Wildlife & Habitat

A red-necked grebe swims along the shoreline vegetation at Ninepipe NWR.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, volunteer NBRC/USFWS

Established among the prairie potholes of the Mission Valley to be “….a refuge and breeding grounds for native birds”, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent breeding and staging habitat for abundant waterfowl and other water birds.

  • Birds

    A male yellow-headed blackbirds sits prominently on the end of a cattail at the edge of the water.  Photo by Jesse Achtenberg, USFWS

    The wetland habitat supports abundant waterfowl species such as mallards, northern shovelers, gadwalls, redheads and ruddy ducks. It has become an important breeding and staging area for a large portion of the Flathead Valley Canada goose population. Red-necked and western grebes nest on the refuge. American bitterns and sora rails can often be seen and heard. Non-breeding white pelicans spend the summer feeding and loafing. There is an active rookery of great–blue herons and another of double–crested cormorants.

    Other birds include song sparrows, yellow–headed and red–winged blackbirds, and ring–necked pheasants. Osprey nest on platforms, which are located on the south shore of the refugee. Follow the link to the Bird Checklist for Ninepipe NWR.

    Ninepipe National Wildlife Audubon Christmas Bird Count

    Ninepipe NWR is the location for just one of over 2,300 National Audubon Christmas Bird Count circles. The Refuge sits in the center of a 15-mile diameter circle that encompasses a large portion of the Mission Valley, from Ronan to Charlo to St. Ignatius, east into the Mission Mountains and along McDonald Reservoir, northwest to the Lower Crow Reservoir, and southwest to include a corner of the National Bison Range. To find out about specific results for this count (coded as MTNI), or to learn about other circles and how to be involved, visit the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count website.

  • Animals

    A nighttime photo taken by remote camera of a grizzly bear using one of the underpasses created by Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Montana Department of Transportation to allow wildlife to move across Highway 93.  Photo courtesy of CSKT and MDOT

    Since most of Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge is composed of open water, resident animals include those dependent on, and able to live with, water. Common mammals include muskrat, striped skunk, mink, field mice, and meadow voles. A few white-tail deer will be seen on the uplands.

    Grizzly bears will sometimes move down from the Mission Mountains to forage on sedges and grasses, and to hunt for rodents on Ninepipe NWR and surrounding lands. The bears need to cross Highway 93 to reach this area and, unfortunately, one or two bears are killed each year. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Montana Department of Transportation are working together to develop crossings, both under-highway passes and wildlife bridges, to reduce casualties, not only for bears, but other wildlife using the Refuge and surrounding areas. Many have already been installed along Highway 93 both north and south of the Refuge and are monitored to determine effectiveness. Designs for the Ninepipe area are in the works. Click on "Learn More" to go to the Tribes’ Wildlife Crossing webpage. 

    Learn More
  • Habitat

    Waterfowl swim in the calm, reflecting waters of a wetland.  USFWS photo.

    The rolling terrain and interspersed small wetlands of the Mission Valley were created by pre-historic glacial activity which ended approximately 12,000 years ago. These wetlands are called kettles and were formed from melting glacial ice and are of enormous value to many wildlife species. Within this rich and productive environment, the Refuge provides unique benefits to wildlife by being among the few places in the valley where wildlife protection and conservation are the driving priorities.

    Ninepipe NWR is superimposed on a reservoir that contains about 1,672 acres of water at full pool level. The Flathead Irrigation Project manages the reservoir for irrigation and flood control. The Refuge consists of 390 acres of upland habitat in a narrow band around the reservoir. Grasslands surrounding the refuge include 3,420 acres of Montana State Wildlife Management Areas, approximately 3,000 acres of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal lands, 3,160 acres of Federal Waterfowl Production Areas and 6,400 acres of Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easements which preserve wildlife habitat by preventing housing development and wetland drainage.