Norman Bird Sanctuary was established in 1949 and currently owns and manages over 350 acres of land on Aquidneck Island. The Sanctuary's mission is to protect the diversity of native plant and animal habitats; to advocate for the preservation of open space; and to provide environmental education programs for people of all ages, physical ability, and economic and social status.
In 2003, the Sanctuary triumphantly purchased 23 acres of land for approximately 3.5 million dollars. The land acquisition avoided a developer's attempt to disallow access to Third Beach and also avoided the destruction of a coastal ecosystem.
The Third Beach land is comprised of beach, dunes, marshland and grasslands and borders the Sakonnet River, Gardiner Pond, and the Maidford River. This vital habitat serves as a wildlife corridor, a link for protected open space, a winter waterfowl habitat, and is part of the Sakonnet Greenway.
In June 2003, Third Beach was home to federally threatened piping plovers. The land acquisition has ensured that the public will have access to Third Beach and its natural resources. The Sanctuary has developed management plan for the property and they are working with the Town of Middletown and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore habitats throughout this precious area.