Morgan Brake is one of five federal refuges included in the Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Established in 1977, Morgan Brake includes 7,381 acres and is situated along the ecotone of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and Loessal Hills in the biologically and culturally unique Delta region of Mississippi. Habitats include hardwood bottomlands interspersed with Bald Cypress and Tupelo sloughs, croplands, aquaculture ponds, shrub swamp, hardwood uplands, and extensive bottomland hardwood reforestation. More than 1,000 acres has been replanted with native hardwood tree species to help restore the diminishing bottomland habitat and reduce forest fragmentation. There are 1,200 acres on the refuge that are dedicated to growing wildlife-benefitting crops such as rice, corn, soybeans, milo, millet and wheat, mostly for wintering waterfowl.

The eastern edge of the Delta is bordered by steep Loess Bluffs, a portion of which is within the refuge boundary. Hardwood species found here are drastically different from either the Delta or the hill country to the east. The forest is well stratified and offers a north-south corridor of upland hardwoods such as Northern Red Oak, Beech, Florida Maple, Red Buckeye, and various hickories. Understory plants include Wild Hydrangea, Trillium, Christmas Fern, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Alongside the rich Delta bottomland habitat, the bluffs add an extra dimension to the diversity of the refuge. The value of this bluff formation to migratory birds needs to be explored, but diversity and uniqueness are evident.

Ornithological Summary

Large moist-soil areas and cooperative farming programs attract more than 50,000 ducks annually, as many as 150,000 historically. Former catfish ponds, 55 totaling more than 850 acres, provide a diversity of wildlife habitats and are managed in a variety of ways. In late summer and fall some are drained to create critical stopover habitat (mud flats) for migrating shorebird species. Also, during this same season a wide variety of wading birds undergoing post-breeding dispersal are attracted to the food rich ponds in large numbers. Significant numbers of Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, and Tri-colored Herons use the moist-soil areas during post-breeding dispersal. Some ponds are left to grow up in trees and shrubs, creating ideal nesting habitat for colonial waterbirds. A new heronry located in a Buttonbush slough was discovered in summer 2002 consisting of 500 nesting pairs of Little Blue Herons. In winter the ponds are managed for wintering waterfowl. Approximately 200 species of migratory birds use the refuge.

Conservation Issues

Major habitat development projects for waterfowl are underway which could increase the number to 250,000 wintering birds. Non-native fauna and flora (Kudzu) are taking over Loess Hills? portion of refuge and must be controlled.

As a national wildlife refuge, the refuge will be managed following a Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which gathers input from a wide spectrum of science and management professionals, especially migratory bird specialists. The plan will be updated every 15 years. The initial plan is being formulated and offers a strong platform for keeping management practices current with the needs of priority species.

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