Wildlife

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(Adam Grimm/ USFWS)

The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established in part “to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity including, but not limited to, canvasbacks and other migratory birds, Dall sheep, bears, moose, wolves, wolverines and other furbearers, caribou... and salmon.”

  • Birds

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    In the spring and summer, 147 species of birds dominate the thousands of ponds and lakes of the Yukon Flats. The Refuge provides important breeding habitat for a variety of birds including ducks, loons, geese, swans, and shorebirds. Waterfowl travel to the Yukon Flats from 11 foreign countries, 8 Canadian provinces, and 43 of the 50 states. The refuge hosts more than one million ducks annually from all four North American flyways and supports the highest breeding densities of canvasback ducks in Alaska. The Yukon Flats are especially notable for the consistency of quality habitat. When the prairie pothole region experiences drought, displaced birds travel further north to Yukon Flats in search of suitable nesting sites. 

    Gwich'in-English Guide to Common Birds on the Yukon Flats

    Gwich'in-English Guide to Waterfowl on the Yukon Flats

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  • Mammals

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    The Yukon Flats Refuge supports rich populations of furbearers including beaver, fox, lynx, marten, muskrat, river otter, weasel, and wolverine. Moose are the dominant ungulate and can be found congregating in the Yukon River valley during the winter months in search of shelter and food. The upland regions on the periphery of the refuge are home to caribou and Dall sheep. Black bears are common in the forested river bottoms and lowlands of the refuge, while grizzly bears prefer to roam the upland and mountainous regions. 

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  • Fish

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    The Yukon River, along with 10 other major river drainages and more than 20,000 lakes, provide habitat for 18 species of fish on the refuge. Chinook, chum, and coho salmon from the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea swim through the refuge’s rivers and streams to access their native spawning grounds as part of their yearly migration.  Those who come from the Bering Sea travel over 2,000 miles, farther than salmon of any other river system in the world. Resident fish in the Yukon Flats include Arctic grayling, burbot, northern pike, and several species of whitefish. 

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  • Amphibians

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    Only one amphibian, the wood frog (Rana sylvatica), is found on the refuge. This small frog, averaging 2.5 inches long, inhabits a variety of habitats, but is commonly found along shorelines of lakes and ponds. It hibernates in shallow depressions in the upper layer of the previous year’s dead vegetation. The wood frog is able to survive winter cold by increasing the glucose stored in the cell fluids; the glucose acts as antifreeze and prevents skin cells from freezing.