Mississippi, the Magnolia State, is not only famous for its rich history, diverse culture, and southern charm. It is also famous for its unique and fascinating wildlife. From swamps and marshes to forests and rivers, Mississippi’s natural habitats provide shelter to a wide array of animals. In this article, we explore the wild wonders of Mississippi and discover some of the most captivating wild animals that call this state home.
1. American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
The American Alligator is an iconic and fearsome reptile that can be found in various parts of Mississippi. These large predators can grow up to 15 feet in length and have a powerful bite force. They inhabit swamps, marshes, and rivers, and are skilled hunters, feeding on fish, birds, mammals, and other reptiles. Despite their intimidating appearance, American Alligators play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem by regulating the population of prey species.
2. Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
The Red Fox is a small mammal known for its striking appearance and cunning behavior. Present in many parts of Mississippi, these creatures have reddish-orange fur, bushy tails, and sharp senses. They are skilled hunters and opportunistic feeders that prey on small mammals, birds, and insects. Red Foxes are very adaptable, as they can thrive in various habitats, from forests to grasslands, and even in urban areas.
3. Mississippi Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis pulla)
The Mississippi Sandhill Crane is a unique and endangered bird species that is found only in a small area of Jackson County, Mississippi. These birds are known for their distinctive appearance, with gray plumage, a red crown, and a long beak. They inhabit freshwater marshes and feed on a variety of plant materials, insects, and small animals. Due to habitat loss and other factors, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane is among the rarest birds in North America, with less than 150 individuals remaining in the wild.
4. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in North America and is found in certain parts of Mississippi. These snakes are quite big, reaching up to 8 feet in length, and their striking appearance, with a diamond-shaped pattern on their back and a rattle on their tail. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes play an important role in controlling rodent populations and are generally shy and reclusive, avoiding human encounters.
5. Barred Owl (Strix varia)
The Barred Owl is a majestic bird of prey that lives in the forests and swamps of Mississippi. These owls have a distinctive appearance, with a barred pattern on their chest and vertical stripes on their belly. They have large, dark eyes and are skilled hunters, feeding on small mammals, birds, and insects. Barred Owls are also known for their unique vocalizations, which can often be heard in the evening and early morning hours.
6. Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)
The Gulf Coast Box Turtle is a fascinating reptile that is native to the coastal regions of Mississippi. These turtles are known for their box-like shell and intricate pattern, with various shades of brown and yellow. They are omnivorous, feeding on a combination of plant materials, insects, and small animals. Gulf Coast Box Turtles are known for their longevity and can live up to several decades in the wild.
7. American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
The American Bald Eagle, the national bird and symbol of the United States, are common in Mississippi. These majestic birds of prey have a white head, brown body, and a wingspan that can reach up to 7 feet. Bald Eagles primarily feed on fish, but also prey on small mammals and birds. They are known for their keen eyesight and impressive hunting skills. Once listed as an endangered species, the population of Bald Eagles has made a remarkable recovery thanks to conservation efforts, and spotting one of these magnificent birds in the wild is a truly awe-inspiring experience.
8. Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)
The Eastern Wild Turkey is a large game bird found in Mississippi’s forests and woodlands. These turkeys are impressive in size, with males or toms weighing up to 30 pounds and displaying striking plumage with iridescent feathers. They are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of plant materials, insects, and small animals. Eastern Wild Turkeys are known for their elaborate courtship displays, males puffing up their feathers, fanning their tails, and gobbling to attract females or hens during the breeding season.
Where to Find Wildlife in Mississippi?
1. Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area
The Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Mississippi is a prime spot to observe the iconic American Alligator. This vast, swampy area is home to a healthy population of these formidable reptiles. Visitors can take guided boat tours or go on canoe trips to explore the river and its marshes, keeping an eye out for alligators basking in the sun or gliding through the water.
2. De Soto National Forest
De Soto National Forest, also in southern Mississippi, is famous for its diverse wildlife, including the elusive Black Bear. These bears are typically found in the more remote areas of the forest, and spotting one in the wild is a rare and thrilling experience. Visitors can hike the many trails in the forest and keep an eye out for signs of bear activity, such as tracks or claw marks on trees.
3. Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge
The Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge is in central Mississippi and is a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. One of the highlights of this refuge is the opportunity to spot the elusive Barred Owl. These large, dark-eyed owls have distinctive “who-cooks-for-you” calls and often perch on branches or glide silently through the forest at dusk.
4. Mississippi River Delta
If you’re a marine life enthusiast, the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico is a prime spot to spot Bottlenose Dolphins. These intelligent and playful mammals can often be seen riding the waves and leaping out of the water in acrobatic displays. Visitors can take boat tours or go on dolphin-watching excursions to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.
5. Homochitto National Forest
Homochitto National Forest, located in southwestern Mississippi, is a haven for wildlife, including the graceful White-tailed Deer. With its diverse mix of hardwood forests and pine stands, this forest provides ideal habitat for these elusive creatures. Visitors can explore the forest’s many trails and keep an eye out for deer grazing or moving through the trees, especially during the early morning or late afternoon.
6. Mississippi Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge
For a chance to see the endangered Mississippi Sandhill Crane up close, a visit to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County is a must. This refuge dedicates its time to the conservation of this unique bird species and offers guided tours and observation platforms for visitors to observe these rare cranes in their natural marsh habitat.
7. Holly Springs National Forest
Holly Springs National Forest, located in northern Mississippi, has a diverse wildlife including the elusive Eastern Wild Turkey. These large game birds forage in the forest’s open areas and along its woodland edges. Visitors can hike the forest’s trails and keep an eye out for turkey tracks, scratching, or dusting areas as signs of their presence.
If you’re looking for an exciting read about wildlife encounters in Arkansas, Mississippi’s neighboring state, our website has a fascinating article that’s definitely worth checking out.
Mississippi is home to a diverse and fascinating array of wild animals that inhabit its swamps, marshes, forests, and rivers. From iconic predators like the American Alligator and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake to majestic birds of prey like the American Bald Eagle and Barred Owl, to unique and endangered species like the Mississippi Sandhill Crane, the wildlife of Mississippi is a captivating aspect of the state’s natural heritage.