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Boston Harbor Islands–Great Brewster Island

Birding in Massachusetts

Boston Harbor Islands
Important Bird Area
Great Brewster Island

Boston Harbor Islands webpage
Boston Harbor Islands (National Park Service) webpage
Boston Harbor Islands map
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area IBA

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Plymouth County

BHI–Great Brewster Island
Coordinates: 42.3316464, -70.896492
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About Great Brewster Island
This largest of the Brewster islands features eroding cliffs, a salt marsh, tidal pools, and a large gull colony.

Great Brewster Island is the largest island in Boston’s outer harbor at 19 acres of upland and 49 acres of the intertidal area. It offers spectacular views of Boston’s inner harbor, Massachusetts Bay, and Boston Lighthouse, America’s oldest light station. In fact, from Great Brewster’s 100 feet high bluffs, one can see four lighthouses.

While walking the island’s trails, a visitor will see a salt marsh, gull breeding grounds and nurseries, the remains of a military bunker and observation post, and the stone wall foundations of summer cottages. Along the shoreline one can investigate tidal pools and, on most days, one can see lobster boats working their traps and several private boats fishing the many rock outcroppings that ring Great Brewster and the other outer islands.

There is no dock at Great Brewster Island.

Great Brewster Island was named for Elder William Brewster, the first preacher and teacher for the Plymouth Colony. Thousands of years before the English settlers named the island, Native Americans used it as a summer residence and utilized its natural resources. In more recent times, the island has been home to summer cottages for local families and for U.S. soldiers who manned an observation post during WW II. The military post included 90mm rapid-fire guns, searchlight stations, and a command post that aided in controlling the harbor’s minefield.

About Boston Harbor Islands
Located just minutes from downtown Boston, the Boston Harbor Islands include 34 islands and peninsulas spread over 50 square miles. Working with city, state, federal and nonprofit partners, the park is a place where you can walk a Civil War-era fort, visit historic lighthouses, explore tide pools, hike lush trails, camp under the stars, or relax while fishing, picnicking, or swimming, all within reach of downtown Boston.

Between the horn of Cape Ann to the north and the defiant, jutting arm of Cape Cod to the south and east, the Boston Harbor forms a giant crescent in the central coast of Massachusetts and is the beating heart of the New England shoreline. The harbor sits within an ancient feature, known as the Boston Basin, which predates the formation of North America. Over the course of over 400 million years, it has seen tropical latitudes, multiple advances and recessions of the sea, and multiple periods of glaciation—the latter couple of which deposited and then carved many of the hills that currently dapple its surface. Today, within a vibrant metropolitan area, the Boston Harbor Islands provide a dynamic assembly of ecosystems, ranging from rocky, windswept shores to dense forests to developed and filled land—all with a long and complicated history of human use.

The hub islands, Georges and Spectacle, offer a world-class experience complete with hiking trails, picnic areas, interpretative walks, recreational programs, concessions, and state-of-the-art visitor centers. The more rustic islands, Peddocks, Bumpkin, Grape, and Lovells, provide camping adventures that offer a unique experience for locals and visitors to the Boston area. Thompson Island is open to the public via public ferries on specified weekends throughout the summer and fall.

Allow at least a half day to see one island and a day to see more. Georges, Spectacle, and Peddocks Island have fresh water and restrooms, while Lovells, Bumpkin, and Grape island have composting toilets. There are no trash receptacles; please pack out what you pack in.

A visit to the Boston Harbor Islands is an opportunity to play, learn, serve, and work within the largest recreational open space in the Boston area.
From Boston Harbor Islands (National Park Service) webpage

The Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area comprises 34 islands ranging in size from less than 1 acre to 274 acres. A variety of habitats, including marine, rock cliffs, beaches, salt marsh, and forests support many different species in all seasons. Several species of special concern in Massachusetts have been observed on the Islands including Common and Least Tern, Barn Owl, and Common Loon. The Northern Harrier, a threatened species, also occurs on the islands. Significant numbers of colonial-nesting waterbirds, including Double-crested Cormorants, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Snowy Egrets have been present for at least two decades. Migratory shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds utilize the harbor islands during the spring and fall, and great flocks of waterfowl overwinter there.
From Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area IBA