About Us

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1958 primarily for nesting, resting, feeding, and staging area for migratory waterfowl. Iroquois Refuge was one of the first Important Bird Areas (IBA) identified in New York State. This designation was prompted by the significant diversity of bird species supported by Refuge habitats, especially wetlands. The varied habitats of the Refuge include a total of 10,828 acres of forested wetlands, marshland, upland forests, grasslands, and shrublands. They support approximately 266 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, plus reptiles, fish, amphibians, and insects.

Our namesake comes from the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy that resides in the northeast. The Haudenosaunee is made up of six tribes: Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, and Tuscarora. Many of our nature trails and overlooks are named in honor of these tribes.

Our goals are to provide high quality freshwater wetland migration stopover and breeding habitat, to maintain the health and integrity of Oak Orchard Creek and associated floodplain and wetlands, provide a diverse mix of grassland, shrubland and forested upland habitats; provide high quality recreation, education, interpretive, hunting, and fishing programs; and to enhance partnerships with local communities and organizations.

Our Mission


"Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, known locally as part of the "Alabama Swamps", will be the ecological "puzzle piece" for western New York by creating and maintaining unsurpassed habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife. By encouraging compatible wildlife dependent recreation and working with partners, a deep understanding and appreciation for the refuge's ecological integrity will be fostered in its visitors, regardless of generational, economic, or social boundaries. Through these efforts, future generations will cherish Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge's interconnectivity to the much larger National Wildlife Refuge System."


Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose. Iroquois NWR was established "...for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or any other management purposes for migratory birds" under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

Our History

At the end of the last glacial period, a huge lake called Tonawanda covered much of western New York. Through the slow passage of time the lake repeatedly drained and filled until only a few swampy areas remained. Here, wildlife flourished in the diverse habitat.

Centuries later, the Seneca Indians began to drain the swamp and clear some of the forests for farming. To the first European settlers in the early 19th century, the remaining clusters of oak trees were reminiscent of an orchard and so they named the area "Oak Orchard Swamp." Settlers expanded artificial drainage of the swamp to improve logging and farming operations, but, plagued by high costs, and a cycle of muck fires and floods, the outcome was marginal at best. By the 1950s, landowners were looking to further develop and convert the lands to other uses. This development would have resulted in the loss of these vital wetlands forever.

On May 19, 1958 the federal government established the Oak Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, using funds from the sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, or "Duck Stamps". To avoid confusion with the neighboring Oak Orchard State Wildlife Management Area, the refuge was renamed Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in 1964.

Other Facilities in this Complex

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas, or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location. Refuges are grouped into a complex structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

Learn more about structure
because they occur in a similar ecological region, such as a watershed or specific habitat type, and have a related purpose and management need. Typically a project leader or complex manager oversees the general management of all refuges within the complex and refuge managers are responsible for operations at specific refuges. Supporting staff, composed of administrative, law enforcement, refuge manager, biological, visitor services, and maintenance professionals, can be centrally located and help to support all refuges within the complex.

Also, the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office as well as an office from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation are co-located with the refuge.