Everyone lives someplace, from mountain glaciers to volcano vents. Who makes their homes at Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and just what do those “homes” look like.

  • Basalt Cliffs and Talus

    Yellow-bellied Marmot

    All the rock cliffs and rims you see on Columbia NWR are basalt rock, formed by molten lava. As the lava cooled, columns formed when the lava cracked under stress. Talus, or scree, is the rocky rubble that lies at the base of these rock walls. Talus forms as the cliff face erodes and weathers. Water or snow that enters the joints between columns freezes, creating new cracks or wedges that break the columns into smaller rock. Over thousands of years, talus slopes developed below the rock cliffs.

    Cracks between the columns and crannies in the talus slopes are crucial to many species of birds, mammals and creepie crawlies.  Learn more about these special creatures.

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  • Marshes

    Black-necked Stilt

    Marshes are wetlands dominated by herbaceous plants, such as grasses, rushes and reeds. Marshes are not swamps (dominated by trees), or bogs (designated for their accumulated deposits of acidic peat).

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  • Managed Wetlands

    Moist Soil Management Unit

    In addition to the wetlands that have formed "naturally" from irrigation seepage, the FWS has constructed many artificial wetlands.

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  • Greasewood


    While limited on Columbia NWR, greasewood is a valuable habitat type, especially as a winter food source. Look for bright green shrubs in white-colored, alkaline or saline soils.

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  • Farm Fields

    Sandhill Cranes In Corn

    Columbia NWR manages 753 acres of agricultural fields. Planted crops provide high-calorie foods for migrating and wintering waterfowl and other birds. Crops farmed on the refuge are negotiated through farming agreements, but typical crops include alfalfa, timothy, winter wheat (forage), corn, wheat, barley and buckwheat. Farmers harvest 75% of the acreage for their own profit and leave the other 25% for wildlife. Waste grain in the farmers' sections of the fields also provides feed for wildlife. These crops attract thousands of lesser Sandhill cranes, Canada and snow geese, and ducks in spring. At the margins of farm fields are usually exotic weeds, such as kochia (Kochia scoparia), lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) and bristlegrass (Setaria leucopila).

  • Shallow Water Lakes

    Shallow Water Lakes

    The Columbia Basin Project created an extensive collection of small lakes on Columbia NWR from Potholes Reservoir, associated canals and irrigated cropland. Perhaps because of their young age, these lakes have not had time to accumulate deep soils high in organic matter and thus are typically unproductive. If shallow, they tend to be quite warm, although a few support an introduced trout fishery or other introduced fish. Shoreline vegetation is generally dense and with few trees present. Emergent vegetation consists mostly of bulrushes and cattails. Exotic phragmites occasionally occurs in shallow water or just above the water line. These small lakes with open surfaces allow waterfowl to rest and feed and for some species to raise their young.