Seasons of Wildlife

Wintering waterfowl at the Cocklebur Slough Recreation Area: November - February 

Wintering forest songbirds: October – March 

Migrating songbirds: October – early November for fall, late March – early May for spring 

Resident water birds, mammals and reptiles: Year-around 

Featured Species

Gazing across the refuge’s pristine marshes, sloughs, expansive uplands and into the woodlands, it is easy to imagine Texas as it was before settlement. Clouds of snow geese in the winter or warbler “fallouts” in the spring further convince visitors they have stepped back in time. 
The area’s mild temperatures and moisture from the Gulf create an environment enticing to resident and migratory wildlife. San Bernard supports a diversity of coastal wildlife, including more than 320 species of birds, 95 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 450 species of butterflies and dragonflies. 
The refuge boundary starts where the Gulf of Mexico meets the shore. Countless migrating and nesting shorebirds, including the endangered piping plover, share this shoreline with nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. The beaches’ dunes not only support a diversity of wildlife, they also provide a buffer to the bordering bay estuaries and saltwater marshes. These watery ecosystems sustain massive oyster beds and serve as nurseries for shellfish and finfish, an important source of food for great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, and wood storks. Recreationally important fish species, like red drum, speckled trout and gulf flounder, encircle the small islands crowded with nesting colonial waterbirds including black skimmers and reddish egrets. 
Moving inland, the salty environment is diluted by the rivers and rainfall and the landscape is transformed into freshwater marshes, ponds and winding bayous. Here, emergent wetlands with cattails and rushes support purple gallinules, bitterns, frogs, crawfish, and alligators that sun themselves on the banks. Thousands of waterfowl fill these wetlands where they feed and rest, build up the reserves needed for a winter stay or to complete their migration. 
The change in salinity and elevation is especially reflected in the plant community. The diverse wetland habitat slowly blends into coastal prairie, shifting from smooth cordgrass and sea ox-eye daisy to Olney bulrush and baccharis. Eventually, the prairie’s switchgrass and blue stem species give way to the habitat for which the refuge is best known, the Columbia bottomlands.  

 These dense woods are made up of massive live oaks, green ash, hackberry, and pecan trees that follow the region’s rivers and sloughs. The forests undergo seasonal flooding and are essential habitat for wintering and migrating passerines. Exhausted from their flight across the Gulf, neotropical migratory birds depend on the bottomlands as a place to rest, feed and refuel before continuing their migration. The bottomland hardwood forests are in the floodplain of the Brazos, San Bernard and Colorado Rivers, all of which slowly work their way down the landscape to empty into the Gulf.  

Grey, white and black bird on sand in the foreground

Size: 18 cm (7.25 in) in length. Color: Breeding season: Pale brown above, lighter below; black band across forehead; bill orange with black tip; legs orange; white rump. Male: Complete or incomplete black band encircles the body at the breast. Female: Paler head band; incomplete breast band....

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A greenish brown sea turtle laying on the beach

The Kemp's ridley turtle is the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching about 2 feet in length and weighing up to 100 pounds. The adult Kemp's ridley has an oval carapace that is almost as wide as it is long and is usually olive-gray in color. The carapace has five pairs of costal...

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A brown and white patterned wading bird standing in grass on the edge of a wetland

The American Bittern is a medium-sized heron of approximately 60-85cm in length. Adult plumage is brown with heavy white streaks. A distinguishing feature of this bird is a black streak that extends from the eye down the side of its neck. Males and females are similar in appearance, but males...

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A large reptile basking in the sun on a log over still water surrounded by green vegetation

The American alligator is a large, semi-aquatic, armored reptile that is related to crocodiles. Their body alone ranges from 6 - 14 feet long. Almost black in color, it has prominent eyes and nostrils with coarse scales over the entire body. It has a large, long head with visible upper teeth...

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