About the Refuge

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From late April through early May, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds concentrate on the muddy tideflats of Grays Harbor Estuary on the Washington Coast. Grays Harbor Estuary is one of four major staging areas for shorebirds in North America and one of the largest concentrations of shorebirds on the west coast, south of Alaska. Shorebirds gather here in the spring to feed, store up fat reserves, and rest for the non-stop flight to their northern breeding grounds.


Arctic-bound shorebirds, coming from as far south as Argentina, are among the world's greatest migrants; many travel over 15,000 miles round trip. From June through October the shorebirds return to the estuary in lesser concentrations on their way south during the longer fall migration period. Thousands of shorebirds, primarily dunlin, stay for the winter.

To protect this important shorebird habitat, Congress authorized the establishment of Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge in 1988. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Grays Harbor NWR was established in 1990 and is located in the northeast corner of Grays Harbor estuary. It encompasses about 1,500 acres of intertidal mudflats, salt marsh and uplands. In 1996, Grays Harbor Estuary was designated a hemispheric reserve by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network as a site of international significance.