Wildlife and Habitat Management
Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge's primary feature is a 4,000+ acre oxbow lake (Swan Lake), formed thousands of years ago when the Mississippi River abandoned a segment of riverbed. In years past, Silver Lake Bayou flowed into the oxbow lake, accelerating the deposit of silt and sediment on the lake bottom, making the lake more shallow. Recently, the Corps of Engineers constructed a new channel to divert silt-laden waters around Swan Lake. Weirs and water control structures maintain water levels in the oxbow lake while the new channel diverts silt-laden flows around the north side of Swan Lake and into Steele Bayou. The Corps project successfully prevents the accelerated build-up of sediment that has reduced water depths in Swan Lake.
The past meanderings of the Mississippi River have created a ridge-and-swale topography on the refuge that varies by 23 feet in elevation. From 90 feet above sea level in the swamp to 113 feet on sandy ridges, this mixture of elevations translates into a diversity of habitats for wildlife. Refuge staff have utilized this rolling landscape and through the years installed 96 water control structures creating over 70 impoundments which have provided a myriad of habitats for migratory waterfowl, colonial wading birds, alligators, and other wildlife.
Since 1968, approximately 2,000 acres of marginal agricultural lands have been reforested on Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. Reforestation has been accomplished by direct-seeding with acorns and with seedling plantings. At least 20 tree species have been planted on refuge lands. These plantations, some of which are among the oldest on record, now provide unique opportunities for researchers to study the development process for the restoration of bottomland hardwoods over time. Reforestation on Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge catalyzed similar habitat restoration on other refuges and private lands throughout the southeast region. To learn more about Theodore Roosevelt NWR Complex’s reforestation projects, go to Forest Management.
A unique opportunity for intensive moist-soil management occurred when the refuge purchased 240 acres of abandoned catfish ponds known today as the Cox Ponds. The ponds were reshaped to provide optimal bottom and side slopes, and each pond has its own water control structure and drain. Irrigation wells provide a permanent water source for each pond, giving the refuge broad management options. A rotating cycle of management treatments in these 14 ponds provides habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and other water birds. Some ponds are managed as moist-soil areas while others provide deep water habitat. Frequent visitors to the Cox Ponds include white ibis, glossy ibis, little blue and great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets and a wide variety of wintering dabbling and diving ducks. Habitat is provided for southward-bound shorebirds (about 20 species) from July 15 to November. In 2003, the first documented brood of black-bellied whistling ducks in Mississippi was photographed here. In August 2004, as many as thirteen grown ducks plus a brood of eight were observed, indicating an increasing population of this tropical species.
The well-established wood duck nest box program produces about 2,000 wood duck hatchlings a year. The boxes are prepared early in the year and checked frequently during nesting season to track hatches and remove non-viable eggs.
Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge provides many opportunities to view wildlife in a natural setting. Late evening and early morning are the best times to see many forms of wildlife. Numerous wildlife species are active at night or during twilight hours. Most bird species are active during the day; but, even so, are more active early and late in the day. A colonial waterbird rookery is visible from Beargarden Road. White-tailed deer are commonly seen, as well as wild turkeys, waterfowl, shorebirds, raccoons and other wildlife. With a little luck, you may catch a glimpse of a bobcat or of one of the endangered Louisiana black bear living on the refuge!