Wildlife & Habitat


The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, often called "Alaska in miniature", is home to a wide diversity of wildlife including moose, eagles, brown and black bears, lynx, wolves, and trumpeter swans.  See our SPECIES LIST of the flora and fauna documented on the Refuge.  

Ice Fields & Glaciers - The eastern portion of the refuge descends from the 6,500 Harding Ice Field to 2,000 to 4,000 ft. peaks in the western Kenai Mountains. Ice fields and glaciers are vital sources of fresh water for wildlife and people. Mountain goats, brown bears and ravens have been sighted crossing glaciers and on nunataks - exposed mountains projecting above the glacial ice.

Ice worms are a little known inhabitant of temperate glacial ice ranging in length from 1 to 3 cm. Moving between crystals of ice and through the many interconnected channels in granular snow, ice worms generally stay near the surface of glaciers. Most species of ice worms rise to the surface at dusk while other live in puddles of glacial meltwater. Ice worms eat airborne pollen grains, fern spores and the red algae that lives in snow and sometimes colors it pink.

Mountain Tundra- Tree line ends at 1,500 to 2,000 ft. with low growing tundra plants and shrubs continuing in elevation to snow and rock fields at 4,000 ft. Dall sheep, mountain goats, and caribou roam this rugged country. Hoary marmots form colonies on talus slopes. Brown bears graze for berries and occasionally take marmots and sheep. Wolves and golden eagles have been known to be successful hunters of young sheep. Wolverines scavenge the carcasses of dead sheep and goats.

Northern Boreal Forest- From sea level to 2,000 ft., the northern boreal forest is found on the refuge. This forest is composed predominately of white and black spruce, birch, aspen, and cottonwood trees in various stages of succession. This forest is an important source of food and shelter for moose, black and brown bears, lynx, wolves, coyotes, porcupine, weasels, red squirrels and snowshoe hares. This habitat is an important nesting area for summer migrants including orange-crowned and myrtle warblers, olive-sided flycatchers, fox sparrows, ruby crowned kinglets, and Swainson's and hermit thrushes. Local resident birds include great horned owls, hairy and downy woodpeckers, spruce grouse, red-breasted nuthatches, and boreal and black-capped chickadees.

Lakes & Wetlands- The northeastern portion of the refuge is dotted with hundreds of small lakes surrounded by wetland tundra or spruce/hardwood forest hills. This large wetland habitat supports migratory breeding birds including common and pacific loons, grebes, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, ducks, and shorebirds. Mammals found within this habitat include caribou, moose, beaver, muskrat, and mink. The lakes support a variety of fish species, such as rainbow trout, arctic char, red and silver salmon, and sticklebacks.

Within this habitat, the Chickaloon River Flats remains the last pristine major saltwater estuary on the Kenai Peninsula. The Flats serves as a staging area for thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl.

Rivers- The refuge is drained by nine river systems, including the world famous Kenai River, renowned for its wide variety of sport fish including Chinook (king), sockeye (red), and coho (silver) salmon, and Dolly Varden and rainbow trout. Bald eagles are often sighted perched in tall cottonwoods along the riverbanks. Brown and black bears are attracted to the rich fish resources in summer and fall. Moose, beaver, and mergansers are commonly seen wildlife along refuge river systems.