Wildlife & Habitat

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Mathews Brake National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 2,418 acres in west-central Mississippi. Established in 1980, the primary habitat feature of the Refuge is Mathews Brake, the largest brake in Leflore County. Each winter the brake provides habitat for over 30,000 ducks.

  • Migratory Birds

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    The largest brake in Leflore County, Mathews Brake NWR was established as an inviolate sanctuary for migratory birds. Mallards, gadwall, widgeon, blue-winged teal and pintails are the more common waterfowl species during winter.

    One of the most impressive values of the refuge is its importance as a wood duck production area. The shallow buttonbush/cypress swamp interspersed with bottomland ridges and open water provide ideal nesting and brood habitat for wood ducks. During early spring the wood duck and hooded merganser nest on the refuge.

    Several species of marsh and wading birds may be found on the refuge including great, snowy and cattle egrets, and great blue, little blue, green and yellow-crowned night herons. Rare visitors include wood storks and roseate spoonbills.

    The refuge provides important stop-over and nesting habitat for several species of Neotropical migratory birds. Prothonotary, northern parula and yellow-throated warblers are just a few of the more common songbirds that can be observed during the spring and summer months.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partner agencies manage for migratory birds based on specific migratory routes or flyways within North America (Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific). The migratory paths are influenced by geography, wind, and weather patterns. Refuges within the Theodore Roosevelt Complex are located in the Mississippi flyway. Over 800 species of migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was one of the first environmental laws established in 1916. More than 225 species of migratory birds use the Complex, with 77 species breeding on Complex lands.

  • Invasive Species

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    Invasive exotic species are non-native species which have been introduced into an ecosystem, and, because of their aggressive growth habits and lack of natural predators, displace native species. For more information about how the FWS deals with invasive species, please visit http://www.fws.gov/invasives.

    Several invasive species occur on the Complex. Some of the more prominent and obvious are feral hogs, coyote, nutria, and armadillo. These species were either accidentally released and became acclimated to living in the wild, were intentionally released for sport or trade, or have expanded their ranges. These invasive species have been sporadically suppressed by lethal means.

    Invasive plants, insects, and smaller organisms are more difficult to recognize and monitor. The Complex does not have an invasive species monitoring program to detect initial introductions, rate of spread, and impacts. However, several invasive plants, such as alligator weed, kudzu, and cogongrass are known to occur, displacing native vegetation. Attempts at control have been opportunistic and sporadic, using both biological and chemical means.

  • Open Water Wetlands

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    Wetland ecosystems are some of the most biologically diverse habitats on earth. Open water wetlands are primarily dominated by cypress. Cypress are found in poorly drained, saturated soils with high levels of organic matter. At Mathews Brake NWR, water levels are influenced by rainfall and flow from Abiaca Creek. Plant diversity is high due to unpredictable water level, topography, and recruitment from the surrounding habitat. The deep, open water areas of Mathews Brake have degraded over the years due to heavy sedimentation loads carried in by Abiaca Creek.

  • Bottomland Hardwood Forest

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    Prior to European settlement, the Delta cover type was primarily bottomland hardwood forest. Around 1820, settlers began clearing the forest. The dominant forest type was oak-gum-cypress, with canebrakes covering the understory of broad flats on slightly higher ground. Canebrakes were very extensive on natural levees, forming almost pure stands. Most of the surviving forests now occupy low-lying ground that is too wet for agriculture, and are dominated by wet-site species. These forested wetlands have a fluctuating water level and are semi-dry part of the year.