Big Oaks NWR is a 50,000 acre refuge overlaid on portions of the former Jefferson Proving Ground (JPG) in Jefferson, Jennings, and Ripley counties. JPG was established by the Army in 1940 as an ordnance testing installation and closed in 1995. Beginning in 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managed the wildlife resources of JPG. Big Oaks NWR was established in June 2000 as an “overlay” national wildlife refuge through a 25-year real estate permit from the U.S. Army. As an overlay refuge, the Army retains ownership and the FWS manages the property as Big Oaks NWR. It is now one of over 540 refuges in the country forming the National Wildlife Refuge System, a vast network of lands and waters set aside to be protected and managed for wildlife.
Big Oaks NWR hosts a variety of different habitat types, providing for a diversity of wildlife species. The refuge is unique in that it contains one of the largest contiguous forest blocks and grassland complexes in southeast Indiana. The refuge provides breeding habitat for a variety of rare birds, including Henslow’s Sparrow, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and many more. A landscape habitat mosaic comprised of grasslands, shrublands, forests, and wetlands provides wonderful opportunities for wildlife viewing. Also offered are a host of other recreational activities, including fishing, hunting, birdwatching, wildlife photography, refuge tours, and hiking. Refuge tours can be scheduled by calling the office (812-273-0783). A 15 passenger van is available for guided tours; call for details.
Typical Time to Bird Site: Allow the better part of a day to bird the refuge. For the best birding call ahead and schedule a refuge tour.
Overview:Big Oaks NWR is one of the best sites in Indiana to observe rare grassland and forest birds within the same landscape. Henslow’s sparrow, Grasshopper sparrow, Blue grosbeak, Cerulean warbler, Kentucky warbler, Hooded warbler, and Worm-eating warbler are seen regularly on the refuge during late May and June.
Specialty Species:Henslow’s Sparrow – common, late April until early September.Cerulean Warbler – uncommon but can be seen in the right habitat May through early July.Blue Grosbeak – uncommon but can be seen in the right habitat May through early August.Kentucky Warbler – common in the right habitat May through July.Hooded Warbler – uncommon but can be seen in the right habitat May through July.Prairie Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat – common early successional species that can be seen in the right habitat May through July.Golden Eagle – uncommon but can be seen in October through February.
Noteworthy Records:Yellow-crowned Night Heron (June 2000, 2001, 2002, possibly nesting, but rarely seen)White Ibis (June 2002)Mississippi Kite (May 2004)King Rail (June 2004)
Black Rail (April 1998)
GENERAL SITE INFORMATION
Ownership:The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Telephone number: 812-273-0783Website: www.fws.gov/midwest/bigoaks/
Hours:Big Oaks NWR is open every Monday and Friday and the second and fourth Saturday of the Month from 7 am until 4:30 pm. Guided tours are available but call to schedule at least two weeks in advance. Public use is restricted to posted dates and times unless a guided tours is scheduled.
Fees:Recreational fees are $3 per day or $15 per year per person. Fees are waived for those 15 or under or holders of Golden Age Passports ($10 for those 62 or older) or holders of Golden Access Passport (for those permanently disabled) or holders of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.
Access Restrictions:Due to the past historical use of the property as an Army ordnance testing facility, all visitors must view a safety video and sign an Acknowledgement of Danger form annually prior to entering the refuge. The safety video can be observed and access permits purchased at the refuge office on public use days (Mondays, Fridays, and the second and fourth Saturdays of the month). For more detailed information on refuge access, permits, and wildlife tours, please go to the refuge website.
Restrooms:Port-a-johns are available on the refuge in some places, but facilities are limited. Please call ahead it you have special needs.Lodging:The nearest lodging available is 5 miles south in Madison.
Temporal Considerations:Big Oaks NWR is open from mid-April through November; special guided tours can be scheduled at other times of the year. Spring and Fall are the best times of the year to bird Big Oaks. The Christmas Bird count in December can produce some interesting rare species.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service webpages for Big Oaks:
Author: Jason Lewis
Editor: Dick Patterson
Jennings, Ripley and Jefferson Counties, Indiana
DeLorme Page 52, Grids E 4-5, E 4-5, F 4-5, G 4-5
GPS: 38º 50′ 14.88″ N
85º 22′ 50.71″ W
The entrance to Big Oaks NWR is located off of U.S. 421 five miles North of Madison, IN. This is the only access point for the refuge.
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Indiana Audubon Society's mission is to stimulate interest in birds and their protection; to serve the needs of youth, civic, church, schools and other groups by providing information concerning birds; and to educate the public concerning the necessity for conserving and preserving Indiana's natural heritage, its unique flora and fauna.