Wildlife & Habitat

Mule Deer Habitat

Habitat is the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds it, and is made up of all the things needed for survival, such as water, sunlight, food and space. Providing ideal habitat is the refuge's greatest goal, and Umatilla excels at it.

Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge sits in the Columbia Basin, which has a broad collection of habitats and thus a diversity of species. In turn, almost every habitat type found in the Columbia Basin can be found on Umatilla NWR—shrub-steppe; cliffs, rimrock and rock outcroppings; deep water, riparian and wetlands; and islands. The refuge also has farm fields, managed to provide both a cash crop for farmers and habitat for wildlife.

The dry upland habitats that surround the Columbia River and wetland sloughs are home to a very different group of species with different needs. Many of these animals can tolerate the hot, dry temperatures of the desert. Long-billed curlews, burrowing owls, sagebrush lizards, side-blotch lizards and kangaroo rats are some of the desert celebrities occupying the uplands.

There are several islands that are part of the refuge's land base located in between Washington and Oregon. The islands are closed to protect cultural resources and wildlife and are home to many different colonial nesting birds, including great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, double-crested cormorants and cliff swallows. We take great care to protect these delicate nesting colonies.

A prime feature of the refuge is the magnificent Columbia River flowing through the center of it, which gives life to the basin and offers habitat for many species of wildlife. Bald eagles are always present along the shorelines in the wintertime where they take advantage of the surplus of food. As the bald eagle leaves us during the summertime the osprey takes its place, fishing the shorelines and nesting along the river. River otters and beavers are secretive but present, and a host of diving ducks utilizes the river in the wintertime, including goldeneyes, ringneck ducks, buffleheads and scaup.

Farming for wildlife? In order to provide the necessary high-quality food that waterfowl need we have a cooperative farming program. Approximately 1,400 acres of refuge lands are irrigated croplands, which provide food and cover for wildlife. Local farmers grow corn, wheat and other crops under cooperative agreements whereby the refuge's share of the crops is left in the field for wildlife. These important carbohydrates help the birds prepare for their migration north as spring approaches.

The combination of habitats is a natural magnet to both resident and migratory wildlife. Seasonal changes in the habitats result in a change in numbers and diversity of wildlife using the refuge through the year. Some species even drift between habitats, like coyotes, mule deer and the coveys of quail and bouquets of pheasants often seen foraging near the roads. One thing is certain: With Umatilla's diversity of habitats you are sure to see a wide array of wildlife calling the refuge home.