Historically, the Lower Colorado River wound its way through desert valleys and canyons surrounded by dense riparian forest. Periodic flooding rejuvenated the landscape into a mosaic of willow and cottonwood trees and brought the dry desert to life. Wildlife thrived in the backwaters and forested habitat supported by the mighty river. However, with the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1936 and several other dams along the lower Colorado River, the natural restoration of the desert riparian habitat ceased.
The Havasu National Wildlife Refuge protects the remaining native riparian area and the surrounding desert upland and manages the landscape to provide habitat for endangered species and neotropical migrants. The distinctive kek-kek-kek of the Yuma clapper rail echoes across the 4,000-acre Topock Marsh. Endangered razorback suckers swim in the backwaters of Beal Lake. Bell’s vireos buzz in the surrounding vegetation and hundreds of waterfowl descend into Pintail Slough, a restored wetland. Doves and snow geese rest in the agricultural fields planted with wheat, rye, and millet. Coyotes, foxes, and bobcats cross the roads searching for rabbits and mice. Desert bighorn leap nimbly from steep rock faces along one of the last remaining natural stretches of the river, the 20-mile Topock Gorge. Elusive mountain lions roam and thousands of bats emerge from historic mines in the 17,600 acre Wilderness Area
Havasu National Wildlife Refuge is a birding hotspot with 318 bird species relying on the diverse habitat. Western and Clark’s grebes perform synchronized dances in the waters of Topock Marsh and Beal Lake and nest in the emergent vegetation. Native stands of Freemont’s cottonwoods, coyote willow, and Goodding’s willow provide breeding and stopover habitat for many species of birds, such as the summer tanager and yellow-billed cuckoo. Mesquite and salt cedar thickets support ash-throated flycatchers, Bell’s vireos, and Abert’s towhees. Upland desert areas are filled with coveys of Gambel’s quail and darting greater roadrunners. Peregrine falcons plummet up to 150 miles per hour between the cliffs in Topock Gorge.