This IBA is a discrete management unit within a larger biogeographically similar coastal ecosystem that incorporates the Rhode Island shoreline from Point Judith at the eastern limit, west to Napatree Point in Westerly, RI at the CT/RI border. The natural areas within this greater biogeographic region contain barrier beaches and associated dune habitats, coastal ponds, salt marsh, coastal shrubland, and coastal forest.

The Trustom Pond IBA includes fine examples of Rhode Island's coastal habitats. For instance, it contains the only undeveloped salt pond left in Rhode Island. This salt pond has not been artificially or permanently breached by man and is a major feature of the IBA, supporting a variety of waterfowl species whose collective numbers range into the thousands during the spring and autumn migration and wintering seasons.

{link:For IBA map, click here.|}

Ornithological Summary

The varied habitats in Trustom Pond support more than 300 bird species, including breeding and winter residents, and migratory stopover spp.
The large salt pond provides valuable habitat for waterfowl, and shorebirds and their food staples. Waterfowl residents and migrants include Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), Canvasback (Aythya valisineria), American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), scaup (Aythya affinis, A. marila), Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola), Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), American Wigeon (Anas americana), Gadwall (Anas strepera), American Coot (Fulica americana), Double-crested and Great Cormorants (Phalacocorax auritus and P. carbo), Snowy and Great Egrets (Egretta thula and Ardea alba), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodius), and other waterbirds. This pond is one of the most significant migratory waterfowl concentration sites of New England. owing to its location along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway, and due to the prolific abundance of wigeon grass (Ruppia maritima), various pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.), naiads (Najas spp.), aquatic invertebrates, and other food sources.
The barrier beach is an important nesting area for the Federally Threatened Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) and this area is likely to be proposed as critical habitat for this species. The nesting population of Piping Plover at Trustom Pond is estimated to be approx. 10 pairs, with an estimated capacity of 10 pairs. Therefore, it lies right at the threshold of the A1 Global Criteria for this species. An average of 14.3 young per year over the last 6 years have been successfully fledged at this location.

Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) also nest on the beach front with Piping Plovers and Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) nest on rock islands within Trustom Pond, and both species often feed within the pond. The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) are reported to nest proximal to this IBA. About 25 additional species of sandpipers use the exposed flats of the salt pond and intertidal zones of the beach during migration. There are regionally significant breeding populations of Seaside Sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus) and Sharp-tailed Sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus) nesting in the salt marshes proximal to the IBA.
Dozens of land birds use the coastal forests and thicket edges as migratory stopover habitat when spring and fall migrations bring a profusion of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, gnatcatchers, and other neotropical migrants. These same habitats support such resident birds as Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia), Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), and Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). Other species of note in the area include nesting osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and wintering Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), and Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
Inland to the north of the salt pond, restored grasslands provide breeding sites for Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), and Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna).

Northern Bobwhite formerly occurred at the NWR and as late as 1996 was listed as common in Spring, Summer and Fall at Trustom Pond NWR. It has since been extirpated from the State (Rick Enser - Personal Communication). The IBA may serve as a future reintroduction site for this species.

Offshore, large concentrations of waterfowl are often found during the winter months, including Common and Red-throated Loon (Gavia immer and G. stellata), Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), scoters (Melanitta spp.), Common Eider (Somateria mollissima), and Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula).

Conservation Issues

Habitat restoration efforts at Trustom Pond NWR have focused largely on the elimination or control of non-native invasive plant species especially Common Reed (Phragmites australis -) in wetland areas, and Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) in uplands. Other invasive plants prevalent in the area are Asiatic Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.).

Foot traffic from sunbathers and their pets at Moonstone Beach is a source of disturbance to nesting Piping Plovers during their breeding season from April 1 to September 15 of each year. Human beach activity also attracts Raccoons, Opossum, and Red Fox which visit the beach to forage for food scraps after humans have left for the day. These opportunistic predators pose a threat to Piping Plover eggs and chicks. These threats are managed via use of predator exclusion devices and by employing seasonal plover wardens to educate the public.

The effects of White-tailed Deer overbrowsing in the coastal forest is currently being studied at the nearby Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge.


The majority of the IBA (appox. 800 acres) is owned and managed by the USFWS as the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge. Surrounding and adjacent lands are largely owned by private individuals, although approximately 21% of these private lands are subject to conservation easements. Some fields within the IBA are managed by the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife as cooperative hunting areas.


Upland forested areas are typical of the Rhode Island coastal zone, dominated by black and white oak (Quercus velutina and Q. alba) with a dense understory of ericaceous shrubs. . Coastal scrub/shrub thickets are dominated by shadbush (Amelanchier spp.), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), and bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) in drier uplands, and winterberry (Ilex verticillata), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and alder (Alnus spp.) in wetland areas. Dense understory layers of greenbriar (Smilx rotundifolia), grape (Vitis labrusca) and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) often form impenetrable thickets.

Trustom Pond is a large salt pond within the center of this IBA. It provides valuable habitat for finfish, shellfish, waterfowl, and shorebirds. The salt pond includes areas of fringing emergent marsh, palustrine forested wetland, forested islands, rocky islets, and sand flats as additional habitat attributes.
A barrier beach separates Trustom Pond from the open ocean at the southern limit of the IBA. The open beach strand provides nesting sites for Piping Plover and Least Tern. The bordering sandy dunes are vegetated with beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), poison ivy, seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), bayberry and beach rose (Rosa rugosa).

A freshwater marsh interspersed with palustrine emergent and palustrine scrub/shrub cover types is located at the eastern limit of the IBA.

Land Use

The site is managed as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System of which the following land use is consistent with the USFWS mission: Environmental Education, Hunting, Interpretation, Photography, and Wildlife Observation*. The majority of the refuge is dedicated to wildlife management. Within these management areas, secondary uses such as nature photography, wildlife observation (esp. birding) and hiking are recreational activities consistent with the refuge mission.

The site is frequently visited by birders throughout all seasons. A visitor contact station is located at the refuge parking area and is frequently staffed by refuge personnel or volunteers to disseminate information and greet visitors. Bird walks are frequently led at the refuge by volunteers, refuge staff, and regional Audubon Societies for the public. Over two miles of nature trails, four viewing platforms, and several interpretive panels enhance wildlife viewing opportunities.

Saltwater fishing and swimming are permitted at Moonstone Beach; however, portions of the high beach are restricted to human use during the breeding season of the Piping Plover (1 Apr - Sep 15).
A small portion of the refuge is open for Canada Goose and Mourning Dove hunting during regular open seasons established by the State. The hunting program on the refuge is administered by the State Division of Fish and Wildlife*. Hunting also occurs on private parcels adjacent to the refuge.
*Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS Fact Sheet) On line at Accessed 23 Dec 2008

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.