Petit Manan Lighthouse, courtesy

Petit Manan Lighthouse, courtesy


What do Matinicus Rock, Petit Manan, Falkner Island, Great Duck Island and Seahorse Key* have in common? They’re all islands and they all have lighthouses. But another thing they share is their relationship with birds.

Seabirds have taken over these islands, but for good reason – to protect their nesting areas and hence, their species.

As long ago as the late 1800s, laws were passed to protect seabirds when widespread sale of their eggs for food and their plumage for hats threatened the birds’ extinction. In 1900, the American Ornithologist Union (AOU) established a warden system to enforce these laws.

The U.S. Lighthouse Board cooperated with the AOU and issued orders to lighthouse keepers of all lighthouse districts on the Atlantic, Gulf, Northern Lake, and Pacific coasts to observe the laws and help protect all birds. Several lighthouse keepers in Maine were paid to be wardens while several others volunteered.

These keepers proved a valuable asset to the AOC by reporting the number and variety of birds viewed, and the date they arrived on the islands. For example, “the warden’s report of October 1901 by Keeper James E. Hall of Matinicus Rock Light details that 1000 Terns arrived May 15th, 75 Sandpipers arrived May 1st and on April 15th two pairs of Puffins and 75 Sea Pigeons (Black Guillemots) arrived.”



In January 1905, the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals was incorporated in New York State, and the wardens became known as Audubon Wardens.

When the US Coast Guard took over maintenance of lighthouses in 1939, it began automating the lights and removing the keepers, and the Audubon Society lost their lighthouse wardens. However, between 1972 and 1980 the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was established for the protection of migratory birds, encompassing over fifty islands off the coast of Maine. Eight of these islands possess lighthouses which were transferred from the U.S.Coast Guard to the refuge.

In 1998, Great Duck Island Light Station became the property of Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic under the Maine Lights Program, along with Mount Desert Rock Light Station. The two lighthouses are used in the school’s programs on ecology, botany and island life. Students and staff from the college now live in the former keeper’s dwelling on Great Duck most of the year.

Cedar Key Light, off the coast of Cedar Key Florida, is part of the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge and is leased by the University of Florida for use as a marine laboratory. The lighthouse itself serves as a dormitory for students.

Cedar Key Light

Cedar Key Light

Cedar Key pelican

Brown Pelican

Like the lighthouses that are situated on them, each island has unique geography and landscape which attract specific varieties of birds. For example, Matinicus Rock is host to a puffin colony, whereas Cedar Key is a favorite nesting area for white ibis and brown pelicans.

How interesting to note that these lighthouses which once represented refuge to mariners now represent refuge for birds. And like adult birds protect their offspring by covering them with their wings, God covers us with his protection.



The writer of Psalms used this comparison several times. In Psalm 35:7, he wrote, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

What a safe place to be.


*These are not the only lighthouses on islands with bird refuges.