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Red-tailed Hawk on barren tree limb

As surrounding wildlife habitat is lost to development, Nisqually Refuge has become an increasingly important place for wildlife, especially migratory birds. Birds on their migrations north and south use the Refuge as a stopover to feed and rest before continuing their migration. For others, including thousands of ducks and geese, it's the end of their seasonal journey and a place to spend the winter. Songbirds arriving in the spring find places to nest and raise their young. For resident birds, Nisqually Refuge is a year-round home.

  • Wildlife Viewing Tips

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    The patient observer will be rewarded with many opportunites to view wildlife at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  Every season brings a new wealth of discoveries.  We'd like to share with you our best advice for successful wildlife observation, as well as some helpful information such as our bird list.

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  • Western Sandpiper

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    Western sandpipers are the most abundant shorebird seen during spring migration. Its black legs, longish, slightly drooping bill and its rufous back and head markings distinguish the Western from other sandpipers. They feed on the mudflats and along the water's edge constantly walking and proving for tiny clams, worms and sand fleas. They winter along the coast from California to Peru.

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  • Least Sandpiper

    Least Sandpiper

    This is the world's smallest shorebird weighing only 0.7 ounces. The least sandpiper has an overall darker appearance and a brown breast. It's yellow legs can sometimes help in identifying this bird. Least sandpipers forage at the upper edges of mudflats and in the low marsh vegetation. They feed by picking and probing in dry and wet mud for small invertebrates. Least sandpipers migrate in small numbers and breed from Northern British Columbia to Alaska.

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  • Dunlin

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    In spring, a conspicuous black belly patch distinguishes this bird. Using swift probing movements, they feed near the water's edge for tiny clams, worms, and shrimpm-like animals. Dunlins winter in the warm climates of the Northern Hemisphere and are one of the few shorebirds that winter in Grays Harbor.

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  • Caspian Tern

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    The gull-like Caspian tern is one of the largest terns in North America with a black cap extending below its eyes and a bright red beak. Feeding on small fish, the birds will fly 20-50 feet above the water and hover momentarily before diving beneath the waves to make a catch.

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  • Peregrine Falcon

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    Thought to be the fastest bird in the world, Peregrine falcons dive after prey at speeds of up to 240 miles per hour. They hunt over dense concentrations of shorebirds, ducks, and seabirds and will follow shorebirds as they migrate north. Watch for them as they swiftly enter the mudflat area and cause shorebirds to raise up in large, tight flocks to try and out maneuver the peregrine.

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  • Cliff Swallow

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    April through August, Cliff Swallows are one of the most visible and popular birds on the Refuge.  Their gourd shaped nests, composed entirely of mud, can be found in dense concentrations under the eaves of the visitor center and twin barns.  These industrious insect-eaters are great fun to watch as they build their nests and as they feed their young. 

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  • Marsh Wren

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    This small, stocky brown wren is a challenge to spot in the reeds and marshy plants it favors for nesting and feeding. Listen for their staccato chirps and the distinctive trilling, gurgling song. Some populations of Marsh Wren migrate south, but those in Western Washington will generally stay near their nesting grounds throughout the winter.

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  • Cedar Waxwing

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    The Cedar Waxwing is most visible from late spring through fall. A yellowish gray bird overall, it would be easy to overlook and is easiest to notice, at first, by listening for its distinctive call, almost like a referee's whistle.  But look through binoculars and the waxwing becomes a remarkable sight.

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  • Common Yellowthroat

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    The male Common Yellowthroat is identified by a striking black mask and white stripe above its eye. The female lacks this distinctive feature but displays the same bright yellow throat for which these small warblers are named. Yellowthroats are common in dense, brushy vegetation and grasses found near freshwater marshes where insects are abundant. Listen for their musical song, "whichity-whichity-whichity" in summer.

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Page Photo Credits — red tailed hawk by Michael Schramm (USFWS), birdwatchers by Michael Schramm, USFWS, Peregrine Falcon, ©Dennis Ellison, Western Sandpiper, ©Jan Weiser, Least Sandpiper, Jesse Barham (USFWS), Dunlin feeding, ©Jan Weiser, Caspian Tern, ©Dennis Ellison, Marsh Wren, ©Dennis Ellison, Common Yellowthroat, ©Jan Weiser
Last Updated: Jun 13, 2013
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