Seasons of Wildlife


Spring is the busiest season on the refuge - both in terms of bird sightings and in terms of people. March is when the waterfowl numbers begin to increase as the ducks begin to move north. This is also when we start to see Canada geese and trumpeter swans nesting on muskrat cabins with goslings and cygnets arriving in April. Shorebirds and songbirds begin to show up on their journey north in mid-April and the numbers and variety grow through the end of May. This is also when the wading birds that will eventually nest on West Sister Island arrive. This is a great time to watch bald eagles feeding chicks in their nests. Map turtles are often seen basking in the sun during nesting season and a fascinating sight it groups of long-nosed gar spawning along the creek.


While the bird numbers go down in summer, there is still a lot to see. The wading birds are busy feeding in the marshes to carry food to the young in the nests on West Sister Island. Bald eagle chicks fledge and can be seen feeding in the creek and wetlands. Trumpeter swans are frequently seen feeding with their groups of cygnets. This is when you will see the common terns that nest in the area and if you are lucky, a sandhill crane pair with colts.


As the grasses begin to turn brown the songbirds and shorebirds will be passing through on their trips south. The fall migration is more drawn out and extended than spring migration. We will see waterfowl numbers peak in October, this is usually when we see the first tundra swans arrive and if we are lucky, a snow goose. The deer become more visible at this time of year as enter the breeding season. Sandhill cranes are no longer in family groups and you can see larger flocks feeding in the marshes together.


Roosting owls are often a highlight of a winter visit. The refuge is known to be the winter home to both long-eared and short-eared owls. The prairies on the refuge are frequented by northern harriers and short-eared owls in the winter. There are some well-known spots to look for both screech owls and nesting great horned owls. Tundra swan numbers reach their peak in the winter, often there are thousands of swans flying between the marshes of the refuge and farm fields to the south.

Featured Species

The refuge habitat is variable and diverse. By far these are best known for the variety of birds that have been found there. More than 300 different bird species have been seen on the refuge. The number and variety vary throughout the year with the peak season being from late April to mid-May. During migration, the refuge may host as many as 38 different species of warbler. The boardwalk behind the visitor center and the Estuary Trail provides excellent views of a variety of warblers and other migratory birds. More than 30 species of shorebirds pass through the region during migration. These birds can be found in areas of shallow water or mud. Waterfowl numbers and variety peak in March and again in October and can be found in any of the many wetlands across the refuge.

Mammals are not what the refuge is known for, but there are a variety to be found. In recent years the increase in the beaver population has been of great interest to visitors. There are also a few otters on the refuge. White-tailed deer are common on the refuge though they are not as visible here as in other locations in the region.