Wildlife & Habitat

King Rail

Morgan Brake NWR was established in 1977 via the Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act to contribute to the perpetuation of the migratory waterfowl resource in the lower Mississippi River Delta and for the conservation, maintenance and management of the wildlife resource and its habitat.

  • Migratory Birds


    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.

    Mallards are the most abundant wintering waterfowl species, followed by gadwall, green-wing teal, pintails, and shovelers.

    Wading bird rookeries exist on Hillside and Morgan Brake NWRs. Nesting species include
    the great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, little blue heron, cattle egret, black-crowned night
    heron, anhinga, and tricolored heron.

    About 20 species of shorebirds use Morgan Brake NWRs, where moist-soil habitat is managed intensively. Shorebirds include the avocets, oystercatchers, phalaropes, plovers, sandpipers, stilts, snipes, and turnstones. They are usually small bodied with long thin bills. The differences in their bill lengths and shape allow the different shorebird species to forage for food within their habitat either on dry soil, mud, or in shallow water. Shorebird migration spans a great distance. During the spring, summer and fall migration, shorebirds rest and feed at stopover locations including refuges in the Theodore Roosevelt NWR Complex. Shorebirds eat a variety of invertebrate prey such as worms, insect larva, amphipods, copepods, crustaceans, and mollusks.

    In 2013, black-necked stilts were documented nesting at Morgan Brake NWR. Previously, this species only utilized the refuge as a stopover location during migration. Black-necked stilts nest on the ground. They tend to build on surfaces above water, such as small islands, clumps of vegetation, or even, occasionally, floating mats of algae. Black-necked stilts are semi-colonial when nesting, and they participate en masse in anti-predator displays. The displays include one in which non-incubating birds fly up to mob predators, and one in which all birds encircle a predator, hop up and down, and flap their wings.

    Marsh birds are a group of water birds including rails, bitterns, grebes, gallinules and snipe that typically inhabit dense, emergent wetlands. These species are known for their secretive nature; they are seldom seen or heard because they vocalize infrequently and prefer inaccessible wetland habitat. A large rail of freshwater marshes, the king rail has declined alarmingly in much of its range over the last 40 years. King rails utilize managed wetlands at Morgan Brake NWR. The species has been identified as a focal species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to severe population declines in the northern, central and eastern parts of its range in North America. 

  • Invasive Species

    Invasive Nutria

    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.

  • Native Wildflowers


    Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals.

  • Bottomland Hardwood Forest

    Bottomland Hardwood - Promo List - 150 x 118

    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.

  • Loess Bluffs

    Wildlife and Hab-Game Spp Promo-150x118

    The loess bluffs adjacent to Hillside and Morgan Brake NWRs support a completely different floral assemblage. Some trees, such as northern red oak, swamp chestnut oak, Florida maple, yellowwood, and cucumber tree are considered unusual in the Delta. American beech, tulip poplar, white oak, red buckeye, and hornbeam, among other species, occupy the lower and middle loess slopes, with flowering dogwood, southern red oak, and black gum at the top of the bluff. Refuge staff identified 44 species of woody plants on a cursory survey of a very small area on the bluff. Herbaceous species included abundant jack-in-the pulpit, Christmas fern, and trillium.