Seasons of Wildlife

A group of eleven Canada geese fly in formation against dark blue green forest background.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, Volunteer NBR/USFWS

Waterfowl numbers vary through the year. The Mission Valley is located between the Pacific Flyway, found more to the west, and the Central Flyway, which is over the Continental Divide to the east. So Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge rarely sees very large numbers of birds during migration. The birds seem to come in waves – such as a flock of 100 tundra swans for a few days before they move on, then the next week it might be the western grebes, then redheads, then coots, and so on. You can access the bird checklist with notes of habitat and seasons. 

  • Winter - December, January, February

    Two gray partridge sit half buried in snow among brown winter plants.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, Volunteer NBR/USFWS

    Winter can bring blowing snow and bone chilling cold. However, the short days and cold weather make many animals active throughout the day

    Late January through February can be a good time of year to see eagles in the area. It’s that time of year when the local cattle are calving and the eagles (both bald and golden, adult and immature) are waiting nearby for a meal. No, not of a newborn cow, but of the afterbirth (placenta) left behind. 

  • Spring - March, April, May

    A flock of black necked stilts, long pink legs trailing and long black bill leading, fly over their reflection in the water.  Photo by TupperAnsel Blake, USFWS

    Spring is the time for variety and abundance, with summer birds arriving to set up nesting areas and migrating birds traveling through on their way to northern lands. Local ducks, geese, water birds, osprey and songbirds are all active with courtship rituals, building nests, and laying eggs.

    Parts of the Refuge close for protection of nesting birds. Check the access map in the Public Use Pamphlet

  • Summer - June, July, August

    Three large non-breeding white pelicans with long yellow bills float among a raft of dark gray American coots at Ninepipe NWR.  Photo by Pat Jamieson, NBR/USFWS

    Bird activity can pick up this time of year as young are leaving nests, learning to fly, and foraging. Red winged blackbirds and swallows begin to flock together by summer’s ends. And the early migrants from the north, particularly shorebirds like yellowlegs and plovers, start to move through. Water levels can become quite low, concentrating birds in the deeper areas and causing the closure of the fishing season for the public. 

  • Fall - September, October, November

    An adult western grebe, with its red eye contrasting to the black feathers at the top of its head, feeds a demanding young bird as big as its parent.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, Volunteer, NBRC/USFWS

    Young grebes, western, red-necked and pied-billed, follow their parents around, noisily begging to be fed. Waterfowl start to leave the area with more moving through from the north. A few birds migrate into the valley for the winter, including rough-legged hawks, seen soaring over the open uplands, hunting for small rodents.

    Ninepipe NWR closes to public access during hunting season to allow a resting area for the birds.