South Mississippi Could Be National Bird Refuge

Three bird refuges in Mississippi, including two on the Gulf Coast, are candidates for the National Audubon Society's Global Important Bird Areas program launched Thursday. The program is designed to identify and conserve habitat throughout the U.S. that is vital to birds on a global scale, either as breeding, feeding, wintering or migration grounds, said Bruce Reid, director of bird conservation for Audubon Mississippi.

Reid said Mississippi already has its own IBA program with many locations designated for bird conservation. ``This will draw attention to the biological and economical importance '' Reid said. ``IBA is a way of looking at these places in more detail.'' Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area and Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge were selected to be among the candidates for bird areas of worldwide importance. The crane refuge was selected for its native wet pine savanna habitat that is home to the sandhill crane and other rare birds, like Henslow's sparrows, Le Conte's sparrows and the Sedge wren, Reid said. Those birds winter there or use the refuge as a resting point for their journeys across the Gulf of Mexico.

The Pascagoula River area was selected because it is the largest free-flowing river system in the continental U.S. The river area supports a small population of Swallow-tailed kites in the spring and summer and is a corridor for neo-tropical birds during their migrations across the Gulf in the spring and fall. ``They are great examples of two types of habitats that are vanishing,  the undammed river area and the wet pine savanna,'' said Libby Hartfield, director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural History in Jackson. Reid said the network of global IBAs will form the backbone of land the Audubon Society hopes to conserve for the health of bird populations around the world.