Deep within a thorny thicket, a well-camouflaged ocelot curls up for a daytime nap. Over on the sandy shores of South Padre Island, the beach stirs with life as dozens of Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings propel themselves across the sand into the Gulf of Mexico. A salty, humid breeze ruffles the feathers of an aplomado falcon perched on a spiky yucca. A mother American alligator keeps a watchful eye over newly hatched young in a small pond created by summer rains.
Rare wildlife finds a haven within Laguna Atascosa NWR, the largest protected habitat remaining in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. A vibrant mix of habitats, from subtropical forests to deserts and coastline, support a mix of wildlife found nowhere else in the world.
Premier Birdwatching Destination
An impressive 417 species of birds have been recorded at this refuge, more than at any other National Wildlife Refuge in the United States. Several tropical species reach their northernmost range limit here, joined seasonally by wintering and migratory birds converging from the Central and Mississippi Flyways. Birders travel to see South Texas specialties like the green jay, groove-billed ani, ringed kingfisher, and buff-bellied hummingbird, along with wintering waterfowl that can stretch across the horizon in a line of whirring wings.
Globally Important Bird Area
The American Bird Conservancy designates the refuge as a "globally important bird area" for its amazing variety of migratory, winter and resident birds and habitats. Millions of migratory shorebirds, raptors, songbirds and waterfowl touch down each year on their journeys between winter homes in Mexico, Central and South America and nesting habitats as far north as the tundra above the Arctic Circle.
This vital stopover for shorebirds – from the abundant sanderling to the imperiled red knot – makes Laguna Madre that borders Laguna Atascosa NWR an internationally significant site of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
Click here for Bird Checklist for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Over 40 species of mammals have been recorded on the refuge. Most often seen are the nine-banded armadillo, coyote, bobcat, Mexican ground squirrel, long tailed weasel, white-tailed deer and javelina. There are two non-native species, nilgai antelope that were introduced to south Texas in the 1920's and escaped from local ranches, and the feral hog. Both of these compete with native wildlife for scarce resources, and feral hogs destroy habitat by uprooting plants.
South Texas historically provided habitat for five wild cats - jaguar, mountain lion, bobcat, ocelot and jaguarundi. Unfortunately, jaguars have not been found here since the mid-1940's due to largescale habitat destruction and killing by humans. Ocelots and jaguarundis are critically endangered, while the adaptable bobcat remains numerous, and mountain lions are believed to pass through Laguna Atascosa.