Wildlife & Habitat

Key Cave Stilagmites

Pictured above is the bottom of a guano slide inside the cave 

The Refuge consists of rolling grassland, upland hardwoods, and crop land. Past farming practices have led to severe soil erosion problems. Initial management efforts were focused on controlling erosion, thus enhancing the water quality entering the underground cave system to benefit the endangered species inhabiting Key Cave.

Currently, approximately 295 acres are in row crop production (corn, soybeans, or wheat) under a Cooperative Farm Agreement, 327 acres are in early successional fields or native warm season grasses (big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, sideoats gramma, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass), 122 acres of former crop land have been planted to hardwoods, 30 acres of erosion drainages are being restored to grassland or hedgerow habitat, 16 acres are managed as shallow water areas, and the remaining 256 acres is forested land dominated by upland oaks and hickories.

Prescribed fire will be the primary management tool used to manage the grasslands. Management activities such as disking, haying, and grazing may also be used for grassland management.


  • Alabama Cavefish

    Cave Fish

    Known only from Key Cave, this blind, colorless fish lives in underground pools within the cave.  The Alabama cavefish is considered one of the rarest vertebrates in the world due to its limited habitat range and the infrequent sightings during past survey efforts. Conducted surveys indicate that offspring are occurring.  Gray bat guano provides food resources for the copepods, isopods, and amphipods living in the cave.  In turn, those animals are what the cavefish feed on.  Key Cave itself is closed to public entry; therefore, visitors to the refuge would not be able to observe these species.

  • Gray Bats

    Gray Bat

    The gray bat (Myotis grisescens) uses caves that are normally located within one mile of a river or reservoir.  They use warm caves in the summer for maternal breeding and bachelor colonies.  In the winter they relocate and hibernate in a few small cold caves.  Gray bats are sensitive to disturbance so entering Key Cave is not permitted.  Annually, biologists conduct bat emergence counts at Key Cave to estimate the total number of adult bats utilizing the cave.  Sometimes, after adult bat emergence has ended, biologists enter the cave to locate and estimate the number of newly born bats.

  • Northern Bobwhite

    Northern Bobwhite Quail 150 with credit

    The northern bobwhite, Colinus virginianus, is one of the most familiar quails in eastern North America.  It is likely during a visit to the refuge that you will hear and possibly see a bobwhite.  The body is the typical chunky, rounded shape as in other quail species.  Their bill is short, curved and brown-black in color.  Males of the species have a white throat and brow stripe bordered by black.  In males, plumage has gray mottling on the wings and a gray tail, and the flanks show white scalloped-shaped stripes.  The under parts are white with black scallops. 

  • Cave

    Opening to Key cave

    Key Cave NWR is located in karst limestone geology.   Lauderdale County, Alabama, is described as containing numerous springs and subterranean caverns.   From this karst geologic type, caves, sinks, sinking streams, springs, and underground streams and rivers occur. Not unlike other caves, Key Cave is described as being a “solutional cave”, one that has formed when bedrock dissolves by the chemical reaction of natural acid in groundwater seeping through overlying soils, through faults or joints, cracks in the bedrock or parent material. The largest and most abundant solutional caves are located in limestone.   Key Cave does contain several of these limestone formations.

  • Native Warm Season Grass (NWSG) Prairie

    Native Grass

    Three-hundred and twenty-seven (327) acres of the refuge are in early successional fields or native warm season grasses (big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, sideoats gramma, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass).  These grasses were planted over several years for the purposes of reestablishing grass prairie in this area of north Alabama where this habitat type historically occurred.