Important Bird Areas

Little River Bottoms


The Little River Bottoms is 18,000 acres of nearly contiguous lowland habitat bounded by AR-355 on the east, the Little River watershed on the south, and Millwood Lake IBA on the west and north. This land is composed of flood-basin swamp, bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, cypress brakes, savannahs, and wetland grassy areas. It is among the largest contiguous tracts of bottomland hardwoods anywhere in the Gulf Coastal Plain of the U.S. The area has been protected by several private hunting clubs as wildlife habitat for over a century. Nacatoch Ravines Natural Area (AR Natural Heritage Commission) and Little River Wildlife Management Area (AR Game & Fish Commission) are part of the IBA.

Within the Little River Bottoms, Grassy Lake and the Yellow Creek drainage have been designated by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission as an ?Ecologically Sensitive Waterbody.? Grassy Lake was evaluated by the National Park Service as a potential Natural National Landmark because it ?contains the finest example of a sizeable stand of virgin baldcypress in Arkansas.? The Little River Bottoms supports many plant and animal species of conservation concern at the state and continental levels. It has the largest breeding population of American Alligators in Arkansas, supports nationally significant nesting colonies of wading and waterbirds, and contains some of the oldest (> 350 year old) baldcypress trees in Arkansas. The North American Bird Conservation Initiative identified the Little River Bottoms watershed as critical waterfowl and neotropical migrant bird habitat. In general, the biotic diversity of this area is among the greatest of any area or ecosystem in Arkansas.

Ornithological Summary

The site supports what may be the largest waterbird rookery in the state with over 11,000 herons, egrets, night-herons, bitterns, ibis, and Anhingas. A significant proportion of the state?s breeding Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Anhingas, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, White Ibises, Purple Gallinules, and Common Moorhens breed on site. Thousands of wintering waterfowl gather in the cypress stands as well.
The ornithological value of the Little River Bottoms lies not with just one particular species, but in the exceptional diversity and numbers of birds of conservation concern that the site harbors, as well as the contiguous, high quality bird habitat it provides. This is especially true for waterbirds and waterbird habitat. It is highly unlikely that any other place in the state supports such large and diverse populations of breeding waterbirds (i.e. waterfowl, herons, egrets, bitterns, ibis, storks, and rails) as this site. In fact, the Little River Bottoms likely supports the largest breeding populations in the state for some species, and may serve as a source population for other sites. That is, if numbers of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Anhingas, White Ibis, Common Moorhens, Purple Gallinules, and others were to decline at this site, populations in surrounding sites could dwindle or disappear as well.
The Little River Bottoms serves as a stronghold for birds of conservation concern because it is a relatively large block of contiguous habitat that has been relatively undisturbed for a long period of time. It is visited most often in the winter by a small number of hunt club members. Breeding waterbirds benefit from the seclusion in the summer; they probably would not nest in such large numbers if frequently disturbed by people.

Conservation Issues

Southwestern Electric Power Company proposes to build a coal-fired power plant adjacent to the east side of the IBA. The power plant threatens birds with air and water contamination from emissions (SO2, NOx, Hg, and particulates), habitat fragmentation through establishment of power line corridors, disturbance through construction activities and increased rail and road traffic, invasion of exotic species and nest predators along power line corridors, avian collisions with tall structures and powerlines, and the long-term effects of global warming. In addition, the plant will draw 10 million gallons of water per day from Millwood Lake through the Little River, and release warmed water.

The area?s natural hydrological cycle was eliminated by the Millwood dam. This has resulted in impaired water quality (no overbank flooding and flushing), sedimentation, excessive emergent and submergent vegetation (e.g. pennywort, lotus, loosestrife), increased cypress tree mortality but decreased regeneration, and decreased waterfowl abundance and diversity. The Army Corps of Engineers and AR Game and Fish Commission are working on a water management plan for the system.


The bulk of the area is privately owned by several hunting clubs and land trusts. The remaining property is owned by Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission or Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.


The ecosystem was formed under, and is sustained by, seasonal and long-term dynamic flooding and soil saturation regimes caused by local and regional precipitation and runoff and fluctuating water levels of the Red and Little Rivers. Timing, depth, duration, extent, and source of flood water varies among depending on elevation, geomorphic setting, proximity to the rivers, and underlying aquifer settings. The lowest elevation backswamp depressions, such as Grassy Lake, are flooded throughout most years and support rich aquatic and submergent hydrophytic vegetation with herbaceous emergent plants on basin margins. Higher elevations within, or on the edges of, these basins and drainages support baldcypress trees and woody scrub/shrub habitats dominated by buttonbush, willow, and swamp privet. Slightly higher elevations, such as point bar terraces, that contain surface water for 3-6 months of most years, contain a low elevation bottomland hardwood community dominated by overcup oak, green ash, and red maple. Low bottomland hardwood grade to intermediate and high bottomland hardwood as elevations increase and surface flooding is restricted to a few weeks to two months annually. These higher bottomland hardwood communities are dominated by willow, Nuttall, water, and cherrybark oaks; cedar elm, sugarberry, and hickories on the highest sites. This area contains several calcareous ravines, one of the most unique geologic formations in the state. One particular plot known as the Thrash Tract is recognized by the Nature Conservancy as the largest old growth forest remnant in the Red River watershed.

Land Use

The bulk of the area is privately owned and access is restricted to members. Non-members are normally required to be accompanied by members in order to enter the land. The clubs, however, have allowed visits from state and federal game and fish officers and biologists, select environmental investigators, college and secondary school science classes for educational purposes, and similar conservationists, but only with advance permission. The primary activity of the hunt clubs is duck hunting, but quail, turkey, and deer are also taken. Game species are hunted on Little River WMA. Nacatoch Ravines NA is a habitat preserve.