Wildlife & Habitat

Birds landing in a marsh

The Stillwater wetlands are well-known to birders because of the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, such as Long-billed dowitcher, Black-necked stilt, and American avocet (above) passing through during migration (in a normal to above average water year). The refuge is an area of International Importance within the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network (external link) among several other designations of importance. 




  • Wildlife Viewing

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    North of Division Road:  this is the 'open' or hunt area, which receives water as available after it flows north through the southern refuge sanctuary wetlands. These open area units are most easily reached by driving North on Hunter Road to Division Road then east to Nutgrass Rd. to Navy Cabin Road then west. Goose Lake, all the Nutgrass units, Pintail Bay, Swan Lake Check are reached by this route. To reach the west units, continue north on Hunter Rd to Center Rd, then either east or left will take you around Tule Lk, Swan Lk, West Marsh.  West Marsh (Willow and Millen) are filling. Parking is in designated pullouts, boat launch areas or along the roads as long as two wheels remain on the road and a clear lane of travel is open for others to pass. 

    South of Division Road:  this is the refuge 'sanctuary', with access limited to roads and walk paths - no off- road or off-trail use permitted. The primary points of interest here are the Tule Trail, just north up Hunter Road as you enter the refuge; Stillwater Point Reservoir, 1/2 mi east of the main refuge entry kiosk, and the one-way 6.5mi Foxtail Lake driving tour route, across from Stillwater Pt parking area. Each is signed and offers restrooms, parking, walk paths, interpretive signs and observation areas.

    Boating is not allowed in any wetland unit outside of waterfowl hunting season, except non-motorized boating on Swan Check Lake. During the October - January waterfowl hunting season, boating is only allowed in open units north of Division Road. Airboats need a Special Use Permit.

    Wildlife-dependent recreation permitted at Stillwater NWR includes: wildlife observation, hunting (in season), environmental education, interpretation and photography. Please remember that Wildlife Comes First on a refuge, so if your actions cause animals to move, sound alarm calls or change their behavior, then you are creating a disturbance and should move away or modify your actions. Wildlife harassment is harmful and illegal. 

    Click this link for the Great Basin drought monitoring website, which has lots of other links for water and drought information. Another good site with information is the Great Basin water network Nevada drought forum. Finally, the NRCS in Nevada posts historical records of water and snowpack across the state.

  • Spring is for Shorebirds, Fall is for Waterfowl

    Ducks in flight-218

    SHOREBIRD SPRING: Beginning in February and continuing through late summer, the shorebirds and waders arrive, many to remain and nest in the Stillwater marsh. This area was recognized early on as a critical stopover site for millions of birds on the long-distance journeys. From White-faced Ibis, Avocet, Stilt, Dowitchers, Curlews, to Sandpipers, Terns and Gulls the marsh comes alive with the sights and sounds of birds setting up colonial nesting sites (group homes!) or individually intricate nests of mud, tules, cattail fibers, feathers and sticks.  

    This migration is why several national and international birding organizations determined the Stillwater marsh as an Important Bird Area and a Hemispheric Reserve.  The Spring Wings Festival in May celebrates the return of the birds, as well as all the other important winged creatures making this area their seasonal home.

    WATERFOWL FALL: Beginning in late August and continuing through the first frosts of Fall, waterfowl - ducks, geese and swans - make their southward journey down the eastern edge of the Pacific Flyway. Thousands of birds travel through the Lahontan Valley in search of a rest stop with open water, food and shelter. Stillwater NWR provides just the right amount of each for these high-flyers as they cross over the vast desert terrain on their way to California and beyond.

    Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Greenwing and CinnamonTeal,  and Canada geese make up the majority of early season migrants. As northern temperature drop and daylight decreases ducks such as Pintail and Canvasback, along with White-front geese and Tundra Swans navigate their way south. Their V-shaped formations and variety of group honks, quacks and whistles herald their arrival, often at night.

    Waterfowl hunting is an American tradition, and can be traced back several thousand years to the Native American use of hand-crafted decoys used to draw the birds closer to be netted, speared or taken by bow and arrow. Today, waterfowl hunting is just as much about the ability to call or decoy birds as it is about the actual harvest. Stillwater NWR allows waterfowl hunting for ducks, geese and Tundra swans within state and Federal seasons, limits and regulations. Please visit the Visitor Activities page on this site for General Refuge Hunting information, or call the refuge office at 775/423-5128.  

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  • Water is Life for Wetlands

    resouce mgmt page

    Stillwater NWR is irrigated from the Carson River through a series of canals and delivery ditches, operated by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District in Fallon NV. The refuge is the largest water rights owner in the Lahontan Valley, and has an active Realty division which has Federal authority to purchase water rights from area landowners, through a 'willing seller/buyer' program. This helps to provide water critical to maintaining these unique desert wetlands. 

    In low water years, priority maintenance projects can be completed on water control structures, delivery canals, bridges and access roads. Watch for heavy equipment on the refuge during the week, especially in summer when dry conditions exist.  

    Water flow readings from meters placed throughout the Lahontan Valley, including Stillwater NWR and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribal wetlands, are monitored regularly to ensure the wetlands receive the correct water deliveries from the irrigation district. 

    Stillwater NWR has staff gauges in most wetland units, and these are checked more frequently during the irrigation season (April - September).