Wildlife & Habitat

Marsh Lake

Rolling prairie, productive wetlands, and wet meadows provide excellent habitat for wildlife. Most of the wildlife present in historical times is still found here today. Our wildlife list has the birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that have been observed here. The Refuge also has a herbarium and a plant list. North, Middle, and South Marsh Lakes, pictured above, combine to form one of the largest natural lakes in the Sandhills.

  • Prairie Grouse

    Sharp-tailed grouse - Gibson

    Both sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens can be found here. Both grouse prefer large expanses of prairie which can be found on the Refuge and in the surrounding area. Refuge grasslands are managed to provide both nesting and brood rearing cover. Refuge biologists survey their numbers in the spring when they gather at traditional mating grounds called leks. This is also the best time for visitors to see them up close putting on the best show on the prairie. Photography blinds on the leks are available in April and early-May by reservation.

  • Blanding’s Turtle

    Blandings Turtle - NGPC

    The beautiful Blanding’s turtle lives in wetlands but travels to the sandy hills to nest. They sometimes move great distances between nesting, summer, and winter habitats. Blanding’s may live up to 70 years of age, do not reach sexual maturity until in the teens, and do not lay a large number of eggs. As with other long lived animals, death of a large number of adults can reduce populations. Special fences, that prevent turtles from entering the roadway and being killed, have been built along US Highway 83. The best time to see them is in the spring basking on a muskrat hut or moving through the hills to nest.

  • Coyote

    Coyote - NGPC

    The best time to see coyotes is to hear them! They generally put on a fine concert each evening as the sun sets. Pairs or packs of coyotes exchange howls, yodels, yips, and barks that can be heard for long distances on a still evening. The best chance to actually see them is on an early winter morning as they travel on frozen lakes. In the spring they dig out dens on a sandy side hill to raise their pups. They are predators that feed on mice, frogs, birds and bird eggs but will also eat fruits, berries, and carrion.

  • Sandhill Prairie

    Sunflowers on the Sandhills

    Tall grass-covered sand dunes, oriented northwest to southeast, with lakes and meadows in between the ridges characterize the Sandhills Region of Nebraska. Soils are wind-laid sand that has not been held in place long by vegetation. They are light colored and have little organic matter. Rainfall is quickly absorbed by the sandy soils and causes little erosion and low evaporation rates. Native grasses grow well in these conditions. Sandy soils and low rainfall have kept much of the Sandhill Prairie from being plowed and planted to row crops as has happened to prairies in other areas around the country.

  • Lakes and Marshes

    Hwy 83 South of Valentine - Nebraska Tourism

    The Nebraska Sandhills overlay the High Plains Aquifer - commonly referred to as the Ogallala Aquifer. This groundwater resource creates an interspersion of shallow lakes, semi-permanent, and temporary wetlands in the lower elevations and valleys where the groundwater level is exposed. Water resources are the driving force supporting the ecological diversity and integrity of the Nebraska Sandhills. There are 37 major wetland complexes totaling approximately 13,000 acres on the Refuge. These wetlands are a mix of shallow lakes, marshes, seasonal wetlands, wet meadows, fens, and small streams that run during high water periods. Many wetlands, a most valuable wildlife habitat, have been drained to make way for agriculture and development.

  • Sub-Irrigated Meadows

    Grasses - NGPC

    Sub-irrigated range sites are meadows that are very close to the groundwater level. Sub-irrigated range sites are dominated by Tallgrass Prairie species such as Big Bluestem and Indian Grass. Soil moisture in the sub-irrigated range site is adequate to support the deep rooted warm season native grasses even during periods of drought. Sub-irrigated range sites are commonly invaded by exotic species such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Smooth Brome, and Red Top. Refuge meadows are managed to reduce these exotics and to provide tall dense nesting cover for birds.