Wildlife & Habitat

Mallards in Flight

Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is managed to provide an inviolate sanctuary for waterfowl and other migratory birds.

  • Northern Pintail

    Northern Pintail

    During the spring and fall you can see large gatherings of northern pintails using the refuge as a place to rest and feed during their migration. Pintails primarily feed by using their bill to filter out grains, seeds, weeds, aquatic insects and crustaceans from the water.  The male is easily distinguished by it beautiful color pattern and long tail for which it gets its name.

    Other duck species that use the refuge during the migration period include mallards, gadwalls, and teals, which usually can be seen from the entrance road. By using the viewing scopes located at the overlooks on the road to Swan Lake and on the nature trail, visitors can see other water birds like American white pelicans, Canada and greater white-fronted geese and trumpeter swans. The auto tour leads to Silver Lake, where snow geese and various diving duck species such as common mergansers, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks and lesser scaup feed and rest. Later in the spring and summer, great blue herons and great egrets are readily seen from this road.

  • Greater Yellowlegs

    Greater Yellowlegs

    During the late spring and late summer, shorebirds like the greater yellowlegs stop over at Swan Lake to take advantage of mudflat habitat. The greater yellowleg along with other shorebird species will pick over these mudflats feeding on small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.  To accommodate these birds, refuge staff draw down moist soil units to expose the mudflats during the shorebird migration periods. 

  • Bald Eagles

    Bald Eagle

    Bald eagles can be seen year round at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  The bald eagle, along with other raptor species such as the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawk, nest and raise their young on the refuge during the early spring and summer months. The largest concentration of bald eagles using the refuge can be observed during the late fall and winter as many of them follow the waterfowl migration to the refuge.

    Besides the bald eagle, the refuge also provides habitat for a number of other migratory birds.  We see many neo-tropical migrants, including eastern phoebes, Baltimore orioles, and summer tanagers. Several species of native sparrows are present during migration, including swamp sparrows in wetland shrubs and fox and white-throated sparrows in drier, brushy habitat. Both grasshopper and field sparrows nest on the refuge. Smith’s and Lapland longspurs are seen in fall and spring. In the fall, we see tens of thousands of red-winged blackbirds, as well as tree and other swallows, as they come into the marsh to roost in the evenings.

  • White-tailed Deer

    White-tailed Deer

    White-tailed deer are a common site at the refuge and are best viewed in the evening time.  During mid-summer keep an eye out for fawns with their mothers grazing and frolicking in the refuge fields. Also keep an eye out for some of our other commonly seen resident wildlife species such as fox squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, beaver, muskrats, opossums, and cottontail rabbits. River otters live here, but are not often seen. Otters were reintroduced onto the refuge in 1982 by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the success of the experiment led to a state-wide reintroduction program. Frog and toad surveys in past years have detected four species: western chorus frog, southern leopard frog, gray tree frog, and northern spring peeper.

  • Moist Soil and Marshes

    Moist Soil Marshes

     When mud flats are exposed by summer drawdowns of the water level, moist soil plants grow. These plants have the potential to produce high seed yields which serve as an important food source for waterfowl and other wildlife. Waterfowl need a diversity of invertebrates and plant foods from all different wetland types to provide them with a complete diet during fall and spring migration . The refuge has 16 moist soil units; the largest are Swan Lake and South Pool. These units are drained on a staggered schedule from April through June, and are re-flooded during the fall or spring.

  • Grasslands

    Grasslands at Swan Lake

    Since European settlement in North America only 1% of tallgrass prairie remains. , Prairies are a complex mix of grasses, wildlflowers, and other plants that provide seeds, insects, cover and shelter for a variety of birds,including quail, bitterns, northern harriers, short-eared owls, and many songbirds. Most grasslands on the refuge are located on the east side, where there is less flooding. Flood waters can sometimes be harmful to native grasslands.

  • Cropland

    Cropland at Swan Lake

    We conduct cropland management on about 1,000 acres of the refuge. The practice of cropland management provides supplemental food sources for migratory waterfowl, in addition to the many natural foods in Refuge wetland units. Croplands are cooperatively farmed by local farmers, and a portion of the crops are left on the refuge as wildlife food. We also use farming to maintain early successional stages in the refuge’s moist soil units. Future land management planning will result in a reduction of cropland on the refuge as those areas are converted to wetland and grassland habitats.