Mattamuskeet, Pea Island, and Swanquarter-- two on the mainland and one on the outermost barrier beach--are three National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina that provide winter food and shelter for more than 100,000 waterfowl. Ducks, geese, and swans that in summer scatter across the northern rim of the world from Greenland to Alaska come down the sky lanes in the fall and in these refuges find the conditions they need to survive the hard months of winter.
At Mattamuskeet you can see one of the largest assemblages of Canada geese on the Atlantic seaboard and more of that giant white bird, the whistling swan, than the average person is likely to see in a lifetime. Pea Island is a winter haven for thousands of snow geese, Canada geese, and such ducks as goldeneyes, pintails, and mallards. At Swanquarter the diving ducks like buffleheads and scaups find the salt waters and the submerged aquatic plants that they need to tide them over winter.
These refuges lie within the Atlantic flyway of the waterfowl. There are four such flyways in the United States, the others being the Mississippi, the Central, and the Pacific.
The Atlantic flyway has extensive breeding grounds, scattered from the eastern border of the continent to the western, but its winter range is only a narrow strip on the Atlantic coast of the United States, an area that is also densely settled and developed for agriculture and industry. Waterfowl refuges are especially needed in this flyway to provide plenty of food and shelter for the birds during the critical winter period. This booklet tells the story of Mattamuskeet, which is the largest of the three refuges in North Carolina and the most accessible to visitors, and which in some respects is unique among all wildlife refuges. It also includes brief accounts of Swanquarter and Pea Island.