Know Before You Go

American Bittern
American Bittern
Credit: USFWS

Refuges vary in size, facilities, and hour/seasons of operation. Before you visit a national wildlife refuge for your birding trip, check its Web site or call to confirm the following information:

What amenities are available? Check on status of restrooms, trails, auto tour route, visitor center, observation decks, etc. Some facilities may be open or closed depending on the season, weather conditions, or management needs.

Hours of operation
Most refuges are open during daylight hours. Some may open or close specific areas seasonally. Check to see when the refuge is open.

Special events or programs
There may be special events, tours, or activities taking place during your visit. Check to see if any festivals or open house activities are scheduled. Often they feature opportunities that aren't available normally.

Are you looking for a strenuous hike? A peaceful stroll? All-day birding extravaganza? Birding by boat? Just want to stretch your legs? When you talk to a volunteer or staff member, describe the kind of experience you're looking for and they will be able to better accommodate your needs and direct you to the most appropriate spot.

Be prepared!
Some refuges have gas stations, convenience stores, and other amenities nearby. At others, you have to travel miles for basic services. In rural areas, hours of operation may be more limited than in urban areas (for example, restaurants may be closed on Sunday or stores close earlier). Some refuges have staff or volunteers on site daily; others are not staffed at all. Be sure to have some of the basics with you before your trip:

  • Plenty of gas in your vehicle
  • Drinking water (you're more vulnerable in both hot and cold weather if you're dehydrated; bring more than you think you'll need.)
  • Insect repellent (you might be surprised where and when biting creatures might show up)
  • Dress for the weather and know the forecast. Always have rain gear, an extra jacket or layer, and a hat regardless of the season.
  • Snacks, especially if traveling with children
  • Maps of the area and the refuge
  • First aid kit

Entrance and User Fees
Some refuges charge an entrance fee for access or user fees for special types of use. Duck Stamps, and interagency Annual, Senior, and Access Passes are accepted at all locations that charge an entrance fee.

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp)
Birders who frequently visit refuges should purchase a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. It allows access to all national wildlife refuges which charge a fee and 98% of the proceeds go directly to purchasing and maintaining wildlife habitat. It's a birders best opportunity to contribute directly to more lands and waters for wildlife.

And don't forget to download a bird checklist!