Wildlife Observation

Photo: A male downy woodpecker using his tongue to forage on trees at the Overton Bottoms North Unit of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge by Ashley Riedel/USFWS.

Downy woodpeckers can be found all year round at the refuge where males can be seen foraging for insects on small branches and stems, while females prefer larger branches and trunks. These tiny woodpeckers are able to extend their very long tongues to eat foods larger woodpeckers cannot reach.

Tips for seeing wildlife:

  • Take your time. The people who see the most wildlife take time to stop and look, are alert, and are quiet.
  • Listen. One of the best ways to find an animal is to hear it first. Many animals are camouflaged very well and it takes a while to see them. If you hear their call you can get an approximate location, then look.
  • Watch for movement. Because they are so well camouflaged, sometimes the best way to see an animal is to watch for movement. Whether it is a tree rustling when there is no breeze, a flicker of movement out of the corner of your eye, or some other signal, many times movement will expose a hidden animal.
  • Timing. Plan your trip based on what you would like to see. 
    • If you want to see migratory birds, come in the spring or fall.
    • If you want to see turkeys, woodpeckers, or other resident wildlife, the best time to visit is late spring, summer, or early fall.
    • Dawn and dusk are the best times of the day to view most wildlife. Remember though, while most refuge units are open 24 hours, the land surrounding the Visitor Contact Station is only open one-half hour before sunrise and closes one-half hour after sunset.
  • Don't forget your binoculars or spotting scopes.
  • Look for signs of animals. Search for tracks, missing bark on trees, burrows, scat and other signs animals have been in the area.
  • Look in edge habitats. These are areas between different types of habitats; for example, where the plants meet the water, treetops or where the forest and meadow meet. These areas are wonderful places for wildlife.
  • If you are looking for a specific type of animal, do a little research and find out where they like to live. This can help you find the right spot to search.
  • Do not disturb a wild animal. Wild animals are unpredictable and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. It is best to view them from afar.
  • Be patient and enjoy your time outside.

Fun Viewing Challenge: See how many birds you can check off of this Big Muddy Bird Checklist!