A Jewel of the National Refuge System



Spaciousness is the first sensation one feels upon entering the "Ding" Darling Education Center. An Osprey on her nest overlooks a 4,000-sq.-ft. exhibit area. Soaring above the exhibits, a Magnificent Frigate Bird and 40 terns fly in formation across the darkened ceiling "sky." Lifelike reproductions of Alligators, Great Blue Herons, raccoons, Roseate Spoonbills, and other birds found in the refuge populate the Center where they are integrated into realistic habitat vignettes and other learning displays. Via the magic of a state-of-the-art projection system, thousands of birds appear to fly across one section of the ceiling as part of an exhibit on bird migration.


The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society's Exhibit welcomes you to the Education Center it built. Here you can peruse the Society's awards, sign our guest book, become a member, make a donation, and collect information.

At the adjacent Front Desk, helpful volunteers staff can provide loaner binoculars, maps, and other information to make your Refuge visit rewarding.

As you start your tour of the Center, you will see the lifelike replica of "Ding" Darling's Iowa studio, where he created his Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial cartoons. The exhibit is equipped with many of Darling's personal possessions, including his original drawing board..


The Connections exhibit illustrates through maps, audio-visuals. and dioramas the relationship between people and natural resources, from upstream to downstream, lowlands to uplands, and refuge to refuge. 

The Changing Estuary virtually takes you into our mangrove forest and unfolds the nutrient cycle of a mangrove estuary. You experience how, hour by hour and tide to tide, the estuary habitat transforms and adjusts.

Behavior and adaptation incorporates remarkably lifelike models of red mangroves to show how animals and plants thrive throughout the refuge habitat. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Legacy exhibit celebrates the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and describes the many aspects of its mission. Included in this area, Rookery Island demonstrates the importance of rookeries as breeding grounds for colonial nesting birds such as pelicans, egrets, and herons. Actual pelican and egret nests, along with lifelike birds and chicks, make this exhibit one of the favorites. 

The Discovery Room covers the far side of the Center and features a highly interactive area for families and young refuge visitors, including a touch table with specimens of sea turtles, manatee bones, and various marine animals. A large 'rubbing table' lighted from below is a particular favorite of the children, challenging them to create refuge animals on paper. One wall teaches the biology of our birds in a highly innovative manner, culminating with a challenge for young visitors to 'build a bird.'

Overlooking a mangrove and hardwood grove with a pond and feeding stations, the 'backyard' of the Center is the Birders' Room. Located around the room, viewing stations complete with binoculars and bird books are available. Covering the inner wall, an original mural features the 18 most common birds of the refuge along with tips on how to spot them.

The "Ding" Darling Education Center stands as a monument to those hardworking visionaries and the thousands of generous donors who literally created it, and will serve as a prototype for other refuges and national parks all over the United States. Don't miss this opportunity to learn more about the refuge while having fun!