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Nature's Bounty Presquile National Wildlife Refuge
Ferry landing
Ferry landing © Meghan Carfioli/USFWS

Explore a hidden wildlife mecca nestled in a bend of the James River. This 1,329-acre island is home to large concentrations of waterfowl and other birdlife, making it an important component in the network of refuges on and around the Chesapeake Bay, our Nation's largest estuary.

Northern bobwhite
Female prothonatary warbler
Male prothonotary warbler
Scarlet tanager
Birding in the swamp
Satellite image of Presquile NWR

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1953, is in the lower James River near the City of Hopewell, Virginia. Originally a peninsula (presqu'île is the French word for peninsula), the land was almost encircled by water when the river formed a long oxbow bend. Presquile became a true island in 1934 when a navigation channel was cut across the narrow base of the peninsula. 

Presquile is one of four refuges that comprise the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  It has historically provided important habitat for wintering Canada geese that breed along James Bay in eastern Canada.  The Refuge is also home to nesting and roosting bald eagles and is a stopping point for many neotropical migratory birds. Historically, the refuge's 300 acres of uplands were planted with winter wheat, corn, sorghum, and rye to provide food for the Canada geese. The uplands are no longer farmed, but rather provide excellent foraging habitat for bald eagles, northern bobwhites, and grasshopper sparrows. The remaining acreage of the refuge is primarily hardwood swamp, with a fringe of marsh. 

Since its establishment, access to the Refuge was by a ferry, operated on a cable secured at both sides of the James River shipping channel.  Increased shipping and recreational boat traffic, significant maintenance costs, and concern for the safety of passengers resulted in discontinuation of the ferry for public use in 2001.  A 28-foot pontoon boat now ferries visitors to the Refuge for scheduled events.  


The land within Presquile NWR was originally occupied by Native Americans.  By the early 1600's English colonists had established the first settlement north of Jamestown nearby at Bermuda Hundred.  William Randolph, ancestor to prominent Virginians such as Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Robert E. Lee, moved to "Presque Isle" in 1660 and lived there for many years.  Union troops occupied the area during the Battle of Petersburg.  In 1952, the island was bequeathed to the U.S. Government by Dr. A.D. Williams, and became a Refuge in 1953. In 1954, the portion of the James River that surrounds the refuge was closed to migratory bird hunting by Secretarial Order, thus increasing the effectiveness of Presquile as a wildlife refuge.

Wondering how to pronounce Presquile?

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