The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.
Following the establishment of Florida’s Pelican Island as the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, the System has grown to encompass more than 150 million acres within more than 550 Refuges, many Wetland Management Districts, and thousands of Waterfowl Production Areas.
More than 41 million people visit National Wildlife Refuges each year to participate in activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and photography, and to attend environmental education and interpretive programs. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales and close to 27,000 jobs for regional economies.
Wildlife Refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 200 species of fish. Fifty-nine Refuges have been established with a primary purpose of conserving threatened or endangered species.
There is at least one National Wildlife Refuge in every state, and one within an hour’s drive of most major cities—offering people a welcoming, safe, and accessible place to nourish their spirits and reconnect to the land.
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Birds of prey, or raptors are specifically suited to their lives as hunters. Their strong legs and powerful grasping feet with sharp talons help them catch and kill prey. Hooked bills help tear the meat. Hawks, falcons, eagles and owls are an important part of the balance of nature because they help keep insect and rodent populations in check.
The winter is a good time to look for a variety of raptors. Northern harriers fly over the salt marsh and fields. Look for the eastern screech owl sitting in the hole of a wood duck box. Bald eagles, red-tailed and Cooper's hawks can be spotted on tree branches.