The J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife 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. It is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations. J. N. "Ding" Darling is one of over 550 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The refuge consists of over 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammocks.
The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge was created to safeguard and enhance the pristine wildlife habitat of Sanibel Island, to protect endangered and threatened species, and to provide feeding, nesting, and roosting areas for migratory birds. Today, the refuge provides important habitat to over 220 species of birds.
The best months to visit for birding are December through March. The best time to view wildlife is during low tide when the birds are feeding on the exposed mud flats. Many events happen throughout the year on the refuge, which can make a visit that much more enjoyable.
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