Wildlife & Habitat

Large number of Sandhill Cranes is flight

Spring and fall brings the sounds of the Sandhill crane as they stop to rest during their biannual migration. Even an occasional endangered whooping crane will stop by for a visit.

  • Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

    Least Sandpiper and chick

    Over 30 species of shorebirds use Florence Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) during spring and fall migration. Many are arctic nesting species that winter from the U.S. Gulf Coast to northern South America. During years when extensive mudflats and shallow water are available, peak populations of shorebirds can occur in late July and August. North America’s smallest sandpiper, the Least Sandpiper, is usually abundant during both spring and fall migration. It can be identified by its small size, brown and chestnut colored back, and its yellowish legs.

  • Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

    Piping plover standing on shore

    Piping Plovers that nest in the Refuge Complex are part of the Northern Great Plains population and are a federally threatened wildlife species. Piping plovers are a small pale shorebird with a single black neck band, orange legs, and a stubby orange bill with a black tip. They eat aquatic worms, fly larvae, beetles, insects, crustaceans, mollusks and other small invertebrates. When its spots its prey, it quickly runs after it, stops suddenly, and then quickly snatches it up. Plovers nest on open sand/gravel beaches and alkali flats with little to no vegetation. Refuge staff monitor Piping Plover nests and place wire cages over the nests to keep predators from eating the eggs.

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  • Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

    SandHill Crane in flight

    Sandhill Cranes are most abundant in the region during their fall southward migration. Populations typically peak from mid-September to mid-October. Shorelines and shallow bays are excellent places to view roosting cranes. Cranes routinely feed in grain stubble and grasslands near the refuge to feed on waste grains and seeds, grasshoppers and other insects, frogs and mice. Sandhill Crane populations are healthy and they are highly prized as table fare by area hunters. The endangered whooping crane, which also migrates through this area, is fully protected.

  • Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

    Western Grebe

    Western Grebes are one of the many waterbirds that frequent Florence Lake NWR. Like other grebes, they are superb swimmers and divers. Floating nests are usually built in stands of bulrush or other aquatic plants. After hatching, the young grebe chicks hitch a ride on the backs of their parents, even holding on when the parents dive underwater to feed. Grebe families are commonly found during the summer feeding on fathead minnows and other small fish that congregate near bridges and water control structures. A very similar species, the Clark’s grebe also use the Refuge, but is much less abundant.

  • Wetlands

    Aerial photo of a wetland

    Wetlands are transitional areas between land and water. They are covered by shallow water or at least for some period of time, have waterlogged soils and grow water-loving plant species which only grow in wetland areas. Many words are used to describe wetlands including bogs, marshes, swamps, potholes, and sloughs. Wetlands moderate the flow of nutrients and sediment running off the land and regulate the flow of water moving downstream. They clean water by absorbing and filtering pollutants that would end up in lakes, rivers, and groundwater. They buffer riverbanks and lake shores from the eroding effects of currents and waves. By absorbing spring runoff, they take the punch out of floodwaters. Wetlands produce as much plant and animal life as do similarly sized areas of rain forest.

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  • Native Prairie

    Native Forbes and grasses

    Since European contact in North America, more than 99% of tallgrass prairie has been destroyed primarily because of conversion to agricultural uses. Undisturbed, tall grass cover is not only valuable for nesting waterfowl, it provides habitat for other species, including pheasants, grouse, bitterns, northern harriers, short-eared owls, and many passerine birds.

    Native grasses have root systems between five and nine feet deep, and because of this are excellent for long-term erosion control. They also grow well on poor soil because their deep roots can gain access to nutrients and water that shallower roots cannot reach. Introduced grasses, such as brome, are more easily established and are less expensive, but the cover often deteriorates in poor soil conditions as the sod opens up and weeds invade.

    Native grass stands require several years to reach maturity, and usually require mowing in the midsummer during their first and second years. Once fully established, however, there are very few weeds which can compete with native grasses for nutrients and water in the soil.

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