Habitats Intro

The most important part of a wildlife refuge is the habitats it provides for its wildlife. Each animal found on the Refuge has a specific type of habitat that it prefers and needs to survive. "Ding" Darling contains a number of different habitat types that provide for the specific needs of each species found on the Refuge.

  • Freshwater Marsh

    Freshwater Promo

    Freshwater marshes are wetland habitats that do not contain salt water and are non-tidal. Common plants that are found within freshwater marshes are Sand Cordgrass, Cattails, and Giant Lether Ferns. They provide homes for a number of freshwater fish and invertebrates. Freshwater marshes are also a good place to find wading birds like herons and egrets, marsh birds like sora and rails, and waterfowl such as ducks. At the Refuge, a freshwater habitat can be easily explored at the Bailey Tract, which is also the best place on the Refuge to find alligators.

  • Mangrove Forest and Swamps

    Mangroves Promo

    This is a habitat type that truly defines the Refuge because it is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. Mangrove swamps provide a unique habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. A large variety of birds, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other invertebrates depend on mangrove swamps for survival for all or part of their lives. There are three species of mangrove found on the Refuge: Red, White, and Black.

  • Open Water

    Habitats Promo

    What many visitors to the Refuge don't realize is that the Refuge includes more than the lands, trees, and islands we can walk on. Refuge property also includes the expanses of open water that shape the land, allowing marine wildlife such as fish, manatees, and alligators the same protection that it gives to terrestrial birds and mammals. Water control structures throughout Wildlife Drive help regulate water levels to provide appropriate habitat for bird migrations. Freshwater open water habitats on the Refuge include Smith Pond, Ani Pond, and Red Mangrove Pond, which are located in the Bailey Tract. Tarpon Bay is an open water saltwater bay which provides habitat for larger marine species such as dolphins and manatees.

  • Tidal Flats and Mudflats

    Tidal Flat Promo

    In many parts of the Refuge, the water level is so low that when the tide goes out, there is no water left. This creates mud flats that are the perfect feeding grounds for shorebirds and wading birds. Many small invertebrates such as crustaceans and insects are more easily accessible when the tides go down and expose the sandy, muddy bottom, and birds flock to these areas to find themselves a tasty meal. 

  • Tropical Hardwood Hammock

    Tropical Hardwood Hammock Promo

    Not all of the Refuge is swampy and wet. If you take a walk down the Calusa Shell Mound Trail you will notice hardwood trees instead of mangroves and that there is no running water along the trail except for the occasional puddle. This area was once home to the Calusa Indians, and if you look hard enough you may be able to see some of their ancient shell mounds visible through the trees off this trail. Today, this part of the Refuge is a good place to see songbirds that might prefer a thicker hardwood forest instead of swampy mudflats. Three easily identifiable trees are found in this habitat: Gumbo Limbo trees, Sea Grape trees, and Strangler Figs. Gumbo Limbo trees, nicknamed as the "tourist tree" can be identified by their red, peeling bark, similar to a sunburn. Sea Grape trees are characterized by their large, round leaves and the green, grape-like fruit it bears in the spring. Strangler Figs can be seen growing in the branches of a host tree until it engulfs the entire tree, eventually killing the host tree.

  • Seagrass Beds

    Manatee Grass Promo

    Seagrass beds occur in shallow, sunny waters. Creating highly productive ecosystems, the grasses provide shelter to many marine species like crustaceans, mollusks, and fish. The thick grasses provide protection for young fish and the larval forms of many sea creatures. The grasses are also an important food source for larger marine wildlife like manatees. Two types of seagrass beds can be found on the Refuge: Manatee Grass and Turtle Grass.