Back Bay is a coastal bay that forms the northern extent and headwaters of Currituck Sound. The salinity conditions have led to the formation of extensive big cordgrass marshes within the bay, many of which are isolated from the mainland. The active beach and dunes on the ocean fringe represent the upper end of the barrier network forming the Outer Banks. Landward of the dunes is a system of impoundments and a maritime forest dominated by loblolly pines and wax myrtle.

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Ornithological Summary

Nearly 300 species of birds have been observed at Back Bay Refuge. The extensive cord grass marshes provide significant breeding habitat for secretive marshbird species such as the King Rail and Least Bittern. These same marshes provide ideal wintering habitat for several additional priority marshbird species such as the American Bittern, Sedge Wren, and Yellow Rail. During the fall and winter months, large flocks of waterfowl use the Bay and freshwater impoundments. Up to 10,000 snow geese, numerous tundra swans, and several duck species have been counted during the peak of fall migration and many continue to use the Bay habitats during the winter months. Red Knots also consistently use the area during spring and fall migration. Although the beach habitat is suitable for Piping Plovers, no recent nesting records have been reported. Land birds such as Brown-headed Nuthatches, Chuck-will's-Widows, Prairie Warblers, and Eastern Meadowlarks are also common in the uplands.

Conservation Issues

The primary threats relevant to bird populations include 1) the loss of habitat to the invasion by common reed, 2) the loss of habitat to sea-level rise, and 3) system perturbations related to major storm events. The aggressive invasive plant, common reed, is spreading rapidly throughout this system, particularly along the western shoreline where it has invaded along artificial canals. Big cordgrass islands are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Such changes may lead to a shift in species composition or ultimately to the loss of some islands altogether.


The dominant habitat types within this area are the extensive big cordgrass marshes, maritime pine stands, and the beach/dune system along the ocean edge. Additional habitats include the managed impoundments and limited grasslands on the bay islands.

Land Use

A considerable portion of this site is owned by government or conservation agencies and is managed for wildlife. Hunting is allowed on the refuges.

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