Wildlife & Habitat

Leopard Frog by Koen Breedveld

Ruby Valley is a surprising wildlife oasis in the Great Basin Ecosystem. An expansive marsh is laced with riparian corridors coursing with cool, spring-fed waters.  Together with lush meadow and shrub-steppe uplands, these habitats support a diversity of wildlife seldom found in the high desert.  View our  Wildlife Checklist for a complete list of species known to occur on the Refuge.

  • Birds

    Canvasback Hen

    Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is either home or stopover location for over 220 species of birds.  Of specific interest are Canvasback ducks, Trumpeter Swans, Greater Sandhill Cranes, and Greater Sage Grouse. 

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  • Mammals


    Several mammals also make their mark in the food chain in Ruby Valley as predator and prey to the numerous species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other mammals. 

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  • Reptiles and Amphibians

    Great Basin Rattlesnake

    Northern Leopard Frogs, Great Basin Rattlesnakes, Western Fence Lizards, and Western Racers are just a few of the reptiles and amphibians that may be found at Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

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  • Fish


    Ruby lake is home to the native Relict Dace as well as stocked Largemouth Bass and several species of stocked trout.

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  • Marsh

    Duck on the marsh

    At approximately 17,000 acres, freshwater marsh is the dominant habitat and what primarily attracts the wildlife for which the Refuge was established.  The marsh receives cool, clean water from about 200 springs emanating near the base of the Ruby Mountains.  Nine-thousand acres of the South Marsh are so pristine they were designated in 1972 as a National Natural Landmark.  Composed primarily of Hardstem Bulrush, it is one of the largest bulrush marshes in North America.  Open water with abundant submerged aquatic plants is dispersed amongst dense stands of bulrush forming a habitat mosaic.  Bulrush provides cover and nesting substrate for diving species such as Canvasbacks, Redheads, and Ruddy Ducks, while the open waters provide a place for them to feed.   

  • Riparian

    Fall on Cave Creek

    Riparian habitats are found along the edge of rivers, streams or other watercourses.  On the Refuge these are located along Cave Creek and the Collection Ditch.  Habitat associated with Cave Creek is riparian woodland which is composed of Aspen, Cottonwood, and Willow trees, as well as Gooseberry, Wild Rose, and other shrubs and grasses.  This area is highly attractive to nesting songbirds, raptors, neotropical migrants, Porcupines, Western Cottontail rabbits, and Mule Deer.  Riparian habitat along the Collection Ditch, a man-made canal that collects spring water from a number of sources and flows southward, primarily consists of Willow shrubs, Wild Rose, and various grasses, sedges, and forbs.  Yellow Warblers nest in the Willow thickets which also provide shade for Rainbow Trout lurking in the clear water.  Northern Leopard Frogs also utilize this riparian zone where they spend much time foraging for insects in the lush wet meadow vegetation adjacent to sections of the Collection Ditch.

  • Wet Meadows

    Meadow Habitat

    Transition areas between marsh or riparian habitats and dry uplands are called wet meadows.  These are mostly level sites with moist, rich soils supporting a lush growth of grasses, sedges, rushes, and forbs.  Wet meadows attract sandhill cranes, Greater Sage-Grouse, Long-billed Curlews, grassland birds such as the Western Meadowlark, and small mammals which are preyed upon by raptors, Coyotes, and Badgers.  Wet meadows are also favored nesting habitat for many duck species such as Mallard, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, and both Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal.

  • Shrub-Steppe

    Shrub_steppe habitat

    Shrub-steppe is an upland habitat dominated by perennial shrubs with an understory of grasses and broadleaved plants.  Sagebrush is the dominant shrub on the west side of the Refuge, particularly on the drier slopes at the base of the Ruby Mountains.  Greasewood and rabbitbrush dominate the flats on the east side, giving way to low sagebrush on the drier slopes.  Shrub-steppe is a critical habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse and Pygmy Rabbits, and is used by a number of other bird, reptile, and mammal species for food, cover, and nesting sites.