Top 3 Animals You’ll Find at the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, Florida, is home to thousands of animals. It has a habitat that can only be found here and nowhere else, as many of the animals are endangered species. If you are planning on visiting, then you may want to know what you can expect to see. Here are the top 3 animals that you will find at J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge.

birds in florida on sanibel island
Photo From: Shutterstock


There are 245 species of birds at J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. If you aren’t familiar with the various species of birds, why not visit and familiarize yourself with them? With every visit, you are sure to become more knowledgeable about the different species that exist in the area. The birds that make this their home are from the Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Sanibel Causeway, Bunche Beach, and from the surrounding waters of the Gulf.

You may notice certain species during specific times of the year due to the tide levels. 

Visitors enjoy coming in with a checklist of the birds that they hope to see and checking them off as they have spotted them. There is the Big 5 list, which consists of the top 5 birds that visitors hope to see when they visit:

  • American White Pelican – This bird is usually only seen from October through April, which is why it is also referred to as a Florida snowbird.
  • Mangrove Cuckoo – This one is difficult to find, which is why it can be so much fun searching for it. These are only found in Southern Florida.
  • Reddish Egret – This bird is known for how it dances around when chasing fish.
  • Roseate Spoonbill – This pink bird is often mistaken for the flamingo, however, unlike flamingos this bird is naturally pink.
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron – This is among the two types of night-heron located on the Refuge, the other one is the Black-crowned night-herons. The Black-crowned herons are even more difficult to find than the yellow-crowned herons.

Others simply enjoy visiting for photographic opportunities. If you enjoy Florida bird watching, you’ll certainly enjoy seeing various bird species found at J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge.


While you won’t see nearly as many mammals running around as you do birds, there is still a very good chance that you’ll spot a few. There are more than 30 mammals that have been spotted around the Wildlife Refuge.

They can be found among the grassy marsh, in trees, and swimming in the water. Some of the mammals that you might see include bobcats, as they are the only big cat species that are native to Florida; Sanibel Island rice rats, only found here on Sanibel Island and currently listed as a threatened species by the state; marsh rabbits, raccoons, and river otters


Believe it or not, some people are fascinated with reptiles. Due to the weather in Sanibel, you will often find these cold-blooded animals in the warm waters around the island. Some of them live in water while others live on the land. You might find snakes, turtles, alligators, and lizards on Sanibel Island. 

You might be wondering, since there are alligators at the Wildlife Refuge, if crocodiles can be found there, too. In this case, you would be correct. The only crocodile that is located on the island can be found at the Refuge, which is the American Crocodile. It was brought to the Refuge in 2010 from a residential area. The best way to differentiate a crocodile from an alligator is by their snout. The crocodile snout is narrower and pointier than that of an alligator. You likely wouldn’t get close enough to determine whether it is an alligator or crocodile in the wild, but chances are that you will if you visit the Wildlife Refuge. 

Schuldenfrei maintains multiple Sanibel listings near the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. Contact us today to learn more!