Seasons of Wildlife

Canada geese in the winter - Doug Racine/USFWS.

When to Watch 

The best time of day to view wildlife is dawn to mid-morning or late-afternoon to dark.

  • Spring Migration

    Sandhill Cranes

    Late February - April. Canada and snow geese number in the tens of thousands. Many species of ducks stop on their way to breeding grounds farther north. Look for ringnecks, hooded mergansers, shovelers, mallards, widgeon and canvasbacks. Listen for spring peepers and tree frogs in the shallow ponds. Shorebirds common early-May to mid-June. Watch for peregrine falcons and other birds of prey swooping over congregations of shorebirds in search of a meal. Warblers peak mid-May. Visit the Esker Brook Trails for your best chance to view these little migrants.

  • Summer Nesting/Brood-rearing

    Eagles Nesting

    Bald eagles generally hatch mid-April. Young eagles often spotted atop muskrat houses on the Main Pool and Tschache Pool. Osprey hatch by mid-May and grow quick and strong for their fall migration--some go as far as South America.

    Canada geese and several duck species nest on the refuge beginning in early-March. Watch for broods in early-May and see them grow throughout the summer. Scan the water at the beginning and end of the Wildlife Drive to see wood duck broods. Pied-billed grebes and American coots also nest and raise young here. Great blue herons nest in the woods adjacent to the Main Pool; although the rookery is not visible from the Wildlife Drive, herons make a good show throughout the summer (also look for green and black-crowned night herons). Cerulean warblers, rare in New York State, often nest in the trees at the head of the Wildlife Drive. Black terns may also nest on the Refuge; if you see a brood, please contact refuge staff.

    In the U.S., by the 1930s the sandhill crane population was nearly decimated across its range. Sandhill cranes were first observed on the Montezuma Wetlands Complex during spring migration in 1999. In 2003, a few cranes were observed during migration and the first confirmed breeding occurred! A pair with young was observed again in the 2004 through 2010 breeding seasons. In 2010, a second breeding pair on the Complex was found near Tschache Pool. Today the U.S. population has recovered to 650,000 birds and several states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa, which are part of a range expansion.

  • Fall Migration

    Migrating Geese

    Mid-August through mid-October offers great opportunities to view shorebirds (peak mid-September). Killdeer, yellowlegs, and plovers feast on the exposed mudflats. Montezuma boasts several areas managed for shorebirds. Ask at the Visitor Center to see which one's hot!

    Mid-September to freeze-up, geese and waterfowl come back through the refuge on their way south to wintering grounds. Herons and egrets will use shallow water areas throughout the day. Mid-November, waterfowl numbers peak--geese number 50,000 and ducks over 100,000! Watch too for eagles and other birds of prey as they make their way to open water and/or winter grounds further south.

  • Winter Wildlife

    Deer in Snow

    The Wildlife Drive is generally closed to traffic in winter. You can cross-country ski or snow shoe on the Wildlife Drive or the refuge's nature trails, taking advantage of the excellent opportunity to see white-tailed deer, fox, small mammals and resident birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals, and chickadees. Our bald eagles also stay the winter, as long as the canals remain unfrozen.

    During the winter, raptors (hawks, owls, eagles) migrate through or spend these cold months in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. Open areas provide hunting grounds, while shrub and forest areas provide cover. Short-eared owls, endangered in New York State, have increasingly used the refuge over the past few years during the winter. State and refuge biologists have radio-tagged some of these birds to keep track of their movements; these studies help determine which areas and habitats the owls are using as their wintering grounds.