Wildlife Observation

Bird Watching

Watching wildlife is an exciting experience because you can never be sure of what you will see. Over 250 bird species use Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge. Many species are seasonal visitors, coming in great numbers during migration periods.


Large populations of migrating mallards, pintails and Canada geese can be seen in September, October and November. They rest and feed here until harsh winter conditions push them farther south to the Columbia River. Wintering waterfowl populations usually peak in November; 30,000 mallards can typically be seen during this month. Raptors and marsh birds, including eagles, hawks, herons, gulls, egrets and terns, also visit the refuge in fall.



From December through February you can still see large numbers of waterfowl as they spend part of their day resting on the refuge. Some feeding activity occurs off the refuge, so look for magnificent flights of ducks and geese departing or arriving early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Wildlife observation is best after mid-January, at the end of hunting season. Bald or golden eagles may be seen in the riparian zones along Toppenish Creek, where thousands of songbirds find food and shelter during the winter months. By late winter freezing conditions often occur, forcing the migratory birds to move to the Columbia River or further south.


Spring & Summer

As the winter transitions into spring, most of the waterfowl and songbirds depart the refuge for northern nesting grounds. However, some stay and others join them after spending the winter further south. Mallards, cinnamon teal, shovelers, wood ducks and many waterbirds and songbirds raise their young here during the spring and summer months.


Wildlife Viewing Tips

Increase your chances of seeing wildlife by adopting the following tips.

  • Study and learn more about wildlife. Many good bird and other books are available to assist you in determining what species are common to the area you are visiting.
  • Visit the refuge early in the morning, or just before sunset. Animals are usually more active then, especially during the warmer times of the year, and can often be seen coming and going to feeding and resting areas.
  • Watch for wildlife in areas where two habitat types meet. Animals are attracted to the variety of food and shelter found in these transitional zones.
  • Use spotting scopes and binoculars to get a closer look without leaving your car. In fact, many animals don't equate cars with predators, so cars can make effective blinds.
  • If on foot, use visual obstructions, such as trees or tall vegetation, as a barrier to being seen, similar to a blind.
  • Move slowly, speak softly, and avoid all other loud noises.
  • Please do not use recordings to locate animals, and if you record their calls, please do not play the sound back until you get home.
  • Maintain distance between you and the animal. Don't try to get close for photography. If an animal starts to act nervous (e.g., burrowing owls will start to squat down), back slowly away immediately.
  • No dogs!
  • Please respect landowner’s rights by staying off their land and respecting their private property.

The next visitor will appreciate you not scaring the animal into hiding.