Important Bird Areas

St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area

Arkansas

The St. Francis Sunken Lands was created by the New Madrid Fault earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, and runs approximately 40 miles north to south. The Sunken Lands lies within the levee system of the St. Francis River, and contains extensive bottomland-hardwood forest. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission manages the St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area for hunting and recreation, but extensive flooding often renders most of the area inaccessible. Thus, most of the area is undisturbed habitat where birdlife flourishes. There are several access point by which the area can be reached; most of these are boat landings. 

Ornithological Summary

Several species of concern use the St. Francis Sunken Lands as a breeding area. These include Swainson's Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, Mississippi Kite, Wood Thrush, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Painted Buntings occur and may breed here. Almost all of the St. Francis Sunken Lands' 26,000 acres are bottomland-hardwood forest or swamp. Also, this area supports a population of the endangered plant Pondberry, which is the only population of this species east of Crowley's Ridge. This site supports long-term avian research efforts: Dr. Jim Bednarz has been conducting various projects in the St. Francis Sunken Lands for the past 9 years. Dr. Bednarz and students from Arkansas State University (ASU) mist-net birds every year during spring and fall migration. Presently, a project investigating the vector pathway of the West Nile Virus is being conducted in the Sunken Lands, which involves mist-netting birds four days per week for two months in the spring and fall. This project will provide important information about bird species presence in this area. Also, during most times of the year graduate and undergraduate students from ASU study birds in the Sunken Lands. Past studies have focused on woodpeckers, Wild Turkeys, and Swainson's Warblers. Current and future projects will be conducted on migrating birds, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Swainson's Warblers. Due to its proximity to ASU, the Sunken Lands are used for the aforementioned research projects as well as various class projects and field trips. The mist-netting project being conducted in the spring of 2003 has shown that many birds use the St. Francis Sunken Lands for a migration stopover as well as for breeding. Migrants caught include large numbers of Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Veeries and numerous warbler species including Ovenbirds, Connecticut, Cape May, Palm, Bay-breasted, Black and White, Wilson's, and Magnolia Warblers. The size and inaccessibility of the Sunken Lands make it a haven for forest-interior species such as the Acadian Flycatcher and Wood Thrush, while the bottomland-hardwood habitat supports specialist birds such as Prothonotary Warbler and Swainson's Warbler.

Conservation Issues

Due to the St. Francis Sunken Lands being used as a flood-relief area for the agricultural lands in the St. Francis River plain, the area is subjected to excessive flooding at several times during the year. This has reduced the cover of natural understory vegetation. Canebrakes, once relatively common in the Sunken Lands, are no longer present. At this time, alteration of the hydrological regime is primarily controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ownership

Owned by Arkansas Game & Fish Commission