The outstanding attraction at Muleshoe NWR is the wintering sandhill cranes. They normally begin arriving around the end of September or the beginning of October. During the 6 month period the cranes are away from their Alaskan and Canadian breeding grounds, the refuge hosts one of the largest concentrations of sandhill cranes in North America. The number of cranes at the refuge peaks between December and mid-February, often with thousands of birds present at one time. An all-time peak of 250,000 cranes was witnessed in February 1981.
The cranes roost on the refuge lakes at night, as well as on other large saline lakes in the area. At sunrise they fly to surrounding agricultural land where they search harvested fields for waste grain and invertebrates and graze in the grasslands and wheat fields.
In addition to wintering sandhill cranes, waterfowl are present when sufficient water is available. Migrating waterfowl begin to arrive during August and reach peak numbers by the end of December. During spring and fall migrations, small flocks of snow geese visit the refuge for a short time. A few Canada geese winter here when water is present.
Most duck species common to the central flyway frequent the refuge lakes during migration. Pintail, green-winged teal, American wigeon, and mallard are the most abundant; ruddy duck, blue-winged teal, canvasback, redhead, lesser scaup, ring-necked duck, and bufflehead occur in lesser numbers. The northern shoveler usually arrives late in March and remains until June. Occasionally a few duck broods are hatched on the refuge.
There are 320 species on the refuge bird list. The largest variety of birds is seen during spring and fall migrations. This is especially true of songbirds, shorebirds, and herons. Mourning dove, scaled quail, common nighthawk, horned lark, curve-billed thrasher, lark sparrow, loggerhead shrike, and northern mockingbird are prominent nesting birds. The wooded area adjacent to the campground provides a good birding site.
Raptors frequenting the refuge during the summer include Swainson's hawk and American kestrel. Various raptor species occur during migration periods including an occasional prairie falcon. Turkey vulture are common during late summer and early fall. Golden eagles may be seen in the fall or winter as well as an occasional bald eagle during January and February. Great horned and burrowing owls use the refuge year-round.
Mammals and Reptiles
You should watch for some of the mammals that are common to the area. Prairie dogs are abundant in the draws northeast of the refuge headquarters and may also be seen from the observation turnout located along the tour road near the headquarters. Prairie rattlesnakes also use the prairie dog dens and are common throughout the refuge. Refuge visitors should use caution regarding rattlesnakes. They normally seek shelter in the shade under rocks and logs and venture out during early morning or late evening hours.
Although primarily night animals, coyote, bobcat, badger, or skunk may sometimes be seen in daylight. Cottontail and jackrabbits are more easily spotted, as well as an occasional porcupine.
Wildlife Viewing Tips