Seasons of Wildlife

Fortunately, except for some migratory birds and wildflowers, most species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals can be seen year-round at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. Most amphibians and reptiles may not be easily seen during the cooler months (November through February), but they will come out during warm or sunny days during those months.  

Most wildflowers start blooming in late spring (May) and continue through late fall (October). Although the refuge is not really known for wildflowers, many can be seen in the butterfly garden at Champion Lake or along the miles of refuge trails that are not regularly mowed. 

The refuge is used by over 200 species of birds, many of which can be seen under the right conditions, year-round. Most species of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, swallows, sparrows, tanagers, ducks and more use various parts of the refuge for days or weeks while on their way up north to breed during the spring (March to May). The same can be said for these same species heading back south to Central and South America during the fall (late August to early November) to their winter homes. A few species of these migratory birds do stick around the refuge for most of the year such as Wood Duck, Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, White-eyed Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and many others. The one bird some people travel the country to see on the refuge is the Swallow-tailed Kite. It can easily be seen from April to August.

The refuge is home to many heron and egret rookeries, which may include Neotropic Cormorant and Double-crested Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill and Anhinga nesting. Although these can be seen throughout the year, they are much more common when heading back to their nightly roost. Many species of woodpeckers can be seen throughout the year, but the winter months are usually better without leaves on most of the trees. These include: Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers. The refuge owns a portion of the property (Gaylor Lake area) where the last Ivory-billed Woodpecker was seen (actually collected) in Texas in 1904. 

Featured Species

Alligator Snapping Turtle 

Alligator snapping turtle habitat tends to be deeper water of large rivers with well-defined channels but they can also be found in lakes, ponds, swamps, and bayous, as well as brackish coastal waters. It is the largest freshwater turtle found in the world. They are confined largely to river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. It possesses a pink, fleshy, worm-like appendage located on the floor of the mouth. When wriggled, this process acts as a lure to attract fish or other potential prey items. The refuge may serve as a reintroduction site for this turtle in the future. 

Swallow-tailed Kite 

Swallow-tailed kites inhabit mostly woodland and forested wetlands near nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water. Both male and female participate in building the nest. Sometimes a high-pitched chirp is emitted, though the birds mostly remain silent. The swallow-tailed kite feeds on small reptiles, large insects, small birds and eggs, and small mammals. It drinks by skimming the surface and collecting water in its beak. 

Alligator Gar 

Alligator gar are usually found in slow sluggish waters, although running water seems to be necessary for spawning. Alligator gar are present in the Gulf of Mexico coastal plain from the Econfina River in west Florida west and south to Veracruz, Mexico. The species range extends north in the Mississippi River basin to the lower reaches of the Missouri and Ohio rivers. An isolated population also occurs in Nicaragua. In Texas, alligator gar may be found in coastal rivers and streams from the Red River west to the Rio Grande. 

Little Blue Heron 

This species feeds in the shallows of marine and freshwater marshes, where water and vegetation meet. Named for its slate blue plumage, the Little Blue Heron blends in well with dark marsh plants. However, these birds are white for their first year, associating with other white egrets that feed in open habitats. The Little Blue Heron's breeding habitat is subtropical swamps. It nests in colonies, often with other herons, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. The little blue heron eats fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, and reptiles. It stands in shallow water and waits for its prey to go by, and then it grabs its prey with its pointed bill. 

Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat 

Bottomland hardwood forests in east Texas are the western extent of the range of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats. This bat is considered uncommon throughout its range, with the refuge having the largest known colony in Texas. The bats are dependent upon mature, healthy bottomland forests that feature open mid-stories for foraging and mature, live trees with hollow cavities for raising young. With continued bat research and acquisition of bottomland hardwood forests, the refuge may be able to assist in keeping this State-threatened animal off the Federal list.