Birds of the Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Long Lake is a natural lake of limited depth by reason of its location in a shallow alkaline basin up to 2 miles wide and 16 miles long. It is separated into three units by dikes, and at normal level it covers about 16,000 acres. The refuge was established primarily for the control of botulism, which has a long and varied history at Long Lake. The principal source of water is from Long Lake Creek south of the refuge, which has a relatively large watershed. Dikes and spillways permit the holding of a higher level in each unit from west to east when there is a shortage of water.
The best opportunities for bird observation are in spring, summer, and fall. Canada geese typically lead the northward flight of waterfowl, beginning in late March. Northern pintail, mallards, and a variety of diving duck species follow shortly thereafter. Sharp-tailed grouse occupy traditional dancing grounds across the Refuge uplands throughout April, shortly preceding peak “crowing” activity of male ring-necked pheasants. Impressive flocks of phalaropes, sandpipers, and plovers buzz mudflats during late spring amid the constant din of various waterbird species that are establishing colonies in isolated emergent marsh areas. Vocalizations of numerous prairie sparrows interrupt the early morning quiet in June.
The fascinating mating displays of western grebes can be observed across Long Lake beginning in early June, just prior to the sight of numerous squadrons of ducklings scattered along shorelines and areas of emergent vegetation. Mornings in July reveal a patchwork of molting waterfowl across Long Lake’s open water areas. Not long after the mass of fall migrating shorebirds have filled-up on protein-rich invertebrates and headed to more southerly locations, Long Lake is invaded with a variety of south-bound waterfowl
Large congregations of ducks and geese are accompanied by thousands of sandhill cranes in search of waste grain and other agricultural staples. Occasionally, endangered whooping cranes utilize the Refuge during their fall flight to Texas. In late fall, once Long Lake has frozen solid and fields are snow-filled, resident birds search for food and winter cover along with winter migrants, including Rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, and an occasional snowy owl.