Wildlife & Habitat

A female green-winged teal, in mottle brown plumage, rests on a partially submerged log with 4 fuzzy, newly hatched young.  Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS

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

  • Birds

    Top view of 4 white trumpeter swans flying, with long necks stretched and large wings out.  Photo by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

    The wetland habitat supports abundant waterfowl species such as mallards, northern shovelers, gadwalls, redheads and ruddy ducks. Other birds include song sparrows, yellow–headed and red–winged blackbirds, and ring–necked pheasants. Bald eagles have nested here. For more details, follow the link to the Birds of Pablo webpage. 

    The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes successfully introduced Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinators) into the Mission Valley in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and other entities. Nineteen swans were released at Pablo National Wildlife Refuge in 1996 and the swans are now established in the valley and breed yearly. Read about the details of the early success at this link

  • Animals

    A brown and fuzzy muskrat, with a long hairless tail, sits on muddy push up at the edge of a cattail lined marsh.  Photo by R. Town, USFWS

    Since most of Pablo National Wildlife Refuge is composed of open water, resident animals include those dependent on, and able to live with, water. Common mammals include muskrat (photo left), striped skunk, mink, field mice, and meadow voles. While small, they can be very important. For example, muskrats make “push ups” of mud and marsh vegetation for dwellings and geese and swans frequently use the tops as nesting sites. Mice and voles provide a food source for summer nesting northern harriers and for wintering rough-legged hawks and snowy owls. 

  • Habitat

    Close up of a long billed curlew, a large shorebird with brown and tan speckled feathers, long legs and an extremely long, down curved bill.  Photo by Robert Burton, USFWS

    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.

    Pablo NWR is superimposed on a reservoir that contains about 1,850 acres of water at full pool level. The Flathead Irrigation Project manages the reservoir for irrigation and flood control. The Service partnered with Ducks Unlimited to create a series of ponds along the west edge of the Refuge for waterfowl. It was here that the initial release of Trumpeter Swans occurred in 1996 as part of a reintroduction project initiated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

    The Refuge consists of 692 acres of upland habitat in a narrow band around the reservoir. While small, it provides home for upland nesting birds, such as the long-billed curlew, pictured above. Snowy owls hunt these fields when, and if, they invade from the north during the winter.