J. N. "Ding" Darling
National Wildlife Refuge


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Ding Darling National
Wildlife Refuge



Named 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. Myers.

Creation 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.

Darling 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.

Today, 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 resident crocodile.

Low 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.

When "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.

The 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.

The "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, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org.