Wildlife & Habitat

Niobrara River Valley USFWS

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for a variety of wildlife. We attempt to manage for sustainable balance in our ecosystems so that they can provide for the greatest diversity of plants and animals.

  • Greater Prairie Chicken

    Greater Prairie Chicken

    The Greater Prairie Chicken or Pinnated Grouse (Tympanuchus cupido) is a large bird in the grouse family. This North American species was once abundant but has become extremely rare or extinct over much of its range due to habitat loss. Prairie chickens do well at the Fort Niobrara refuge and surrounding sandhills environment. Listen in the open prairie areas for the the low whistling “booming” song of the male prairie chicken during mating season in April.

  • Elk

    Elk - USFWS

    The elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) is one of the largest species of the Cervidae or deer family in the world and one of the largest land mammals in North America and eastern Asia. Elk are native to the Fort Niobrara area and providing a place for them is a purpose of the refuge. Adult bull elk in this area can weigh around 720 pounds. Bulls have a loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling, which can be heard for miles. Bugling is most common during breeding season in the early fall, early and late in the day, and is one of the most distinctive sounds in nature.

  • Bison

    Bison on the Move JPEG

    The American bison (Bison bison), also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. A bison has a shaggy, long, dark brown winter coat, and a lighter weight, lighter brown summer coat. The male bison are slightly larger than the female and, in some cases, can be considerably heavier. Adult male bison stand around six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to approximately 2000 pounds. The heads and forequarters are massive, and both sexes have short, curved horns that can grow up to 2 feet long, which they use in fighting for status within the herd and for defense. Fort Niobrara refuge is home to a herd of approximately 350 bison.

  • Boreal Forest

    Northern Boreal Forest - NPS

    Paper bark birch trees show up well in the fall of the year as the leaves start to fall and the white bark stands out against the forest background. These birch trees are a member of the Northern Boreal Forest community that appears here at the southernmost end of its range in North America. The unique community can survive at Fort Niobrara NWR because of the protection from the sun on the steep northern exposure slopes and the moisture provided by the springs flowing from the river canyon walls.

  • Eastern Deciduous Forest

    Eastern Deciduous Forest

    Plant communities on parts of the refuge change from Eastern Deciduous forests along the river, to Rocky Mountain Coniferous forest further up the dry slopes, and then to mixed grass prairie on the fairly flat table lands at higher elevations. Some of the deciduous trees growing along the river are ironwood, bur oak, box elder, and hackberry. Ponderosa pine is the dominant tree in the dryer savanna areas. A nice mix of native grasses such as sand bluestem, prairie sand reed, Indian grass, side oats grama, porcupine grass, and buffalo grass grow in the prairie areas.

  • Waterfalls

    Lower Taylor Falls

    Fort Niobrara refuge contains several beautiful waterfalls. Many of these are accessible within the Fort Niobrara Wilderness Area but are not marked on visitation maps. Fort Falls is served by a parking lot just outside of the wilderness area with a connecting trail and stairs to the bottom of the waterfall. These falls are located where water from natural springs form creeks which plunge into the river valley over the harder rock formations.