Important Bird Areas

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

South Carolina

The website for Savannah NWR is http://www.fws.gov/savannah/.
Established in April 1927, The Savannah NWR contains a variety of habitats, some of which are common and some rare. The freshwater tidal wetlands (prominent habitat type) are representative of a habitat in serious decline Other habitats include bottomland hardwood, mixed hardwood, pine floodplain, freshwater and brackish water as well as open meadows. With the use of management techniques and tide gates, the impoundments, former rice fields, can be with or without water, which allows for a variety of species from raptors to waterfowl to neo-tropical migratory songbirds.
The area surrounding the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, which includes the port city of Savannah, Georgia, is rich in history. After thousands of years of use by various Indian tribes and cultures, the first European visitor arrived in 1526. James Oglethorpe established the city of Savannah in 1773. By the mid-eighteenth century, rice planters were farming much of the land that is now part of the refuge. The old rice levees, which were built by hand, form the basis for our current impoundment dikes. Remnants of the original rice field trunk water control structures and narrow dikes are still visible in some places. Within the impoundment system there are 36 historic and prehistoric archeological sites which have been located and inventoried.
The refuge staff hosts visits from school children throughout the year, many of whom have never seen wilderness. Countless tourists visit the refuge, not only for its birds and wildlife, but for the historical aspect involving rice and cotton plantations. These tourists bring their money to local communities. This refuge, as one of the oldest in the nation, continues to prove itself a valuable asset.

Ornithological Summary

The diversity of habitat and bird species as well as the public's ease to enjoy this site make Savannah NWR a significant wild place for birds and other wildlife year round. Wood Storks, federally endangered, forage here. Red-coakaded Woodpeckers and Least Terns, also endangered, nest here. Thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and colonial waterbirds use the refuge during at least a part of their lives, if not year-round. In addition, this site is a fly-over and rest stop during spring and fall bird migration.
WatchListed birds that use Savannah NWR are: Mottled Duck, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black Rail, Clapper Rail, King Rail,Wilson's Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Short-eared Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Bachman's Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Painted Bunting and Rusty Blackbird.

Conservation Issues

The invaluable tidal freshwater wetlands are in danger from the potential deepening of the Savannah River and continuous dredging leading to saltwater intrusion.
Continuous opposition to the harbor deepening project is underway.
Control of invasive, aquatic species is ongoing.

Ownership

Savannah NWR is owned and operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Habitat

The tidal freshwater marsh communities include giant cutgrass, wild rice, sedges, wild millets, and smartweed. Approximately 19 feet above sea level, the soils are peat-organic, slightly acidic in wetlands. Winter climate averages 30's to 50's. Summers average 80's-90's. Hydrology is tidal fresh system under an 8 foout pulse twcie a day with impoundments that are seasonally flooded.
The Florida Manatee, the broad-striped dwarf siren, and the short-nosed sturgeon, (federally endangered species), are found here. The flatwood salamander, a threated species, is found in Savannah NWR. The needle palm and the giant cane, rare, declining plant species, are also found. Wild rice, inique to tidal freshwater, produces approximately 1.5 tons of seed per acre.

Land Use

Savannah NWR is primarily preserved as an area of conservation. Secondarily, it is utilized by many for recreation/tourism. One of the outstanding bird watching areas in the state, there is a drive through wetlands as well as forests.