Wildlife & Habitat

A Sunset Scene

Lake Ophelia NWR is located in the Mississippi Flyway, which is a critically important region for migrating waterfowl in North America as well as southern breeding populations of wood ducks. Infrastructure to provide intensive and highly productive management of moist soil, cooperative farming and Lake Ophelia’s geographical location in the Mississippi flyway combine to attract thousands of mallards, pintail, teal, gadwall and wood ducks during the winter. Prior to refuge establishment, the land was intensively farmed, and a series of man-made levees, irrigation ditches, pumps, and water control structures were constructed to facilitate farming. Most of these features still occur on the Refuge and are currently used to manage water levels within impoundments for waterfowl and shorebirds.

  • Louisiana Black Bear

    LA Black Bear

    Louisiana Black Bear

     The Louisiana black bear is federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  It is one of 16 recognized subspecies of the American black bear, and was once widespread in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. With large-scale conversion of millions of acres of bottomland hardwood forests in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley to agriculture, habitat loss severely impacted bear populations.

    The Louisiana black bear is an opportunistic omnivore who mostly eats fruits, nuts, plants, and insects.  While they do consume meat, it is generally carrion or an opportunistic kill.  Distribution and abundance of food have a direct correlation to Louisiana black bear movement.  If food is abundant and easy to find, bears don't have to move very far.  Males typically move much farther than females in search of mates and young males may travel extreme distances dispersing from their families  

    Females reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age.  Bears breed in the summer, generally from June to August, and cubs are born in the den in late winter.  Dens are usually in tree cavities or on the ground.  Cubs usually stay with their mother until their second summer, when they leave her and begin searching for their own territory

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  • White-tailed deer

    Buck deer

    White-tailed deer

    White-tailed deer are a common year-round resident on Lake Ophelia NWR.  Popular with hunters and wildlife viewers alike, deer can be seen all over the refuge.  Deer are habitat generalists, and can find plentiful food on and around the refuge.  In forests, deer eat herbaceous plants, woody plants, acorns, and fruit.  They will also venture into nearby agricultural fields for soybeans and other crops. 

     Before human interference, white-tailed deer coexisted on Lake Ophelia NWR with wolves and cougars, both of which are no longer present in the area.  Wolves and cougars helped keep deer populations in check through natural predation.  Today, with natural predators mostly gone, hunting is essential to maintain healthy populations of deer and keep them from doing damage to the forest.  When deer overpopulate, they are more susceptible to diseases and parasites.  They can also harm the forest by eating plant material so that few trees or shrubs can regenerate.   

    Today, deer populations on the refuge are closely monitored.  Refuge staff collects age, sex, and size data from harvested deer during hunting season and conduct browse surveys during the spring to monitor what deer are eating.  The refuge also works closely with Louisiana department of Wildlife and Fisheries for professional consultations and management plans.

  • Bottomland Hardwood Forest


    Bottomland Hardwood Forests 

    Bottomland hardwoods are forests that are composed of hardwood tree species such as oak, elm, and hickory that thrive in lowland habitats, typically along river systems.   These forests are highly diverse in species and very productive.  Hardwood forests provide great quality habitat for white-tailed deer, waterfowl, wading birds, and forest songbirds. The Refuge consists of a mix of habitat types primarily resulting from a ridge and swale topography, including mature bottomland hardwood forests, reforested areas, cropland habitats, moist soil habitats, and permanent water (aquatic) habitats.