Seasons of Wildlife

The sun sets dramatically cross the Salton Sea, which reflects its orange and yellow rays. Flying ducks are silhouetted against the sunset.

The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge holds the distinction of having the most diverse array of bird species found on any national wildlife refuge in the west.

  • Spring

    Two hooded orioles, birds with black wings and brilliant yellow around their faces, watch their surroundings from a tree.

    Spring is when migrant birds fly home to their summer nesting sites. Colorful species such as Verdin and Bullock’s oriole can be seen perched in trees on the refuge. The majority of the Eared Grebe population uses the Sonny Bono Salton Sea during the migration seasons, most noticeably in spring. Over a million grebes have been documented at the Salton Sea at one time.

  • Summer

    A pair of quail look after their two young chicks.

    Nesting season! Quails, rails and surprising nesters such as Western Gull-billed Terns and Black Skimmers all raise their young here. The yellow-footed gull is a common visitor to the Salton Sea, which is the only place in the United States that this species can be reliably seen. The gulls breed in the Gulf of California, and can be seen after this period at the Salton Sea during the summer months.  A few usually linger at the Sea into winter, and they are very rare in spring.  

  • Fall

    A flock of hundreds of birds fly over dry reeds above the Salton Sea. Desert mountains can be seen in the distance behind them.

    It’s time to migrate back south! Migration to the sea starts as early as July and peaks in November. Many shorebird migrants arrive as early as August. Rafts of Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks are common sights in the area as ponds on the refuge are flooded by refuge staff. 

  • Winter

    Eight sandhill cranes forage in a wet, grassy field. The cranes are tall birds, nearly four-feet tall, with long black legs and slender necks. Each of them has a reddish forehead. Their bodies are white and gray.

    Winter is for fattening up. The area’s mild winters mean more than 200 bird species call this refuge home. Some of the more boisterous species include Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. The Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR manages an intensive farming program to provide nutritious forage for over 30,000 wintering geese and other migratory birds and wildlife.