Seasons of Wildlife

California quail on a fence post

Over 320 species of birds and 58 mammal species have been observed on the Refuge. Located on the Pacific Flyway, Malheur's abundant water and food resources provide resting, nesting and feeding for many resident and migratory birds. The following chronology will help you decide when to visit.

  • Spring

    spring - coots

    Spring provides a wide variety of wildlife viewing opportunities on the refuge. Elegant northern pintails, greater and lesser sandhill cranes dancing in meadows, and brilliant songbirds provide ample viewing and photography opportunities for visitors to the refuge.

    Migtratory waterfowl and shorebirds begin arriving in late winter and songbirds wait until later in the spring to arrive, so timing your visit is critical in the spring.

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  • Summer

    Trumpeter Swans

    Nesting birds quietly move around the refuge as spring turns to summer. Ducklings and goslings can be found in abundance in ponds and wetlands in the Blitzen Valley. Southbound shorebirds begin arriving in July from their high latitude breeding grounds to fuel up for their extended journeys south. The Double-O unit of the refuge and Harney, Mud, and Malheur Lakes provide excellent feeding for shorebirds on receding mudflats and alkali playas. They are best viewed at pond and lake shores in the Southern Blitzen Valley, the Double-O unit, at the Narrows Pullout and along the Boat Launch Road. Least and western sandpipers and both species of yellowlegs are common. Unusual shorebird species to watch for include solitary, pectoral and Baird's sandpipers, as well as, marbled godwit and ruddy turnstone.

  • Fall

    Fall - Mule Deer Buck

    The quiet of summer is broken by the arrival of lesser and greater sandhill cranes feasting on grain fields scattered throughout the refuge. Migratory waterfowl numbers are low as the area tends to be dry and waterfowl stay farther west of the Harney Basin on their southward migration. Songbirds return and provide ample viewing opportunities - testing bird watching skills as juveniles mix with adults.

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  • Winter


    Warblers have gone south for the winter, but some sparrows remain. Careful observers may find American tree sparrows along snow lined roads, and if they are lucky, longspurs or snow buntings.

    Many species of ducks, geese and swans use the refuge in winter, but their numbers are reduced compared to other times of year, because of cold temperatures and few areas of open water. Check Marshall Pond at Headquarters, the Blitzen River, Benson Pond, Knox Pond and the Narrows. Search for Barrow's and common goldeneyes, and mergansers, as well as, the rare Eurasian widgeon. One of the highlights of winter is large groups of tundra swans which are present in October and November at Knox Pond, Benson Pond and on Marshall Pond. Hundreds can gather in one area and their voices carry long distances. Resident trumpeter swans may also be seen. Both species of swans may remain through the winter, but in smaller numbers.