Wildlife & Habitat

Birds landing in a marsh

This little known refuge located in the Nebraska panhandle consists of 45,818 acres of rolling sandhills, the largest continuous sand dune area in America. The grass covered dunes were created from the wind blown sands of an ancient sea.

The twenty-one lakes and numerous ponds are supported by an aquifer lying below the hills. The grasslands range from the densely vegetated meadows to the sparsely covered “choppies” and support a wide variety of wildlife.

  • Endangered Species

    150x118 blowout penstemon

    Blowout Penstemon is endemic to the Nebraska Sandhills and our only endangered plant. Native Blowout Penstemon plants at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) steadily declined from 2,058 in 1987 to 329 in 2006. In 2007, the population rose to 1,989 individuals as native plants rebounded to 464 plants, transplants added 1,468 plants and experimental seeding techniques added an additional 57 plants. We suspended transplanting in 2008 when fall grazing treatments and mechanical disturbances showed encouraging signs of stimulating habitat for the plant. However, plant numbers resumed their decline and transplanting was re-instituted in 2011 when numbers dropped to 391 individuals. 

    In 2007, Piping Plovers nested on the Island in Goose Lake for the first time since the establishment of the Refuge. This was also the first recorded observation since 1937. 

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  • Threatened Species

    150x118 baldeagle1

    Bald Eagles began nesting on the Refuge in 1994. The eagles arrive in February and are incubating in March. Eggs hatch in April and are fledged by mid-June. In mid-July, as many southern breeding eagles do, the young and adults move north. They will return for short times in the fall while migrating to their wintering grounds. 

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  • Species of Concern


    Species of Concern is an informal term. It is not defined in the federal Endangered Species Act. The term commonly refers to species that exhibit declining populations or appear to be in need of conservation.

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  • Birds

    American Bittern 512x219

    Crescent Lake NWR provides a great opportunity to observe waterfowl, shorebirds, marsh birds, gallinaceous birds, raptors, and passerines. Make sure to view the bird list (201 KB PDF).

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  • Mammals

    150x118 Mule_Deer

    To date, 35 species of mammals are known to call Crescent Lake NWR home. These include a variety of small mammal groups that include shrews, moles, ground squirrels, pocket gophers, mice, rats, and voles. Larger mammals include the Porcupine, Muskrat, Raccoon, and six members of the carnivorous weasel family including the Badger. The Coyote is the most commonly encountered canid on the Refuge, while surveys to detect the State Endangered Swift Fox were undertaken in June of 2014. Crescent Lake is also home to Pronghorn and both Mule and White-tailed Deer.

    Historically, species such as the Elk, Bison, Plains Grizzly Bear, Plains Wolf, Black-footed Ferret, and Black-tailed Prairie Dog occurred in the area. Today, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are seldom located on the Refuge but can be found on adjacent lands. The aforementioned Swift Fox surveys will help determine if this diminutive fox is still present at Crescent Lake NWR.

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  • Reptiles & Amphibians

    148x111 Yellow Mud Turtle

    The Refuge is home to at least 16 species.  Yellow Mud Turtle research has been ongoing at Crescent Lake NWR for the past 32 years.

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  • Fish

    Largemouth Bass

    Some of the fish species found in Refuge lakes include Bluegill, Yellow Perch, Largemouth Bass, and carp.

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  • Plants


    A list of plants found on the Refuge compiled in 1993 included 179 plants; however, this list is not intended to be comprehensive.

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  • Habitats

    150x118 Wetlands with greenwing teal

    *Sub-irrigated Meadows- 4,126 acres
    *Uplands- 33,014 acres
    *Wetlands- 8,709 acres including 21 lakes and numerous small wetlands

  • Special Areas

    150x118 Crescent Lake

    *Research Natural Areas- 1,076 acres (Goose Lake and Hackberry Units)
    *Proposed Wilderness Area- 24,502 acres (Encompasses the eastern half of the Refuge)