Wildlife & Habitat

Duck on Rice Lake

  • Ring-necked Ducks

    Pair of ring-necked ducks swimming on a wetland

    In October 1994, more than one million ducks were observed on Rice Lake - a Minnesota record - most of which were ring-necked ducks. Ring-necked ducks breed and nest along the forested wetlands of the boreal region in Canada. During fall migration, huge flocks stop to feed and rest in the wild rice beds of Rice Lake.

    Mid-October is the best time to view large numbers of migrating ring-necked ducks at the refuge. The 2019 fall waterfowl survey saw an astounding peak count of 896,000 waterfowl with 883,000 being ring-necked ducks. Fall duck populations are directly tied to the wild rice produced on Rice Lake. In years with great rice crop, the refuge sees the greatest numbers of waterfowl. Poor rice crop yields fewer ducks.

  • Trumpeter Swans

    Pair of adult trumpeter swans swimming on a wetland by Donna Crider

    After disappearing from Minnesota in the 1880s, trumpeter swans were reintroduced to the state beginning in the 1960s. To prevent their extinction, several conservation agencies made an effort to raise and release trumpeter swans within the state. Rice Lake is now the host of numerous nesting pairs of trumpeter swans and has participated in efforts to track swan movement. Several swans in multiple states have been fitted with collar transmitters in a collaborative project to learn more about these birds' movements. The collared swans' whereabouts can be viewed here.

  • Golden-winged Warbler

    Golden-winged Warbler

    Most of the world’s golden-winged warblers breed and nest in central Minnesota, and unfortunately, their population is in rapid decline. Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge biologists are working hard to restore and manage the young forest habitat they breed in and to help stabilize their population. Look and listen for their “bee buzz buzz” song in the forest openings and brushy edges along the Wildlife Drive.

  • American Bittern

    American Bittern

    American bitterns are one of the many waterbird species that breed, nest and migrate through Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Your best chance of seeing one of these elusive, highly camouflaged birds is along the Wildlife Drive. Look closely for them as you pass the fens (wet meadows) and sedge meadows surrounding the Rice River and Rice Lake.

  • Emergent Marsh

    Emergent Marsh

    Rice Lake is considered an emergent marsh, a shallow lake with aquatic plants extending above the surface of the water. The lake is approximately 3,600 acres, or nearly one-quarter of the Refuge. Rice Lake is a shallow, natural, wild rice-producing wetland. Average water depth is only 2 feet and the bottom is a composition of mud and silt. Vegetation in the lake is dominated by wild rice and pickerelweed. Emergent marshes are natural nurseries, places for families of ducks and waterbirds to raise their babies. 

  • Fen

    Photo of fen landscape with a treeline and wispy clouds in the background

    The fens surrounding Rice Lake and the Rice River are dominated by sedges, as well as blue-joint and other grasses. These unique wetlands provide important breeding and nesting habitat for priority species such as yellow rail, American bittern and LeConte’s sparrow.

  • Mixed Forest

    Mixed Forest

    You can explore more than 7,000 acres of forest at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The northern hardwood forest along the Wildlife Drive is dominated by quaking and big-toothed aspens, red and sugar maples, paper birch, basswood, and red oak. You can also see lowland forest stands along the Rice River and surrounding the Twin Lakes. Breeding birds on the refuge depend on different types and sizes of forest. For example, golden-winged Warblers breed in young forest and along brushy edges, while ovenbirds nest in the forest interior.