Wildlife & Habitat

Pine trees on horizon behind marsh at Big Branch Marsh photo copyright Tom Carlisle

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, located on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, has over 18,000 acres of marsh, offshore grass beds, hardwood hammocks, and pine flatwood forest. The marshes provide habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, are critical spawning and nursery habitat for a number of fresh and saltwater species of fish, and are a buffer for storm surge for local communities. Upland habitat on the refuge provides a stopping place for neotropical songbird migrants and habitat for the threatened Red-cockaded Woodpecker. 

  • Pine Flatwoods

    Pine savannah habitat photo copyright Tom Carlisle

    Pine flatwood habitats historically burned periodically ignited naturally by lightning strikes. Southern pines — and many other pine habitats — are adapted to frequent low-intensity fires which inhibit the growth of shrubs and woody plants, while recycling nutrients and promoting the growth of grasses. Look for this habitat along the Boy Scout Road trail. The open areas of pine trees with a grassy understory are maintained through the Refuge's prescribed fire program.  

  • Marsh

    Marsh Habitat photo copyright Tom Carlisle

    The marshes between Lake Pontchartrain (which is actually an estuary) and the Refuge's pine lands are brackish — they have less salt than the Gulf of Mexico but are not fresh water. A healthy marsh helps protect and build land because plant roots hold soil in place and slow erosion. If marsh vegetation dies the land is easily washed away. Hurricane Katrina tore away much of the Refuge's marshes. Efforts to restore this habitat at the Refuge includes volunteer marsh grass planting projects and large scale marsh building projects using sediment dredged from Lake Ponchartrain. 


  • Birds

    Woodpecker on the side of a tree

    What makes the Red-cockaded Woodpecker unique among woodpeckers? What other birds might you find at the Refuge? Where are some good places to look for birds?

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  • American Alligator

    American Alligator courtesy of Marie Celino

    The American alligator is a large, semi-aquatic, armored reptile that is related to crocodiles. Once endangered, the alligator has made a comeback due to protections from the endangered species act and thoughtful wildlife management. Today there are over two million gators in the state of Louisiana, most in coastal marshes.

    Learn more

  • Brown Pelican

    Two Brown Pelicans

    " A wonderful bird is the pelican, its bill can hold more than its belly can." The Brown Pelican is another endangered species success story. Once on the brink of extinction, due to several factors including egg shell thinning because of the pesticide DDT in fish the birds ate, Brown Pelicans are now a frequent sight on the gulf coast. 

    Learn more about the brown pelican