Nearly 67% of the refuge consists of salt marsh and tidal creeks. A wide variety of land types are found including forestland, brushland, fallow fields and freshwater ponds. Pinckney Island is 3.8 miles long and 1.75 miles across its greatest width. Over 14 miles of nature trails are open for nonconsumptive recreation.
Pinckney Island NWR qualifies in virtually every IBA category.
Pinckney Island hosts the following engangered/threatened species: Wood Storks, Peregrine Falcons, Least Terns, Little Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans, Bald Eagles and Wayne's race of Black-throated Green Warbler (state endanagered).
WatchListed Species include: Western Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Prairie Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, Painted Buntings.
Pinckney is noted for species assemblage associated with a representative, rare or threatened natural community type. Pinckney's large areas of salt marsh feed significant numbers of virtually all the colonial water birds regularly resident in SC. The nearby freshwater ponds are important rookeries fo White Ibis, Great and Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored and Little Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons. In some years Pinckney has reported the highest number of White Ibis nests in the state.
PINWR is also a site where birds regularly concentrate in significant numbers when breeding, in winter, or during migration. A variety of waterfowl raft on the waters adjacent to PI. Buffleheads, Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Hooded Mergasers, and others can be found on the ponds in the winter. A variety of shorebirds feed regularly on Pinckney, both during migration and in the winter. Most common species are: Willets, Whimbrels, Dowitchers, Dunlins, Black-bellied and Semi-palmated Plovers, Western Sandpipers and American Oystercatchers.
Over 500 colonial waterbirds are present on Pinckney at all times during the year.
PINWR has large concentrations of colonial water birds. A significant porportion of SC's nesting White Ibis, Little Blue Herons and Tri-colored Herons are found here. Pinckney Island also qualifies as an Important Bird Research Area. Nesting and roosting counts by the USFWS have been reported for over 20 years. PINWR is a part of the annual Hilton Head CBC. A Painted Bunting study was conducted by USFWS and USGS.
The greatest threat to the refuge's wildlife is the increased demand, created by coastal development, on the area's freshwater resources, particularly the aquifer. The refuge's important wading bird rookeries are dependent upon groundwater to supplement rainwater. Competition for existing groundwater reserves has already resulted in denials to refuge requests for larger wells to feed currently managed impoundments. Increased public used could negatively impact the refuge's wildlife; however, management strategies will be proposed in the upcoming Comprehensive Conservation Planning process to address this anticipated problem.
Impacts to wildlife will be addressed. Water resource issues will be analyzed in depth. Meanwhile, distribution of the freshwater drawn from existing wells is monitored to provide maximum water to the impoundments supporting rookeries. To guard against human distsurbance of wildlife, critical rookery sites are sometimes closed to the public during nesting season. The Refuge's existing trail systsem will be maintained for hiking/bicycle use; however, no new trails will be developed.
The Hilton Head Audubon Society (P.O. Drawer 6185, HH Is., SC 29938) is the designated Audubon Refuge Keeper for Pinckney Island NWR. The Chapter currently numbers 550 individuals/families, who takes seriously its repsonsibilities for Pinckney Island. 8 chapter members are registered volunteers for the USFWS. The Chapter makes annual contriutions to USFWS for projects on Pinckney Is., and individual Chapter members have in past years made sizable contributions to the refuge.
Pinckney Island is owned and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Savannah Coastal Refuges.
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Pinckney Island NWR lies in the estuary where four inshore waterways merge. This broad wetland is characterized by salt marsh, small tidal hammocks, oyster beds, and saltwater creeks. The dominant plant species within this wetland is salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). The refuge's upland acreage is a mosaic of pine plantations open fields, brushland hardwood/pine forest and freshwater ponds. 1% of the land, 60 acres, is used for administrative purposes.
No regular study is made of the plant and animal life on Pinckney Island. Professors Robert Peet and Thomas Wentwort, from NC universities, and Richard Porcher, from the Citadel, are studying the natural vegetation of high-calcium soils of the southeastern coastal plain of SC, particularly surveying shell middens, of which several exist on Pinckney Is. In 1998 a rare Crested Coral-Root orchid, (Hexalectris spicata) was found near White Point on the island. The plant is an indicator of calcerous soils.
Pinckney Island NWR is a wildlife conservation area.