one of the top ten birding spots in this nation, the J. N. "Ding"
Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island,
Florida. The Refuge is easily reached via a causeway connecting
the mainland to Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico near Ft.
of the refuge began in the early 1940s, when "Ding"
Darling learned that the State of Florida was nearing agreement
to sell 2,200 pristine acres of Sanibel's mangrove wetlands to
developers for fifty cents an acre. Quickly gathering his allies, Darling
arranged for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lease the
threatened land to form the Sanibel Island National Wildlife
Refuge. Taken just in the nick of time, this was the first step
in protecting forever this crucial wildlife habitat.
recognized the special qualities of this place where land met
sea, saltwater met freshwater, and temperate climate mixed with
tropical climate to produce a habitat that is uniquely productive
for wildlife. The surrounding estuary with its rich sea grass
meadows, mudflats, and mangroves produces shelter and huge amounts
of food for birds, fish, reptiles, and a host of other animals.
the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is
one of the most visited refuges in the nation, with almost a
million visitors annually. Five-mile Wildlife Drive winds through
mangrove forest and tidal flats, making wildlife watching accessible
to everyone. Sunny afternoons in winter are the best times to watch alligators and maybe even to catch a glimpse of the
tides from mid October through April often result in thousands
of wading, swimming, and diving birds feeding on the mudflats.
These include great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, roseate
spoonbills, great and little blue herons, white and brown pelicans,
tri-color herons, yellow-crowned night herons, short and long-billed dowitchers, yellow legs, anhingas, cormorants, blue-winged teal,
ospreys, and bald eagles. During the fall and spring migration
of songbirds, the Refuge provides a resting place as well as
food for the energy required for their remarkable flights.
"Ding" Darling died in 1962, his friends and
admirers formed the
J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation.
The trustees of the Foundation realized that as long as key parcels
within the Refuge were leased, not owned, the future of the Refuge
was in jeopardy. The Darling Foundation's very first project,
therefore, was to lead an effort to consolidate the lands within
the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge under federal ownership
and the control of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. After
a five-year effort, the lands were successfully acquired, and
the refuge was rededicated in September 1967 as the J. N. "Ding"
Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge now encompasses
over 5,200 acres and its professional staff manages an additional
1,000+ acres under cooperative agreements. These lands are preserved,
restored and maintained as a haven for indigenous and migratory
wildlife as part of a nation-wide network of Refuges administered
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, a group of volunteers working in
support of the Refuge's professional staff, has recently completed
the funding, design and construction of a new Education Center
located at the beginning of Wildlife Drive. The Center provides an
excellent springboard to the enjoyment of the Refuge. The
contributions of this Society are so significant that other refuges
look to its volunteers for guidance in establishing their own
friends groups. To learn more about the Refuge and the Society,