closures in high shorebird use areas.
Impacts by adjacent recreational and commercial activities can disturb roosting, nesting, feeding and migrating shorebirds. In addition, there are impacts caused by marine debris (plastics and styrofoam), land-based, (fertilizer, pesticides and effluent from septic systems that have been associated with high nitrogen and E. coli) and marine-based (oils and other petroleum products) pollutants.
A restoration project was initiated on the Refuge in 1996 that increased the diversity and abundance of beach nesting birds. Monomoy was established to perpetuate the natural diversity and abundance of wildlife on the refuge. The site also needs to maintain its character of wilderness and ensure that quality, wildlife-dependent activities are available to visitors using the Refuge.
Ecology & Conservation
Monomoy was formed through deposition of the eroding glacial deposits of Outer Cape Cod and is continually reshaped by winds and waves and shifting sands. The lands are in constant motion with ever changing island and mudflat configurations, with narrow beaches, dunes, estuarine marsh, freshwater marsh, and a wide intertidal sand and mud flats.
|Species that use the site||
Maximum count: 2000-2005
|* Present in the last 5 years but in small numbers
(data collected by B. Nikula, W. Harrington and USFWS Staff)
Special thanks to Blair Nikula who has conducted continuous shorebird surveys since 1973.
Photographs courtesy of Michael Brady
Click on each thumbnail to see a bigger picture.
The best time to visit for shorebird viewing is from mid-summer through late fall. Different species peak at different times through this period. Shorebird abundance is greatest during late July and early August, while diversity is greatest during late August and early September.
Monomoy has the largest Common Tern colony on the Atlantic Coast with over 9000 nesting pair. The Refuge has Black Skimmers and the Federally endangered Roseate Terns which nest in small numbers. There is approximately 40 breeding landbirds such as Common Yellow-throat, Savannah Sparrow and Horned Lark as well as a healthy breeding population of nesting Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows. The Refuge has consistent nesting of American Oystercatcher, Willet and the Federally threatened Piping Plover. There are numerous nesting colonial waders, such as; Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis and Black-Crowned Night-Heron.
The Refuge has large staging flocks of American Oystercatcher and Roseate Terns during fall migration.
Large winter congregations of Common Eider and Long-tailed Ducks are present, with mixed flocks of scoters, mergansers and American Black Ducks. Many Alcid species are present just off-shore. The Refuge also has the only state nesting record for the Ruddy Duck.
Good fall hawk migration with large numbers of Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and Merlin.
The refuge has one of the largest Gray Seal haul-out sites in New England with over 7000 seals. In the late summer and early fall harbor seals return, and in the winter, occasional arctic seals journey to the refuge.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
From May 1 - October 1 Ferry Services are available to transport people to the Refuge for wildlife dependant activities.
Birding Trips to the Refuge can be found through two organizations.
Virtual Birding at Monomoy for 35 species: