This site is composed of the tidally influenced marshes around the perimeter of Pettaquamscutt Cove in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Tidal influence is maintained via a permanent breachway along the Narrow River which connects the cove to Narragansett Bay. This IBA contains the John Chaffee National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent lands along the Pettaquamscutt ("Narrow") River.

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Ornithological Summary

This system provides breeding habitat for a number of salt marsh birds including the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus and A. maritimus), Willets(Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris). Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes and T. melanoleuca), Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) and other shorebirds frequent the marsh during spring and fall migrations. Piping Plovers have begun to nest on shoals at the mouth of the Narrow River.

Least and Common Terns (Sternula antillarum and Sterna hirundo) peruse the open water areas and tidal creeks looking for mummichogs, killifish, and other small piscine prey, as do Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon). Long-legged waders are abundant during spring and summer and include such species as Great and Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula and Ardea alba), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodius), Little Blue Heron (Egretta cerulea), and Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus).

Fringing scrub/shrub zones and marsh/open woodland ecotone provides habitat for mimic thrushes, Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas), and Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), plus a plethora of migratory passerines during spring and autumn migration. Swallows congregate in the area and stage here before continuing southbound migration in autumn.

A number of waterfowl also find suitable habitat within the marsh tidal creeks and other open water areas adjacent to the IBA. They include American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Gadwall (Anas strepera), American Wigeon (Anas americana), Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), and Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola).
The John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge protects habitat that supports the largest American Black Duck population in Rhode Island*


Other common waterbirds include Herring, Black-backed, and Ringbilled Gulls (Larus argentatus, L. marinus, and L. delawarensis) and Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacocorax auritus).

A considerable amount of salt marsh habitat occurs around the perimeter of this site providing potential suitable nesting habitat for the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Due to the extent of the salt marsh coverage this area is expected to contain over 10 nesting sites or 30 individuals to meet the A1 Global IBA criteria.

Recent survey data (June 2008) provided by USFWS resulted in the discovery of 46 nests (18 on the West side of the NWR and 38 on the East side).

Conservation Issues

Sea-level rise threatens the marsh as development in the upland has encroached to the edge of the marsh in some areas preventing the landward migration of the marsh with increasing sea level. Stands of Phragmites along reaches of the Narrow River suggest nutrient and stormwater input/runoff to the system from adjacent residential development. Phragmites invasion of the marsh is detrimental to the high marsh habitat of the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow as Phragmites begins to out-compete Spartina patens, Juncus gerardii, and other low structure high-marsh vegetation used by the Saltmarsh Sharp-taield Sparrow for nesting.

Foot traffic from beach-goers along the coast pressure nesting Piping Plovers and threaten to crush nests, eggs, young, or to expose these birds to pets and opportunistic predators that often accompanies human activity.


A large portion of the IBA (57.6%) lies within private ownership or open water. A portion (18.7%) is conserved as the John H. Chaffee National Wildlife Refuge. Other conservation organizations protect lands within the IBA as well, including the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (3.8) and the Narrow River Land Trust (3.0%). Municipal (Town of Narragansett) and State ownership makes up the balance.


Pettaquamscutt Cove is an elongated estuarine waterbody. The Narrow River flows into the tidally influenced cove from the north. Tidal exchanges occur via a permanent breachway that flows under State Route 1, and discharging into Narragansett Bay. Most of the site is surrounded by deciduous forested upland. An ectone of shrubland occurs between the marsh and forested upland in most areas. Other habitat features include tidal creeks, salt pannes, mosquito ditches, and wooded hammocks. Freshwater or brackishwater wetlands border the marsh and upland at some locations. The hydrology of these wetlands are supported by groundwater discharge.

Land Use

The majority of the land wihtin this IBA exists as open water. A large portion of the lands are owned and managed by the USFWS as a National Wildlife Refuge. Additional land within the approved acquisition zone of the wildlife refuge is under private ownership. The Narrow River supports a variety of recreational use activities including fishing, waterfowl hunting, birding, and a small ecotourism industry. A canoe/kayak rental business is located adjacent to the IBA. Fishing is popular at the outlet to Narragansett Bay along the "Narrows".

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