The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge has nearly 3,000 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp habitat. These areas consist of bald cypress and water tupelo trees, and because they are found in low-lying sites they may remain flooded often times all year. Thus, these trees have adapted to withstand long durations of flooding. They also provide good habitat for wading bird nesting colonies, cavities for bats to roost, and cavities for wood duck, hooded mergansers and prothonotary warblers. Because these trees are found in low-lying areas, many of these sites have not been harvested for timber, allowing many of the cypress trees to become large. Many of the cypress trees on Cat Island are several hundred years old.
Bottomland Hardwood Forests
Bottomland hardwoods are forests that are composed of hardwood tree species such as oak, elm, and hickory that thrive in lowland habitats, typically along river systems. These forests are highly diverse in species and very productive. Hardwood forests provide great quality habitat for white-tailed deer, waterfowl, crawfish, wading birds, and forest songbirds. Predominant hardwood species on Cat Island include green ash, water hickory, Nuttall oak, overcup oak, and sugarberry.
Flooding by the Mississippi River provides abundant food resources for wading birds at Cat Island NWR. As the river recedes, fish are restocked within drains and sloughs across the floodplain. As these wetlands dry, food resources become concentrated, providing good foraging habitat. Species commonly observed on the refuge include great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, and white ibises. Less common, but occasionally seen are little blue herons, tricolored herons, cattle egrets, green herons, black-crowned night herons, yellow-crowned night herons, roseate spoonbills, and wood stork.
Because of its location within the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley, and its forested habitat, Cat Island NWR provides good quality migration stopover and wintering grounds for mallards, green-winged teal, gadwall, and American wigeon. Wood ducks and hooded mergansers are year-round residents whose breeding populations are augmented in the winter by migrants from further north. As river levels increase and flood the refuge, waterfowl will utilize acorns and insects throughout the forest. Flooded forested habitat also provides thermal cover in mid-winter and pair bonding areas during early spring.