Wildlife & Habitat

Black bear in a field

To view a full list of species on the refuge, download Animals of the Great Dismal Swamp brochure (pdf) and Plants of the Great Dismal Swamp (pdf).

  • Birds

    Prothonotary warbler

    Over two hundred species of birds have been identified on the refuge; ninety-six of these species have been reported as nesting on or near the refuge. Two southern species, the Swainson's Warbler and Wayne's Warbler (a race of the Black-throated Green Warbler), are more common in the Great Dismal Swamp than in other coastal locations. Other birds of interest are the Wood Duck, Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, and Prothonotary Warbler. Winter brings massive movements of blackbirds and American Robins into the swamp.

    Birding is best during spring migration from April to June when the greatest diversity of species (particularly warblers) occurs. Although any species may turn up almost anywhere on the refuge, favorite birding locations are the Washington Ditch and Jericho Ditch trails.

    Photo credit:USFWS/MJohnson

    Download the refuge bird brochure (pdf) 

  • Butterflies

    Hessels Hairstreak

    Interest in butterflies and skippers has lured amateur and professional entomologist to the Dismal Swamp for some 80 years. There have been 96 species recorded within the boundaries of the refuge. Several species are completely dependent upon vanishing habitats still found within the swamp, at least six of which use switchcane as their only larval food source. The Hessel’s Hairstreak seeks nourishment from only Atlantic white-cedar,  a forest type considered rare by both the Virginia and the North Carolina Natural Heritage Programs.

  • Mammals


    At least forty-seven species of mammals can be found in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, representing most mammals found in Virginia. Visitors often see the white tailed deer. Other large and medium sized mammals present, but seen less often, include black bear, bobcat, river otter, mink, beaver, grey fox, red fox, raccoon, and ground hog. Smaller resident mammals include grey squirrel, southern flying squirrel, four species of shrew, six species of mice, one species of rat, two species of mole, two species of vole, and the southern bog lemming. Near sunset you can possibly see one of the ten species of bats documented as residents of the Great Dismal Swamp.

    Photo credit:USFWS/MJohnson

  • Forest


    The refuge is over 112,000 acres of contiguous forest, with the exceptions of Lake Drummond (3,100 acres), the Lateral West fire scar (6,300 acres), and a few other small marsh features. The forest is comprised of five major forest types: pine, Atlantic white-cedar, maple-blackgum, tupelo-bald cypress, and sweetgum-oak poplar. Currently red maple is the most abundant and widely distributed plant community, as it has expanded into other communities due to the lingering effects of past forest cutting, extensive draining, and the exclusion of forest fires. Tupelo gum-bald cypress and Atlantic white-cedar, formerly predominant forest types in the swamp, today account for less than 20 percent of the total cover and their recovery drive forest management activities.

  • Lake Drummond

    Lake Drummond

    Lake Drummond is the larger of only two natural lakes in Virginia.

    The lake is classified as a “Natural Lake Draw-Down Shores” habitat, historically benefiting from the seasonal exposure of the lake shore allowing for natural regeneration of bald cypress and tupelo gum. Today the water level is managed at the Feeder Ditch water control structure by the US Army Corp of Engineers. A cooperative agreement between the agencies allows for water  restrictions during periods of drought or emergencies on the refuge. Lake water is the main source of water for the Dismal Swamp Canal, a segment of the Intracoastal Waterway.

  • Marsh


    A 6,300 acre marsh is developing in the Lateral West (2011) and South One (2008) fire scar. The deep burning forest and ground fires reduced elevation in the scar as much as 5-6 feet. Today you will find some re-emerging hardwoods and vines, as well as abundant cattails and other more typical marsh vegetation. Scientist believe this is a repeat of a similar process that led to the formation of Lake Drummond some 4,000 years ago.