Wildlife & Habitat

Wigeon Pond / USFWS

Strategically located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the edge of El Llano Estacado, the 8,672-acre refuge overlaps three unique landscapes, including the Rocky Mountains and eastern prairies.

Here, the gently rolling prairies of the east abruptly meet the rugged terrain of the mountains, gravel-capped mesas and buttes, and deep, narrow river canyons. The high plains refuge is surrounded on three sides by steep, timbered canyons but within the habitat there is short and tall-grass prairie, timbered sandstone canyons, piñon-juniper woodlands, wetlands, ponds, lakes and riparian areas.

Above the timbered canyons, the refuge encircles more than 40 small ponds that provide tubers, seeds and browse for waterfowl. In addition to the ponds, a number of springs discharge to the surface and support a variety of species, including several native fish like the Rio Grande chub, longnose dace, white sucker and fathead minnow. These ponds are critical to birds migrating along the Central Flyway as they depend on the refuge as a place to rest and refuel during their long journey.

Nesting on the refuge are nearly one third of the documented bird species found on the refuge, including long-billed curlews, avocet, Canada geese, mallards, northern pintails, blue-winged and cinnamon teal, gadwall and ruddy ducks.

The sandhill cranes arrive in the fall as they migrate to their winter home. Bald eagles, northern harriers, and American kestrels are frequently sighted soaring above the refuge scanning the grasslands for prey or attracted to the hundreds of ducks and geese on the refuge’s open waters. Migrating shorebirds like long-billed dowitchers and sandpipers, probe the mudflats in early fall and spring. In the woodlands, wild turkeys wander in search of a meal and on the prairies. Rocky Mountain elk blend into the grasses, home to badgers and ground squirrels.