Wildlife & Habitat

Black bear

Black bears are just one of the many different species of wildlife that call Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge "home".

  • American Alligator

    American Alligator

    Both a fearsome predator and a tender parent, the alligator is the swamp’s most famous resident.  On the brink of extinction in the 1960s, the gator is now flourishing thanks to the Endangered Species Act.  Alligators are often seen basking on sunny banks or roadsides in cool weather, and are plentiful in the swamp and Suwannee Canal year-round.  Mama gators are the only reptiles that care for both the eggs and the young; the orange-and-black striped babies can often be seen riding on mama’s back or head!  Gators “bellow” in spring and summer, a deep growl that establishes territory or attracts a mate.  Rrrrrrrr!  

  • Sandhill Crane

    Sandhill Crane 150x118

    The vast open prairies within the Okefenokee Swamp are home to a variety of wading birds such as egrets, herons, ibises, wood storks, and the sandhill crane.  The sandhill crane is a tall, gray bird with a characteristic red crown. They nest March-April in solitary pairs, hiding their nest among the tall grasses and shrubs.  They eat frogs, insects, small rodents, as well as vegetation. Listen for the distinctive bugle-like call. 

  • Gopher Tortoise

    Gopher Tortoise

    Gopher tortoises are dry-land turtles that prefer to live in relatively well-drained, sandy soils generally associated with longleaf pine and dry oak sandhills.  The tortoises are currently protected under federal law in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Being a terrestrial turtle, and being equipped with strong legs and feet specialized for digging, the gopher tortoise is well-adapted for digging burrows.  Their burrows provide protection from predators as well as provide a place of refuge for various other species.  The gopher tortoise is a keystone species meaning that other species, such as the gopher frog and indigo snake, would experience drastic change if the tortoise and its burrows did not exist.  The tortoise thrives in longleaf pine forest, although habitat destruction and fragmentation pose a threat to the species.  

  • Longleaf Pine

    Longleaf pine

    Longleaf pine forests in the southeast was once the greatest forest on earth, covering over 90 million acres. Today, only about 3 percent remain of the once majestic forest. The unique ecosystem of the longleaf pine is highly adaptive to fire. Historically, fire swept through these forests every 1 to 10 years, mostly due to lightning strikes. Fire is essential in this ecosystem to enable new seeds to germinate and grow. Longleaf pine forests thrive in well-drained, sandy soils, and the savanna like vegetation of the longleaf pine supports many different species. Red-cockaded woodpeckers have become specially adapted to longleaf pine, and will utilize living trees to excavate their cavity.

  • Okefenokee Swamp

    Oke Swamp

    If Captain Harry Jackson had his way, there would be no Okefenokee Swamp. The Suwannee Canal was built to drain the wetlands and turn it into farmland and homesteads, but when he ran out of money, that plan was abandoned. Later, a lumber company devoured the ancient cypress forest, then left. In 1937, Okefenokee became a National Wildlife Refuge and began its slow healing back to its former glory. Even though the manmade canal, canoe trails, overnight platforms, and a few old cabins have remained, the Wilderness Act allows most of the 630 square mile refuge to remain wild.