Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge

Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge is located on Kentucky Lake in west central Tennessee. It is managed as an important resting, feeding, nesting and wintering area for migratory birds along with providing habitat for many resident wildlife species.

The refuge consists of a diversity of habitats including open reservoir waters, bottomland hardwoods, high quality oak/hickory forests, freshwater marsh, agricultural lands, shrub/scrub habitat, and some of the largest and highest quality moist soil managed impoundments in the nation. The refuge provides habitat for more than 226 species of birds, 47 species of mammals, 90 species of reptiles and amphibians and 109 species of fish.

The refuge is a major wintering area for more than 250,000 ducks and 30,000 geese (three species). Of the 23 species of ducks using the refuge, mallards are the most common, followed by wigeon, black ducks and blue-winged teal. Wood ducks are common and nest on the refuge. A species of special management concern is the American black duck, of which Tennessee Refuge winters more than 16% of the continental population and two-thirds of all the black ducks found in the state.

The refuge bands more than 1,000 wood ducks each year, which is more than any other refuge or agency in the nation and very important to the management of the species. Tennessee Refuge winters the largest population of Southern James Bay Canada geese, one of the most imperiled population of geese on the North American continent.

The refuge has the second largest great blue heron rookery in the state (600+ nests) and the only documented cormorant nesting in the state. The refuge is a major wintering and nesting area for the threatened bald eagle, and an important nesting and migration route for migratory neotropical birds.

Visitor Opportunities

Recreational opportunities in this area include: visitor contact station, educational programs, wildlife observation, hiking trails, auto tour route, motorized watercraft, non-motorized boating, hunting, fishing.

Accessibility: The National Wildlife Refuge System is working to ensure that facilities and programs are accessible to visitors. Please contact the refuge office for information about accessibility at this unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The refuge offers an array of public use activities, including wildlife observation, and interpretation and very large sport fishing and hunting programs. The annual visitation is more than 500,000. The area has become a nationally recognized vacation/retirement area. More than 104 miles of roads, 22 miles of dikes and 50 boat ramps are seasonally opened to public access each year. Areas are open daily during daylight hours except during closed seasons marked by signs. Fishing is permitted year round. Some areas are closed seasonally to provide sanctuary for waterfowl. In early spring, Kentucky Lake is known for some of the best crappie fishing in the nation. Later in the season, bass and catfish provide sport for many. Hunting is permitted for deer, squirrel and turkey on a limited basis. Along with regular hunting seasons, quota hunts are available for deer and raccoon and are held by means of a drawing/permit system. The refuge manages two of only 12 concessions found in Region 4, Cuba Landing and Mansard Island Marina. The refuge is home to one Natural Research Area and has one historic site that is on the List of National Historic Sites. The refuge is one of the richest archaeological areas in the nation. More than 150 known archaeological sites are found on the refuge. Experts consider a recently discovered Paleoindian site to be the most significant east of the Mississippi River.

The Chickasaw wildlife Trail is a one-mile walking trail within the Big Sandy Unit of the refuge. The trail traverses differing habitat types, beginning in a mature oak-hickory forest, then meandering through open fields, and along an active stream. Remnants of historic buildings may be seen also along sections of the trail. A photo/observation deck is at the entrance to the Duck River "Bottoms" area. A variety of wildlife can be observed in this area including waterfowl in the fall and winter, shorebirds and wading birds in spring and fall and other wildlife throughout the year.

Group tours and programs are available for schools, clubs and similar groups by contacting the refuge office in advance. Environmental education is stressed, and teachers are encouraged to use the refuge for group study, the refuge interpretive staff providing assistance when needed.

Along with observing the wintering migratory waterfowl, other birding opportunities are numerous throughout the refuge during the year. The striking wood duck is found in large numbers in bottomland hardwood forests of the refuge, nesting in hollow trees and artificial nest boxes. A heron rookery harbors hundreds of great blue herons. Bald eagles and ospreys nest on the refuge and may be seen perched or flying overhead. Wading birds are plentiful during spring and summer months. A host of songbirds use the refuge, including many neotropical migrants such as prothonotary warblers, indigo buntings and ruby-throated hummingbirds.

The refuge has been host to the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest since 1995 with several thousand students from Tennessee in grades K-12 entering the national wildlife art contest. The program is a unique education curriculum combining arts and sciences to teach the importance of conserving wetlands and waterfowl resources.

Management Programs

A primary management objective on the refuge is to provide food and protection for wintering migratory waterfowl. A technique known as moist soil management is used to support a great number of birds. Shallow ponds are flooded in the fall with the proper amount of water to support various natural waterfowl plant foods that have grown during the spring. These foods become readily available to ducks and geese throughout their fall and winter visit. Shorebirds also benefit from this type of management in spring and fall.

A 3000 acre farming program provides waterfowl foods such as milo, corn, soybeans and winter wheat. This combination of natural foods and crops equips the birds with the needed nutrients to survive the winter months and return to breeding grounds in the spring in good condition.

Problem aquatic weeds such as lotus, alligator-weed and primrose-willow are chemically treated to control their spread. Other invasive vegetation such as buttonbush is removed in some areas to improve waterfowl habitat. Controlled fires are also used in certain areas to control woody vegetation.

This refuge has an active wood duck nest box program with more than 150 boxes available. More than 1000 wood ducks are banded each summer to gather information about hatching success and survival and harvest pressure.

A MAPS station is set up to monitor breeding neotropical migratory birds and other landbirds using upland hardwood habitat. Breeding bird surveys are conducted and point counts established and run during the spring and summer.

Information is gathered on the Southern James Bay population of Canada geese to help determine why this subspecies is declining. Geese affixed with neck collars are observed each winter. Collar numbers and locations for the birds are recorded. This data is vital in monitoring the health and dynamics of this imperiled population of geese.


The headquarters is in Paris, TN at 810 E. Wood Street, Suite B. The Duck River Unit, the largest of the 3 units of Tennessee Refuge, is in Humphreys and Benton Co. were Duck and Tennessee Rivers meet. The sub- headquarters is one and a half mile SE of Hustburg, TN. The Big Sandy Unit is 12 miles N. of Big Sandy and is at the confluence of the Big Sandy and the Tennessee Rivers. The Busseltown Unit is in Decatur County along the western bank of the Tennessee River, the entrance to the unit being 5 miles northeast of Parsons, Tennessee.

Refuge Manager
P.O. Box 849
Paris, TN 38242
Phone (901)642-2091
Fax (901)644-3351

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

  • Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Travel Q&A

  • What's your favorite hike? Where's the best campsite? Join the conversation! Ask Your Question

park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »


Parks Near Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge
GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog


Ask Questions