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Wildlife and Habitat

RiverOtter_512x219For centuries, flood waters of the Deep Fork River blanketed the landscape, periodically inundating the bottomland hardwood forests while replenishing rich fertile soils with nutrients and filtering toxic chemicals from the environment. 

Alternating between wet and dry periods of weather, the land within the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge, and the ecosystem it supports, is affected by how long the floodwaters remain. This in turn supports a unique assortment of wildlife that spends all or part of their life on the refuge.  Approximately 85 percent of the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge is made of forested wetlands.  Many of the plants found in this bottomland hardwood forest produce fruits, nuts, and flowers that serve as a banquet for wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, and deer.  Wood ducks perch on tree branches near the wetlands and river otters playfully slide down muddy hills.  Turtles, such as red-eared sliders, bask on sun-filled logs while pygmy rattlesnakes lay camouflaged among the oak and hickory leaves. 

The refuge’s sloughs and streams support a documented 149 species of birds, including large numbers of great blue heron, little blue herons, and great and snowy egrets.  Within the refuge are four great blue heron rookeries which are taken over by snowy egrets once the young blue herons have left.  Many of the heron species on the refuge can be viewed from the wetland observation deck on the Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk. Waterfowl numbers on the refuge during the winter produce an estimated at 5,000-20,000 mallards, 1,000-5,000 wood ducks, and 1,000-2,000 miscellaneous duck species. The refuge is also important stopover for many species of neotropical birds during their migration, and many species can be heard and seen from our trails. During the summer months, some of the most brightly colored residents include painted buntings and prothonotary warblers. 

In addition to the diversity of birds, many species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians have also been recorded in the Deep Fork River basin.  Common game and fur bearing mammals include white-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrels, beaver, eastern cottontail, swamp rabbit, raccoon, coyote and opossum.   Sharing the landscape are alligator snapping turtles, bull frogs, southern leopard frog, Mississippi mud turtle, eastern hognose snake and the western cottonmouth.

The Deep Fork River itself provides feeding and spawning habitat for many sport fish native to east central Oklahoma.  Fifty-nine species of fish have been identified from the river, streams, and reservoirs of the river basin and many are likely to be found in refuge waters. Fishing is a popular past time on the refuge, both in the ponds such as the one found in the Montezuma Creek area, as well as from the banks of the Deep Fork River.
Page Photo Credits — River Otter / Chris Paul ©
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2016
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