Wildlife and Habitat Management
Mathews Brake is a favorite among duck hunters. The 1,180-acre oxbow lake commonly supports over 30,000 ducks during the wintering season. Mallards, American wigeon, gadwall, blue-winged teal, and pintail are most common. In the spring and summer, wood ducks and hooded mergansers nest in tree cavities and artificial nest boxes on the refuge.
The shallow lake contains bald cypress and water tupelo trees in the deeper areas with buttonbush and swamp privet thickets in more shallow water. Lowland hardwoods occupy the numerous low, parallel ridges that emerge across the landscape of the lake. Water levels fluctuate, creating moist-soil plants that provide food and cover for waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Other habitat types include 422 acres of bottomland hardwood and 186 acres of young reforested areas. The refuge is completely surrounded by intensive crop production, particularly cotton. Farming operations on the refuge were phased out in 1991-92, and refuge staff began planting native hardwood seedlings on the previously farmed land. By 1993 all reforestation projects were complete.
Bald eagles are frequent visitors, especially in the winter when large numbers of waterfowl and other water birds are present as a prey base. Red-shouldered hawks can be heard making their two-part calls during the day, while barred owls ask, “Who cooks for you-all?” in twilight hours. In summer, Mississippi kites forage for dragonflies in the refuge skies.