Wildlife & Habitat

Check out the species below and their associated habitats to learn more about wildlife you may encounter while on the refuge!

Also see our Patuxent Species List (pdf).

  • Scarlet Tanager

    Scarlet tanager - Les Brooks.

    The scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) is a medium sized song bird native to the northeast upland forest. Tanagers are often hard to spot as they frequent the highest reaches of the tree canopy. The brilliant red and black plumage of the breeding male is a treat to see. Tanagers seek out insects during the summer months and fruits during migration back to their wintering grounds in the tropics. They are sensitive to habitat fragmentation, and prefer large tracts of undisturbed mature deciduous forest like those found on the refuge. Look for them along scarlet tanager Loop and on the tram tour.

  • Upland Forest

    Upland hardwood forest - USFWS.

    Upland forests comprise a majority of the refuge’s land base. These forests, and surrounding lands, are often referred to as the “green lungs” for the mid-Atlantic region – particularly for the Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas. Upland forest communities consist of shrubs and trees at various stages, or age levels and prefer drier soils. A variety of mature tree species such as American beech, hickory, tulip poplar and dogwood are common to this area. Upland forests also contain patches of dry oak-pine forests and small forested temporary wetlands called vernal pools. Patuxent’s upland forests support the second highest diversity of species within the refuge. Visitors to the refuge might glimpse the scarlet tanager in this habitat type.

  • Native Bee

    Bee laden with pollen - S Noyes.

    Did you know there are at least 155 bee species on the refuge? Native bees are very important pollinators-crucial to the production of many fruits, nuts and berries for people and wildlife.

    About 18 regionally rare native bees are likely to occur in the sandy soils of the oak-pine savannah habitat found on the refuge’s North Tract. Bees favor this habitat type for the occasional patches of bare nesting ground, and for the variety vegetation found in the understory. Native bees come in different shapes and sizes to specialize on their preferred flower species, they do not form large colonies like European honey bees do, and they are not prone to sting. Look closely at the legs….do you see their “pollen baskets”?

  • Oak-pine Savannah Barrens

    Oak-pine Savannah Barren

    On the refuge’s North Tract visitors can see oak-pine savannah, a habitat type unique not only to the region but to the entire mid-Atlantic area. It once ranged from New Jersey all across northern Maryland. The refuge’s oak-pine savannahs are a result of deep sand deposits, transported here by the Little Patuxent River and spread by wind over millions of years. Rare plant and insect species have adapted to this barren habitat type. Oak-pine savannahs are best maintained through the use of controlled burns. In spring and summer, visitors to this part of the refuge may see one of the many types of native bees here!

  • American Shad

    Drawing of American shad - USFWS.

    The American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is the largest of all shad and is native to the area. It is also referred to as “white shad” or “Atlantic shad.” American shad spend the majority of their life at sea. However, this anadromous fish (able to switch between fresh and salt water), migrates back to its original freshwater hatch site to spawn in the spring. Shad are highly migratory species, traveling to the Gulf of Maine to their summer feeding grounds, covering thousands of miles in their lifespan.

  • Coastal Plain River & Stream Habitats

    Patuxent River - USFWS.

    The refuge encompasses approximately 68 riparian miles of the Patuxent, Little Patuxent, and Anacostia River watersheds. The Patuxent and Little Patuxent rivers both cross directly through the refuge. These forested river and stream habitats, or riparian areas, provide spawning, nursery, migration, and year-round habitat for many species in Maryland. Riparian areas are rich in plant and wildlife diversity and are vital in protecting our valuable water sources. Riparian areas also serve as filtration buffers for excess sediment and nutrient overloads, in addition to maintaining temperature control for nearby air and water.

  • Eastern Red Bat

    Eastern red bat - NPS.

    The eastern red bat (Lasarius borealis) is one of the most common species of forest bats. These mammals sleep in hollow trees, especially when nursing young, or may roost in the leaf litter on the ground during the winter. Bats provide a valuable service…insect consumption. Bats can capture 500-1000 mosquitoes in a single hour, using echolocation to locate their prey. Come to an evening program at Patuxent to look for bats, or look around street lights in forested communities where you may see the silhouette of a bat flying by.

  • Floodplain Forests

    Floodplain Forest

    Floodplain forests are in a stream or river’s flooding footprint. These forests experience seasonal flooding which varies in frequency, duration and severity, generating a rich diversity of plants and animals. The variety of trees and shrubs found in this habitat type do not mind “getting their feet wet.” Floodplain forests support the greatest diversity of species within the refuge and are important stopover sites for migrating birds and bats. Fifty-four species of invertebrates, birds, reptiles, and amphibians listed as species of greatest conservation need are found in the refuge’s floodplain forests.