J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

The Refuge

Is part of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex along with the

  • Pine Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge
  • Island Bay National Wildlife Refuge

1 Wildlife Drive in Sanibel, Florida

The entire complex is approx. 8,000 acres. The majority of the lands in these refuges are nesting and roosting islands. The Refuge is located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico. “The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.”

“Jay Norwood Darling was instrumental in the effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island. At Darling’s urging, President Harry S. Truman signed an Executive Order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945.”

Wildlife and Habitat

Teeming With Life! “The refuge contains some of the most nutritionally rich habitat for thousands of species of plants and animals in an intricate food web.”

ALL Animals in the Refuge are WILD!

  • Respect the animals. Can potentially cause harm.
  • To be safe, do not interact with or feed the wildlife (avoid dangerous situations).
  • Keep your distance. If you approach and the animals change their behavior then you are too close.

  • Birds – over 245 different species of birds that call the refuge home, especially its spectacular migratory bird populations. The “Big 5”:  American White Pelican, Mangrove Cuckoo, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and Yellow Crowned Night Heron. Wading Birds to Seabirds to Shorebirds to Raptors to Song Birds to Waterfowl to Marsh Birds
  • Mammals – Manatee to Bobcat to River Otter to Raccoon to Marsh Rabbitt to Sanibel Island Rice Rat.
  • Reptiles – Crocodilians to Lizards to Snakes to Turtles and Tortoises. Reptiles are great at camouflage and can be very sneaky too.
  • Amphibians – Frogs to Toads.
  • Fish – Seagrass beds and mangrove forests serve as shelter, nursery and feeding areas. Mullet to Red Drum (Redfish) to Sheepshead to Snook to Spotted Seatrout (Speckled Trout) to Tarpon.
  • Invertebrates – Arachnids to Butterflies to Crustaceans to Mollusks.
  • Endangered Species – protect endangered and threatened species. Loggerhead Sea Turtle to Smalltooth Sawfish to West Indian Manatee to Wood Stork.
  • Habitats – the refuge is located within an estuary. Freshwater Marsh to Mangrove Forests and Swamps to Open Water to Seagrass Beds to Tidal Flats and Mudflats to Tropical Hardwood Hammock.
  • Invasive and Non-Native Species – a plant or animal that is not native to an ecosystem (likely to cause harmful effects to the environment or even humans)

The Seasons

January to March

  • Adult Spoonbills leave the Refuge to head to nesting grounds in March.
  • Alligators can be seen basking in the sun on cold mornings.
  • One of the best times of the year for birding, especially migratory birds.
  • Osprey nesting peaks in March.

April to June

  • Adult Spoonbills return slowly in June.
  • Male alligators may be heard bellowing to attract a mate. Female alligators begin to lay eggs in June.
  • Manatees can be seen mating at area beaches in April and May.
  • Sea turtles nest on Sanibel beaches from May to October.
  • Wading bird nesting peaks in April.
  • Yellow Crowned Night Herons nest near the exit of Wildlife Drive from April to June.

July to September

  • Alligators present and often visible at dawn and dusk.
  • Early migrant birds arrive in August.
  • Sea turtle hatchlings start to emerge from the nests in August.

October to December

  • Annual Christmas Bird Count takes place.
  • Birding improves during December.
  • Migratory birds arrive in more numbers.
  • Shorebird migration in October.

Visitor and Education Center

Check Out the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Website!

Open Monday – Sunday. Jan. 1 – Apr. 30 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. May 1 – Dec. 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is FREE.

Holiday Closures:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day


  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • President’s Day

Wildlife Drive

Closed on ALL Fridays (Wildlife can have the refuge to themselves)! Open ALL Holidays unless the Holiday falls on a Friday.


  • $5 per vehicle
  • $1 per pedestrian
  • $1 per bicycle


  • January – 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • February – 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • March – 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • April – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • May – 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • June – 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • July – 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • August – 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • September – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • October – 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • November – 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • December – 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Drove through five miles of mangrove tree forests and tidal flats. Saw the island’s native vegetation, but the wildlife was elusive.

(Photos by RSheridan)

Here’s to Exploring the Natural (at times WILD) Side!!!

About cravesadventure

I love to adventure to new places to create new life experiences. View all posts by cravesadventure

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