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Wildlife & Habitat


Covering over 40,000 acres in Yazoo and Humphreys Counties, Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is the largest refuge in the state of Mississippi. Its expansive bottomland hardwood forests, cypress-tupelo sloughs, and meandering bayous represent some of the best remaining examples of the historically predominant habitat types that once characterized the entire Mississippi floodplain.

  • American Alligator


    American Alligators are normally not aggressive creatures, except when it is a mother alligator defending her young. Travelling up and down the east and west levee of the Whittington Channel most days will give you a chance to see multiple alligators sunning at the water’s edge. While alligators typically avoid humans and human activity, occasionally they do cause conflicts with humans. It is illegal and very dangerous for the public to capture and remove or kill an alligator without special permit from the MDWFP.

  • White-Tailed Deer

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    The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was designated the State of Mississippi land mammal in 1974. White-tailed deer are highly adaptable species and thrive in a variety of habitats. The areas that provide the most suitable environment include a mixture of hardwoods, croplands, brushlands and pasturelands. They prefer an interspersed habitat including meadows, forested woodlots, brushy areas and croplands.

    An animal of incredible beauty and power, white-tailed deer are able to run up to 40 miles per hour, jump 9 foot fences, and swim 13 miles per hour. The white underside of the deer's tail waves when running and is flashed as a warning when danger is sensed. Both native Americans and settlers relied on the white-tailed deer for buckskin and food.

    White-tailed deer require a variety of foods for growth and reproduction. During the spring through fall, they feed on grasses, legumes, weeds, fruit, agricultural crops and the tender growth of shrubs, trees and vines. Their diet subsists of acorns, green growth, woody plant stems and evergreen leaves during the fall and winter. Their food sources need to be less than 4 ½ feet from the ground.

    Deer have few natural predators and are managed primarily through hunting. As their population in certain areas increases, so does disease and parasites that can ultimately cause widespread die-offs. There are a number of land management techniques for controlling deer habitat including prescribed burning, timber thinning and food plantings.

  • Wood Duck

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    The wood duck (Aix sponsa) was designated Mississippi’s official state waterfowl in 1974. Besides being one of the most beautiful ducks in North America, wood ducks also are important game birds. They are usually first or second in the harvest of all ducks in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, which is the primary range of the wood duck on this continent. Indeed, wood ducks contribute significantly to the economy derived from waterfowl hunting in Mississippi and these two flyways.

    Wood ducks are cavity nesting ducks, meaning they nest in holes of trees (created by woodpeckers and/or by natural decay after limb breakage) and artificial boxes constructed and maintained by wildlife managers. Nest boxes, which are usually made of wood, have been used widely for over 60 years to establish and increase wood duck populations throughout the United States and Canada. It is believed that nest boxes are especially important for wood duck production in Mississippi and other southeastern states because
    suitable natural cavities are scarce.

    Due in part to the scarcity of natural cavities and nest boxes in many areas, several hens may lay their eggs in a single cavity or box, resulting in “dump nests." These are aggregations of eggs larger than the normal clutch size of about I5 eggs. Wildlife scientists in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center at Mississippi State University have found over 75 eggs in a nest box.

    Extraordinary numbers of eggs in nest boxes can decrease wood duck productivity, because hens cannot effectively incubate and hatch such large clutches.

  • Bottomland Hardwood Forest

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    Panther Swamp NWR was established in 1978 with the initial purchase of the 12,022 acre Curran Tract from The Nature Conservancy. It has one of the largest remaining contiguous blocks of bottomland hardwood forest in the state, at over 28,000 acres. This forest is interspersed with numerous wooded sloughs, cypress-tupelo brakes and bayous, moist soil areas and wetlands.

    Prior to European settlement, the Lower Mississippi Valley was covered with over 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest that supported a rich diversity of fish and wildlife species. Historically, the dominant forest type was oak-gum-cypress. Canebrakes covered the broader flats on slightly higher ground, forming extensive nearly pure stands beneath huge bottomland hardwood trees. Settlers began clearing the forest in the early 1800’s. Today more than 75 percent of the forest coverage has been lost to land clearing operations for agriculture, transportation, industrialization, and urbanization. The remaining 4.8 million acres of forest are isolated islands of habitat surrounded by cotton, corn, rice, and bean fields. Most of the surviving forests now occupy low ground dominated by water tolerant species.

    Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has an active forest management program. Refuge staff periodically conduct timber harvests to improve the forest composition and increase wildlife habitat values. Each timber harvest operation generates revenues that are returned to the U.S. Treasury.

    Extensive flats on Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge support scattered deciduous holly in the mid-story, while higher elevations are dominated by extensive stands of dwarf palmetto. Hardwoods on higher sites include willow oak, sweetgum, black locust, water oak and sweet pecan. Although willow oak is a predominant tree species on Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, water oak and sweet pecan are not as abundant as on the other refuges. Prominent vines include poison ivy, crossvine, Virginia creeper, muscadine grape and false grape in forested areas, and ladies’ eardrops, peppervine and trumpet creeper in more open situations.

  • Moist Soil Units

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    In order to provide quality waterfowl habitat, refuge management activities focus on the availability of food resources, habitat diversity and providing sanctuary. Moist soil units are one of the more common habitat types managed to provide ducks and other migratory birds with necessary feeding and resting areas.

  • Croplands

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    Croplands are managed using a cooperative farming program. Under this program, a local farmer has an agreement with the refuge so that he can farm on refuge land. In return for the use of the land, the farmer must plant and leave 25% of the crop for wildlife. Typically, corn, soybeans, milo, and wheat are planted on a rotational basis. These cropland areas are excellent for wildlife viewing, offering excellent opportunities to see white-tailed deer, Louisiana black bear, and waterfowl during the winter months.

Last Updated: Sep 08, 2014
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