Wildlife & Habitat

Canada Goose in Reeds Promo

Located in a region of Southern Nevada that only receives 6.4 inches of rain per year, Pahranagat NWR’s lakes, marshes, wet meadows and tall cottonwood trees are a stunning contrast to the surrounding desert. All surface water entering the refuge comes from Ash and Crystal springs which are located north of the refuge.  This water flow makes it possible for the arid Pahranagat Valley to blossom with life.  Five habitat types located within the refuge’s 5,382 acres provide for a stunning array of flora and fauna.

  • Lakes and Marshes

    Marsh with Heron

    During the spring and fall migrations, wildlife activity on the lakes and marshes reaches its zenith. Thousands of ducks, geese, and other wetland birds visit the 580 acres of open water in search of food.  Redheads, canvasbacks, coots, and ruddy ducks dive below the surface in search of aquatic vegetation, mollusks and insects.  Preferring shallower waters, mallards and northern pintail ducks tip head down to gather a similar diet. Among other raptors, visiting bald eagles can be spotted pulling bass or catfish from the Upper Lake. 
    Wading along the lakes and marshes edges, heron and egrets stoically stalk their prey.  With a hatchet-like swing of their necks they pluck fish from the water. The smaller phalaropes and sandpipers search these shallow waters for insects, crustaceans and worms.

  • Meadows

    Meadow Yellow Flower Mod

    In areas of the refuge with a high water table and slow drainage, meadows of salt grass, sedge, baltic rush, and yerba mansa support a variety of fauna. This thick moist foliage supports a large population of insects which serve as food for many of the bird species that visit the refuge.  Several species of ducks and geese feed on the grasses of the meadows and also utilize this vegetation for nest construction.  
    Several mice and vole populations are dependent on the grass cover of these meadows for protection from predators, habitat, and food.  The at-risk Pahranagat Valley montane vole is only found in this type of habitat, demonstrating how valuable and unique these meadows are in the desert. 


    To increase the food potential of the meadows, management will at times conduct prescribed burns or mowing.  Younger vegetation is more nutritionally valuable to wildlife and can often produce a higher yield of seeds. Prescribed fire dramatically increases vegetative diversity improving the habitat for wildlife.

  • Riparian

    Riparian Habitat

    Cottonwood and willow trees line the refuge’s lake shores, watercourses and springs.  Riparian habitats, or wildlife habitats found along the banks of a stream and springs, are among the most endangered and valuable habitats in the Southwest. On the refuge, riparian areas provide feeding and nesting grounds for birds that migrate here from the tropics, such as the yellow warbler, Bullock’s oriole and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.  
    To improve this habitat, nonnative invasive species are removed as part of our management strategy.  Nonnative plant species frequently out compete native vegetation and offer little value to wildlife, reducing the quality of the habitats found on the refuge.   
    In the Black Canyon area of the refuge, restoration work has converted flat farmland into a meandering stream channel. In the future, this area will be planted with native species in order to create more valuable riparian habitat on the refuge for wildlife usage. 
    Restoration work has also taken place at several of the springs on the refuge. The springs have been expanded and native vegetation has been planted to increase riparian habitat. The endemic Pahranagat speckled dace has been successfully reintroduced to one of the springs on the Refuge and it is hoped that the endangered Pahranagat Round-Tail chub will flourish as well. Additionally, the restoration of these springs has allowed the native Northern Leopard frog populations to soar.

  • Desert

    Desert Tortoise Mod

    Creosote, white bursage, and a dispersed population of Joshua trees make up most of the desert vegetation.  Saltbush, greasewood, and rabbitbush are found in the transitional area between the desert uplands and the wetlands.

    An abundant population of jackrabbits and cottontails utilize this desert upland habitat.  Gambel’s quail are a frequent sight as they run beneath the desert shrubs when spooked.  During the warmer months of the year, April through September, reptiles are active and plentiful in this habitat. 

    In the more secluded areas of the refuge the threatened desert tortoise burrows into the desert ground.  Their dens are often beneath creosote shrubs which help stabilize the ground.  Emerging in the fall to eat, the tortoises will forage on the desert plant life which provides all of their moisture needs.  Occasionally, tortoise dens will be abandoned and reoccupied by the burrowing owl.  Unlike most owls, this bird can be seen during the day and usually gives a two syllable “who-who” call.