Wildlife & Habitat
A Home for Waterfowl
Grays Lake Refuge was established in 1965 with the primary objective of protecting and restoring habitat for nesting ducks and geese. Each spring, when the snow melts in April or May, a large variety of waterfowl migrate through the refuge and some stay to nest.
The refuge’s common nesting species include the mallard, cinnamon teal, canvasback, lesser scaup, redhead and Canada goose.
In recent years, trumpeter swans have reestablished as an important nesting species. Grays Lake is one of the best areas in this region to observe the rare trumpeter.
In a typical breeding season, the refuge may produce up to 5,000 ducks, 2,000 geese and over 20 swans. Ducks and geese, the last birds to migrate south in the fall, remain until freeze-up which usually occurs in November.
A Haven for Waterbirds
Abundant wet meadows, shallow water, mudflats and bulrush marshes provide habitat for a large variety of waterbirds. A great number use the refuge during spring, summer and fall.
Franklin’s gulls nest in large colonies in bulrush habitat, along with a lesser number of white-faced ibis. Grebes, bitterns and elusive rails are also present. Shorebirds include curlews, snipe, phalaropes, and willets.
Refuge habitat supports a variety of other migratory birds including eagles, hawks, falcons and many species of songbirds. Non-migratory birds include ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse.
To find out more about which bird species are found at the refuge, a separate brochure is available at refuge headquarters, or take a look at the refuge’s bird checklist at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/grayslk/index.htm
Large mammals regularly seen at Grays Lake are moose, elk and mule deer. Smaller mammals include muskrats, ground squirrels and badgers.
To many visitors, Grays Lake Refuge means cranes. It hosts the largest nesting population of greater sandhill cranes in the world. Over 200 nesting pairs have been counted in some years.
Sandhills begin arriving in early April. In the fall, the refuge serves as a staging area, a place where cranes gather before migrating south to New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico for the winter.
During the staging period in late September and early October, as many as 3,000 cranes have been observed in the valley at one time.
Did you know...?
Whooping Crane ExperimentGrays Lake’s uniqueness as prime crane habitat made the refuge a choice site for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try to boost the population of endangered whooping cranes, a close cousin to the sandhill crane.
Researchers brought whooper eggs in and placed them in sandhill crane nests. Sandhill crane “foster parents” hatched, raised and guided a generation of young whoopers on their migration south.
Ultimately, however, the whoopers did not breed on the refuge and the Service discontinued the experiment. Efforts to create additional whooping crane flocks are now underway in other parts of North America.