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One of the major attractions on Sanibel (besides the shells) is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a Federal Wilderness Area meant to be a habitat for migratory birds and other area species, especially threatened and endangered.  It’s named after political cartoonist and conservationist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who first headed what is now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which operates the Refuge) and started the Federal Duck Stamp (with his own design on the first stamp) program.  Visitors come from all over the world to tour the Wildlife Drive and divergent walking paths to observe nature in the wild (as opposed to a zoo), especially bird watchers excited to see spoonbills and white pelicans (and perhaps an alligator or two). 

Next year, the Refuge will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the establishment of what was then the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge.  In 1945. Mr. Darling urged President Harry S. Truman to order this so that it would not be purchased and overrun by developers.  The Refuge was renamed in Ding’s honor in 1967 and officially established by Congress in 1976 into what it is today. 

As part of the “pre-celebration,” the Refuge and Tarpon Bay Explorers will host the 31st Annual “Ding” Darling Day on Sunday, October 20.  Special guests will include Burmese python hunter Dusty “Wildman” Crum and biologist Mike Kirkland, who will a presentation about their efforts to eliminate pythons (a dangerously invasive species) in the Everglades.

There will be a number of free activities all day long, including: 

  • Free admission to Wildlife Drive (self and tram tours)
  • Wildlife presentations
  • Arts and crafts activities
  • Hot dogs
  • Archery lessons
  • Touch tank and butterfly house 

The Tarpon Bay Explorers (entrance by the start of Sanibel-Captiva Road) will also be providing free paddleboarding lessons in the morning and all-day discounts on boat and kayak tours. 

For more information on “Ding Day,” feel free to contact the Ding Darling Society at or call 239-472-1100 ext. 4 

It’s even more enjoyable if you are visiting like a tourist, but living like a native.  Book Direct and Save today with Sanibel Holiday!