Bayous

Reflective water flows between green grass. The morning sky above is light blue.
Davis Bayou is an example of a healthy brackish water ecosystem.

NPS Photo/Breault

These slow-moving marshy waterways are often confused with swamps. However, while swamps are fed by surface or groundwater and may be stagnate or flowing, bayous are the constantly flowing, typically wide and shallow sections of rivers, streams, and other coastal estuaries. The French word “bayou” is an adaptation of the Choctaw word “Bayuk” which means “small stream.” Bayous host a wide variety of plants and wildlife and can contain salt water, fresh water, or a mixture referred to as brackish water. The Davis Bayou Area is a beautiful example of a healthy brackish water ecosystem. Bayous are typically associated with the American South and have close ties to Cajun and Creole cultures.
Bayous have been a staple of southern culture dating all the way back to the times when the first groups of indigenous people roamed the lands of the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast region. They have proven to be a steady source of food, folklore, and form of transportation for generations of southerners. Bayous also serve as habitat for numerous plants, trees, and a diverse grouping of wildlife including fish, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and birds such as herons, egrets, and osprey.
Like many waterways, especially in coastal regions, bayous face many threats, largely brought on by human activity. Overfishing, inland runoff containing pollutants, and waterway reduction for the purpose of land development to name a few. Coastal bayous of the Mississippi delta regions face the long-term threat of rising seawater due to climate change.
 
 
 
  • Proctor, N. S., & Lynch, P. J. (2012). A field guide to the southeast coast and Gulf of Mexico: Coastal habitats, seabirds, marine mammals, fish and other wildlife. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, (2012) National Geographic, Resource Library, Encyclopedia Entry, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/bayou/

Last updated: April 21, 2020

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