Wildlife & Habitat

Birds landing in a marsh

The refuge was established in 1943 primarily to benefit waterfowl in an area long famous as a wintering area for ducks and coots. Today, although waterfowl numbers in south Florida have declined, the refuge has become increasingly important for the endangered West Indian manatees which utilize many of the refuge’s tidal bays, creeks and rivers.

Chassahowitzka is unspoiled estuarine habitat along Florida’s west coast that serves as important breeding and feeding ground for marine life. Shallow bays support an abundant growth of muskgrass which provides food for various birds and the endangered manatee.

Inland from the bays are the brackish creeks and ponds where widgeongrass, watermilfoil and other foods grow in abundance. The eastern boundary provides a few thousand acres of swamp habitat where palms, oaks, cypress and red cedar grow. The outer islands consist mainly of red and black mangrove which provides habitat for colonial birds.

Chassahowitzka and Crystal River National Wildlife Refuges Bird List

Many species of birds, including double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, green herons, ospreys, white pelicans, and various species of waterfowl and songbirds are observed on the refuge. Other animals inhabiting the refuge include numerous alligators and raccoons. River otters are seen occasionally exhibiting their aquatic skills. Deer, turkey, black bear, and predators such as the bobcat are occasional residents of the refuge. Endangered and threatened species including nesting bald eagles, West Indian manatees, woodstorks, green sea turtles, Eastern indigo snakes and an occasional peregrine falcon are observed on the refuge. The refuge provides a place for approximately 250 species of birds, over 50 species of reptiles and amphibians and at least 25 different species of mammals. Because of this, visitors are likely to see a variety of animals during a journey through the refuge.