Chassahowitzka's diverse natural communities sustain a large variety of wildlife. Extensive hardwood swamp in association with uplands creates good habitat conditions for far-ranging species and allows seasonal movement of animals in response to fluctuating water levels and food supplies.

Bald eagle
Bald Eagle

 

Wildlife viewing is best in the morning hours on  non-hunting days January through March and August through October. Hunting is most intense November through early January. Be prepared for hot, buggy conditions in June and July. From the Indigo Road trailhead, walk one or both of the hiking trails or take the more than 8-mile scenic driving loop. Gopher tortoise and Sherman's fox squirrel are found on the area. Birders will enjoy numerous songbirds and the lucky visitor might see a bear track.

Black bear
Mike Orlando

 

Wildlife Spotlight: The Bears of Chassahowitzka

In 1997 the University of Kentucky began a five-year study of the black bears inhabiting the mixed hardwood swamps, pine flatwoods, scrub, and coastal marshes of Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties. Wildlife biologists used radiotelemetry and other methods to learn more about population size, home ranges, and habitat use. Bears were captured, fitted with special collars, and tracked using small planes. The bears were ear tagged, examined, and weighed and measured. The population is also monitored using hair snares and remote cameras to identify individuals.

Photo of black bear
Mike Orlando
Wildlife biologist fits tranquilized bear
with radio collar

According to University of Kentucky researcher Mike Orlando, the Chassahowitzka or west central Florida black bear population consists of less than 20 individuals and may be the smallest known bear population in North America. The Chassahowitzka bears appear to have adjusted their behavior to avoid humans. Many bear populations are active during the day. The west central Florida bears are active at dawn and dusk and at night.

 

 

Florida Black Bear
Mike Orlando
Wildlife biologists Greg Batts and Diana
Donaghy working on a 350-pound male bear

Virtually no nuisance complaints have been made against these bears although they have been documented traveling within 50 meters of upscale residences. They do not raid trashcans or bird feeders as bears commonly do in other parts of Florida. Their home ranges are elliptical rather than the more typical oval. Because the bears are constrained by roads, they move farther north and south than they move east and west.

The Chassahowitzka bears live in a habitat that is being encroached, circumscribed, and fragmented by humans. Roads are a threat to bears here as they are in other parts of Florida. In September 2001 the only known cubs produced this year (twins born to an uncollared female) were both hit by a vehicle and killed on CR 595.

According to Closing the Gaps, a 1994 publication of the then Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, even the existing habitat is much too small to sustain a population in the long run without dispersal. Since the bears have no opportunity to breed with bears from other populations, genetic depression is also a concern although no abnormalities in fertility or vigor of the population have been noted. A very small population of bears has been reported in the Green Swamp, but linkage between the Chassahowitzka and Green Swamp populations would require connection of existing conservation areas and containment of human population growth and development, an unlikely prospect in one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.

 

Chassahowitzka Bird List PDF
Wildlife Viewing Tips



FWC Facts:
The crested caracara is a resident of the prairies and range lands of south-central Fla. This boldly patterned raptor has a crest, naked face, heavy bill and longish neck and legs.

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