Wildlife and Habitat Management
Morgan Brake National Wildlife Refuge lies on the edge of the vast
Mississippi Delta about 50 miles east of the Mississippi
River. Due to the present-day distance from the river, the lack of
silt and sand deposited historically from over-bank flooding has
resulted in this slack-water area being lower in elevation than
lands nearer the river. Tight clay soils and natural depressions
caused the formation of natural wooded wetland areas called brakes
and led to the use of the land for building ponds for commercial
Over 50 catfish ponds were located on the property when it was acquired by the Fish & Wildlife Service. Most were still in use, while others had been abandoned and had grown up in trees. Several were fed by natural springs, which continue to present challenges and opportunities to management. The Refuge boundary also takes in a small segment of the loess bluffs which rise abruptly along the entire eastern edge of the Delta from Memphis to Vicksburg. These bluffs are formed from wind-deposited soils which erode in a vertical plane, creating a very steep landscape. An unusual combination of north-facing slope and a rock outcrop in the Refuge portion of the bluff has produced conditions leading to a unique assemblage of plant life. Such tree species as northern red oak, American beech, Florida maple, Carolina basswood, yellowwood, and cucumber tree are commonly found on the slopes. Understory plants include abundant trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, green dragon, May-apple, and Christmas fern. The inclusion of this particular section of bluffs within the refuge provides an element of upland habitat that is unique and tremendously diverse.
Habitat types on the Refuge include 3,134 acres of bottomland hardwoods interspersed with cypress/tupelo brakes, 1,621 acres of young hardwood plantations, 813 acres of former commercial catfish ponds, 536 acres of croplands, 677 acres of shrub swamp and marsh, 570 acres of forested uplands, and 30 acres of administrative lands. Three brakes (wetlands with dense woody vegetation), Morgan Brake, Around-the-World Brake, and Commander Brake, provide habitat for fish and for thousands of wintering waterfowl.
The former catfish ponds are managed in a habitat mosaic which includes draining some at key times for migrating shorebirds, row-cropping for wintering waterfowl, managing for natural moist-soil vegetation, leaving some with deep water for diving ducks, and letting some grow up in trees to provide wading bird rookery habitat. In recent years, active rookeries have been present in two of the abandoned catfish ponds.
The refuge is noted for large numbers of wintering waterfowl which have exceeded 100,000 ducks in recent years. Approximately 250 species of birds use the refuge, which is an important migration stop-over and also provides nesting habitat for many neotropical bird species.