National Wildlife Refuge System
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Best Places to See Migrating Birds

Snow geese fill the sky at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, named by the National Wildlife Federation as one of the country’s top eight spots to see migratory birds this fall.
Snow geese fill the sky at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, named by the National Wildlife Federation as one of the country’s top eight spots to see migratory birds this fall.
Credit: USFWS

Three national wildlife refuges are among eight sites acclaimed by the National Wildlife Federation as the best spots to see fall migrating birds: Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

Squaw Creek Wildlife Refuge, in the Mississippi Flyway, is best known for its large numbers of snow geese and bald eagles.  Snow geese fly from their nesting grounds in North Dakota to southern wintering areas. They stop to feed in Missouri in early October.

Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Texas boasts nearly 400 bird species, including raptors, waterfowl and shorebirds. About half are residents; the others are on their way to Central and South America.

Horicon Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, as well as an Important Bird Area designated by the American Bird Conservancy. With more than 32,000 acres, Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. The marsh provides habitat for endangered species and is a critical rest stop for thousands of migrating ducks and Canada geese. 

The National Wildlife Federation also calls Cape May, New Jersey — home to the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge as well as the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory — a great spot to watch migrating birds. 

Other refuges not on the National Wildlife Federation list, but also known as popular rest and refueling stops for migrating birds include:

  • Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware. Every spring and fall, Bombay Hook Refuge hosts hundreds of thousands of migrating ducks, geese, shorebirds and songbirds.  For more information: http://bombayhook.fws.gov or 302-653-9345.
  • Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin. In the fall, ducks, geese, trumpeter swans and whooping cranes fly out at dawn. For more information: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/necedah or 608-565-2551.
  • Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Minnesota. The refuge provides habitat for many migratory birds in the Mississippi Flyway, including tundra swans and canvasback duck. For more information: http://midwest.fws.gov/UpperMississippiRiver/ or 507-452-4232.
  • Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. From late October through early March, this scenic mountain refuge draws tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross’s geese and ducks.  For more information: http://southwest.fws.gov/refuges/newmex/bosque or 575-835-1828.
  • Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Each fall, the only naturally migrating wild flock of whooping cranes, one of the rarest birds in North America, migrates more than 2,400 miles from Canada to winter here. For more information: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/aransas/ or 361-286-3559.
  • Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota. The refuge’s wide range of wetland habitat makes it an attractive rest stop for migratory birds, especially ducks, geese, grebes and shorebirds.  For more information: http://arrowwood.fws.gov or 701-285-3341.
  • Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington. The Puget Sound refuge attracts more than 275 migratory bird species. For more information: http://nisqually.fws.gov or 360-753-9467.

For information on the Service’s migratory bird program, see:

http://www.fws.gov/refuges/whm/migratorybirds.html and http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/dmbmdbhc.html.

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