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Wildlife & Habitat

Marsh2_512x219Here on the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, a seemingly infinite expanse of cordgrass is punctuated by endless formations of migrating geese in the sky.  Mottled ducks tip down into shallow waters to feed while alligators quietly slip beneath the surface. 

Situated on the upper Gulf Coast near the Louisiana border, the coastal marshes of McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge are home to an incredible array of wildlife.  Within this marsh habitat you will find northern river otter, bobcat, gray fox, coyote, and American alligator.  The refuge is a primary wintering area for Central Flyway ducks and geese, as well as serves as a critical staging area for waterfowl migrating to and from Mexico.  Hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, wading birds, and other marsh and water birds also winter or migrate through the area.  A total of 285 species of birds have been documented during various times of the year, including some year-round residents like mottled ducks (link to mottled duck page).  

The refuge supports this diversity of wildlife in part because it lies within a biogeographical area known as the Chenier Plain, a region that extends from southwestern Louisiana to East Bay in southeast Texas.  Elevated sediment ridges, called cheniers, were once the actual shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico and are the distinguishing feature of this landscape.  These cheniers generally run parallel to the Gulf of Mexico or as fan-shaped alluvial deposits at the mouths of rivers. 

For centuries, cheniers have trapped high annual rainfall and frequent floodwaters that slowly flow over the low-lying coastal prairie and marsh.  Supporting the growth of woody vegetation, the word chenier is French for “place of oaks.”  During spring migration, these wooded areas are especially important to the neotropical migrants.  These small colorful birds migrate to and from Central and South America, often flying across the Gulf of Mexico, an exhausting 600 mile journey.  When the birds finally arrive, they find freshwater and shelter among the wooded lots of the refuge’s wetlands.  

Freshwater, intermediate, and brackish marsh conditions can be found on McFaddin Refuge.  This wide range in salinity levels encourages the growth of diverse vegetation.  The plant community, including long leaf pondweed, banana water lily, and widgeon grass, has established itself over the course of thousands of years, continually adapting within this dynamic system.  Within this tremendous diversity of wetlands is the largest freshwater marsh found in the State of Texas, Willow Slough.  Here, the pig-like sound of pig frogs seems disorienting among the lotus-covered wetlands. 

Beyond Willow Slough, and interspersed among the coastal marsh, are remnant tracts of tall grass and salty prairies.  These areas, just slightly higher in elevation, offer a different type of habitat.  Wooly rosemallow, bushy bluestem and gulf cordgrass thrive here and provide important nesting habitat for mottled ducks, dickcissels and other species.  Black rails, short-eared owls and LeConte’s sparrow find shelter and feed within these prairie habitats.  

Closer to the ocean’s edge, along the southern refuge boundary, the shallow Gulf of Mexico waters, tidal flats, and beaches provide important shallow water feeding, breeding and nesting habitat utilized by killdeer, black-necked stilt and willet.  This transition from land to sea is where you will find a combination of salt-tolerant marsh and beach plants, including saltmeadow cordgrass, camphor weed, and gulf croton.  This vegetation not only serves the needs of wildlife, it ultimately serves the needs of human.  These hardy plants, adapted to shifting sands, high winds, and rising waters, help protect the dunes from erosion.  

Last Updated: Nov 30, 2012
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