Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
    • Wildlife and Plants


The refuge provides habitat for a diversity of wildlife including:

      • 330 species of birdsStilt Chick Walking
      • 117 fishes
      • 65 amphibians and reptiles
      • 31 mammals
      • 1,045 plants

 

 

 

 

Stilt Chick - Photo by Joel Reynolds

In addition, 14 species Federally listed as threatened or endangered use the refuge.

 

                                   Species                                  Status                           

West Indian Manatee

Endangered

Wood stork

Endangered

Leatherback Turtle

Endangered

Green Turtle

Endangered

Kemps Ridley Turtle

Endangered

Atlantic Hawksbill Turtle

Endangered

Roseate Tern

Threatened

Loggerhead Turtle

Threatened

Southeastern Beach Mouse

Threatened

Florida Salt Marsh Snake

Threatened

Piping Plover

Threatened

Eastern Indigo Snake

Threatened

Florida Scrub Jay

Threatened

American Alligator

Threatened



Tri-Color Heron perched on branch
Tri-Color Heron - Photo by Bill Powell

Popular Species:

West Indian Manatee

Where to view:  Manatee Observation Deck at Haulover Canal

West Indian manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, rounded tail.  They can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals and coastal areas and are known to migrate.  The average adult manatee is about 9.8 feet) long and weighs between 800-1,200 pounds.  There are approximately 3,000 West Indian manatees left in the United States.

Manatee Observation Deck
Manatee Observation Deck - Photo by Joel Reynolds

Manatees are slow-moving and spend much of their time eating, resting, and in travel. They are completely herbivorous and consume near 10-15% of their body weight in aquatic plants every day. Manatees often rest at or just below the surface, coming up to breathe on the average of every three to five minutes. When manatees are more active, they may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds. But, they have been known to stay submerged for up to 20 minutes.

Manatees give birth every 2-5 years after about a year long gestation period.  Young stay with the mother for 1-2 years.

West Indian manatees have no natural enemies, and it is believed they can live 60 years or more. Many manatee mortalities are human-related as a result of collisions with watercraft.  They also die from being crushed and/or drowned in canal locks and flood control structures; ingesting discarded trash, entanglement in monofilament or crab traps lines. Loss of habitat is the most serious threat facing manatees today.


Florida Scrub Jay

Where to view:  SCRUB RIDGE TRAILScrub Jay

The Florida scrub jay is the only species of bird found exclusively in Florida.  It inhabits low growing scrub oak habitats which contain scrubby flatwoods, sand pine scrub, and coastal scrub.  Sometime scattered pines can be found in the areas as well.  Fire is required to maintain scrub jay habitat.  Without it, the habitat will become overgrown and unsuitable for use by jays.

 

Scrub Jay - USFWS Photo

Scrub jays are omnivores and will eat just about anything:  acorns, berries, seeds, small amphibians and reptiles, eggs, and even mice.  During fall they gather thousands of acorns that are mostly buried until a later date.  Pairs breed for life and nest from March-June when 3-4 eggs are laid.  Mortality rates for young scrub jays are high, primarily due to predators.

Scrub Ridge Trail
Scrub Ridge Trail - Photo by Susan Waldron

The most critical threat to scrub jays is loss of habitat.  The high, dry habitat they prefer is also preferred by builders for housing developments and shopping centers.   Populations of scrub jays on Merritt Island NWR, Lake Wales Ridge, and Ocala National Forest have the best chance for long-term survival.  Active habitat management including prescribed fire and mechanical vegetation work is conducted at all three locations as part of recovery efforts for this species.  It is estimated that 3,000 scrub jays remain in Florida today.

 

American Alligator

Where to view:  BLACK POINT WILDLIFE DRIVE or VISITOR CENTER

Once in danger of becoming extinct, today there are more than 1,000,000 alligators in Florida alone.  Why are they still listed as threatened or endangered? Simply due to their similarity in appearance to the American crocodile that is actually endangered and found in south Florida.

Merritt Island NWR has several thousand alligators.  Almost any impoundment or roadside ditch is potential habitat for these reptiles – so keep your eyes open and you are sure to see one.

Alligator Head Sideview
"American Alligator - Photo by Bill Powell

Last Updated: