Seasons of Wildlife

  • Spring

    A group of snow geese swimming in the marsh.

    Beginning in mid-March large numbers of pintails, mallards and tundra swans appear as ice leaves the Refuge and natural runoff from snow and rains accumulate. From several hundred to several thousand snow geese arrive and stay for a week or more. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons are often seen in the spring. Waterfowl in breeding plumage have paired off and begin to seek nesting sites. As the weather warms, more and more species arrive, with shorebirds the last to make their appearance. Canada geese with young may be seen in late April, and some duck broods may be seen in late May.  Pronghorn return to the refuge signaling the arrival of spring. Pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse begin breeding. Visitors may view grouse males on a lek, or dancing ground by reserving the free watchable wildlife viewing blind (fondly nick-named "The Grouse House") in April and May. Richardson’s ground squirrels can be seen on the Refuge roads and in the fields. An occasional muskrat can be seen swimming in the canals.

  • Summer

    An American avocet standing in the water with its reflection shining down.

    By June all birds that will nest at Benton Lake have arrived. With adequate runoff and/or artificial flooding, broods of ducklings, colonial nesting birds like eared grebes, white-faced ibis, and Franklin's gulls can be seen. As water receeds, a variety of shorebirds can be seen including, yellow legs, avocets, willets, Wilson's phalaropes, long-billed curlews, upland sandpipers, and marbled godwits. Songbirds, like chestnut-collared longspurs and western meadowlarks, are raising their young. Burrowing owls, which nest on the Refuge in limited numbers, may be visible. In the fields along the roads, badgers can be seen lying on their mounds sunning themselves. White-tailed and mule deer can be seen in the grasslands of the Refuge. In the early morning, coyote can be seen scouting the Refuge. Yellow-bellied marmot are common among the rocks and roadways, but you must be quick, as they scramble when a car approaches. If you are patient, you may be lucky enough to view a long-tailed or least weasel in the grass near a dike before it dives into its hole. Pronghorn and white-tailed deer, with their young of the year, can be seen in the grasslands of the Refuge.

  • Fall

    A group of pintail ducks flying in the air.

    With fall precipitation and surface water that holds over until fall, shorebirds and waterfowl numbers increase as migration peaks. Waterfowl that bred on the Refuge begin to stage in preparation for the migration further south. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons keen on following the migrating waterfowl flocks are frequently seen in pursuit of a meal. Tundra swans mark the beginning of the end of the fall migration. Deer and antelope become more wary after the beginning of hunting season, and become infrequent visitors to the Refuge’s grasslands. Jackrabbits change from brown to white in preparation for winter, but stand out against the golden grasslands. Golden eagles hunt the highest portions of the Refuge in search of rodents and birds.

  • Winter

    A snowy owl perched in a pile of rocks in the prairie grass

    The frozen and windy landscape provides a harsh living environment for most bird species. Great horned owls often move into shelterbelts this time of year and rough-legged hawks are common in most winters. Other hardy raptors seen occasionally include northern goshawks, gyrfalcons, and snowy owls. Northern shrikes, horned larks, and sometimes snow buntings are among the few song birds present. Ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, and sharp-tail grouse sightings are frequent as they gather to feed. White-tailed and mule deer re-appear in the open fields. Coyote and fox are easy to see against the white background of snow. White jackrabbits run across the fields and take cover in the shrubbery.