Seasons of Wildlife


McNary seasons are defined by the bird life signature to those seasons. Not that there isn't a host of other wildlife, but the passing of one season to the next is the transition of birds at the refuge.

  • Spring


    As winter gives way to spring, most waterfowl and songbirds depart the refuge for northern nesting grounds. Those that stay to nest at McNary are joined by birds that have wintered further south. Nesting species include mallard and redhead ducks, Canada geese, pied-billed grebes, burrowing owls, marsh wrens and yellow-headed blackbirds. The Columbia River islands are host to a great blue heron rookery, as well as nesting colonies of cormorants, black-crowned night herons, Caspian terns and white pelicans. The Walla Walla River delta is a productive area for viewing thousands of migrating shorebirds and wading birds in early spring into summer. Large numbers of songbirds find food and cover along the west end of Burbank Slough and the interpretive trail and within the riparian forests along the Walla Walla, Snake and Columbia Rivers.

  • Summer

    Great Blue Heron

    American white pelicans are a familiar spring and summer sight in the Burbank Slough. American avocets probe the shallow water edges, and killdeer are busy luring would-be predators away from their well-concealed nests. Osprey leave their nesting platforms around the slough to hunt for fish from the air, while great blue herons wade refuge waters in search of fish and frogs. Muskrats continually refurbish their houses within the marsh, in close proximity to the roads and birdwatching blind. Northern harriers, red-tailed hawks and American kestrels are commonly seen hunting over refuge fields in the summer. Visitors to the Stateline and Juniper Canyon Units can view hawks and other cliff dwellers around the basalt cliffs where they nest and hunt. Mule deer are also common, and a variety of songbirds use the canyons and riparian zones for their summer activities.

  • Fall

    Sulphur Butterfly

    American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and great blue herons are among the variety of other bird species present on the refuge during the fall and winter. Pheasants brazenly stalk refuge croplands and fields, while striped skunks and marmots look for wintering den sites. Mule deer are fully engaged in the fall mating season, and the lucky visitor may see bucks sparring for mates. While many songbirds vacate the area for wintering sites to the south, waterfowl begin arriving in numbers from nesting sites to the north, greatly augmenting the populations that stayed here for their nesting season.

  • Winter

    Snow Geese Morphs

    Large concentrations of migrating waterfowl can be seen from October through February, but they really peak in December and January. Canada geese, mallard, American wigeon, northern shoveler, canvasback and redhead ducks are common species present in refuge marshes and croplands, often numbering in the thousands. Since large numbers of waterfowl feed away from the refuge, magnificent flights of ducks and geese can commonly be seen departing or arriving at the refuge during the morning and early evening hours. Visitors may also see red-tailed, sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks and northern harriers. Peregrine falcons are occasionally seen, particularly around the basalt cliffs in the Juniper Canyon and Stateline Units. Bald and golden eagles can be seen in the late winter months of January through March.