National Wildlife Visitor Center - Lots to see and enjoy including...

Kids Discovery Center
Monarch Magic
Wildlife Images Bookstore
Hollingsworth Art Gallery
Family Fun
Visitor Center Bird Blind
Pollinator Gardens

The Visitor Center, located on South Tract, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – closed on federal holidays.  


Kids Discovery Center
Lots of exciting learning activities and crafts await you at the KIDS’ DISCOVERY CENTER!  New themes are presented monthly to engage kids (ages 3-10) and adults in nature-related fun.

Daily, Tuesday through Saturday: Sessions start at 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 11:00 am, and 12 noon. Duration: 35 minutes, each.

Ages 3-10; adult accompaniment required. Group special arrangements possible. Registration strongly recommended. Call the Kids’ Discovery Center (KDC) Registration line at 301-497-5760 to reserve a 35-minute time slot for you and your child. (To work with KDC volunteers to help develop curriculum activities for children, please call the front desk (301-497-5772); ask for Barrie.)

Children ages 3-10* explore and learn about nature and the environment through engaging, age-appropriate activities, crafts and games, with parent/guardian support. Older siblings are welcome to join with parents and work with younger siblings to help them understand and complete the activities.

*NOTE: The Kid’s Discovery Center is neither baby-proofed nor appropriate for children younger than 3, due to small items featured in the exhibits and activities. Parents are required to work with their child at each of the parent-led activities.

Program Themes:
January: FOXES, COYOTES, and DOGS- While all three of these animals can be found in Maryland, there are HUGE differences when comparing these canines!  Explore these fascinating animals this month at the Kid's Discovery Center at Patuxent, then decide which animal would make the best pet for your home!

February: MOTHS- How can you tell if an insect is a butterfly or a moth? What is the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis?  All these questions.. and more will be answered at the KDC this month, as you discover everything you ever wanted to know about MOTHS and their life-cycles.

March: Birds in Spring.  TWEET! TWEET! TWEET! That familiar sound is in the air, but it's not just robins that signal the arrival of Spring! Join us at the Kid's Discovery Center this month to learn all about the birds that we commonly see at this exciting time of year in Maryland.

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Monarch Magic

Monarchs have flown to Mexico for the winter.    The Monarchs and our programs will return in the spring.

Thank you for helping us release 943 Monarch in 2023.

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Wildlife Images Bookstore

The Wildlife Images Bookstoreis operated by the Friends of Patuxent.  Proceeds from sales made at Wildlife Images are devoted to supporting the environmental education at the Patuxent Research Refuge and research missions at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  The Bookstore is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 AM  to 4 PM; Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM;  closed on federal holidays.  

Wildlife Images has an extraordinary selection of:

  • Wildlife books
  • Wildlife art items, created by some of the world's best wildlife artists
  • Wildlife-theme tee-shirts, Children & Adult sizes, and caps
  • Songbird box kits
  • Posters
  • Educational, and one of a kind items
  • Many other exciting wildlife-related items suitable for everyone who loves the outdoors and cares about the wildlife of the world.

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Hollingsworth Art Gallery

Each month the Hollingsworth Art Gallery exhibits wildlife-themed art by local and by nationally-known artists. 

April 2024  -   "Nature Through Women's Eyes."

Artists of the Month - Photographers 
Jane Gamble, Beth Howell, Jane Marsh, 
Rena Schild, Elaine Starr, and Kathrin Swoboda  

Please join the Artists as they host a reception, 
Saturday, April 6th, from 1PM to 3PM.   
All are welcome. Light refreshments will be provided.

Alexandria's Jane Gamble organized her friends and fellow photographers to participate in April's group show. She describes herself as a passionate birder whose new focus is "ethical" wildlife photography enjoining - even well-meaning people with cameras - to consider first the well-being of wild creatures and never disrupt their lives for a shot. Gamble and her husband worked for the State Department for many years. Home now is a neighborhood in Alexandria where her ecofriendly (personally created) backyard and local parks like Greenspring Gardens provide perfect venues. The winner of numerous awards including Fairfax County's Ellie Doyle award, she has donated her professional quality photographs to the Park Authority's Public Information and Resource Office. Although birds may be her favorite subjects, a squirrel photo won the Washington Post's squirrel week contest in 2020 - Gamble caught him reaching for crepe myrtle blossoms. 

Beth Howell, an engineer turned artist, a photographer and editor, is a native of northeastern Pennsylvania. She attributes her deep love of and respect for nature to her father. Camping outdoors across the country as a child and visiting national parks on vacations reinforced her love of nature. In retirement, photography has enabled her to share images of nature which she hopes will enhance the viewer's appreciation and determination to protect our land's natural world. 

Jane Marsh is a self-described "ancient Brit" who has lived in the U.S. since 1988 - Texas, Michigan, Maryland, and presently, next door to Shenandoah National Park in Front Royal , Virginia. Visiting friends from the U.K. asked to visit beautiful locales with "abundant feathered friends." Shenandoah National Park nearby provided the challenge for viewing and photographing them. Her favorites are Cedar Waxwings and Eastern Bluebirds, but her proximity to the park provides "ample opportunity" to catch its other inhabitants and its gorgeous landscapes.

Rena Schild describes photography as "a reflection of how she sees the world" and her "love of nature." Having a camera in hand has opened up a wide variety of experiences for her - which she describes as a "must" that is enjoyable for her and the subjects. Originally from New York, Schild has flourished here with her sensitive and lively work. Wildlife on the East Coast will be her contribution to April's exhibit. 

Elaine Starr is based in northern Virginia. She was a part-time photographer when her day job was at the Department of Defense. Retirement opened a new chapter of her life "capturing the beauty of nature in parks" - from the Potomac River to the Shenandoah. She wants to ''tell a story" with her photos that reminds us how important it is to protect the natural world. Some of her work has been published in local magazines and websites - images of parks in Maryland and D.C. 

Kathrin Swoboda makes her home in Vienna, Virginia where she started photographing hummingbirds, bluebirds, woodpeckers, and a great variety of birds in her backyard about 8 years ago. Prowling nearby Huntley Park in midwinter, she snapped a Red winged Blackbird making all kinds of noise. This image won the Grand Prize of the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards. Afterwards she started her flourishing photography business. Swoboda develops her own prints and mats and frames those images herself. Her work has been widely exhibited in the Art League and the Torpedo Factory. An amazing group with amazing images.

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Family Fun

The Family Fun section offers self-paced hands-on activities and crafts for all ages. Test your knowledge with the Quiz Board or the Match Game. Make-and-take a fun craft project. Learn about nature, the plants and animals at Patuxent Refuge, and what you can do to help wildlife and the environment. There is something for everyone! Topics change every month or two.

This is a drop in program: come when you wish and leave when you're ready.   Look for the Family Fun section in the hallway to the right as you face the reception desk.

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Visitor Center Bird Blind

Wish there was a convenient way to view birds at South Tract without intruding into their lives?

Try our bird blind located near the Visitor Center trail door. The slanted viewing port design allows people of all heights to view without revealing their presence. .The blind overlooks an open field with ground modification to mimic a forest floor. A variety of bird feeders have been added to attract a variety of species.  Being located on a paved trail allows individuals with limited mobility to use the blind.

Birds seen in the blind’s first month include downy woodpecker, goldfinch, house finch, red-bellied woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, northern mocking bird, chipping sparrow, doves, red-winged blackbird and humming bird.

Funds for construction were provided by the Friends of Patuxent.

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Pollinator Gardens

The Patuxent Research Refuge has large pollinator gardens of native plants at the South Tract Visitor Center and at the North Tract Visitor Contact Station. Other small pockets of pollinator plantings are near the Fishing Pier at the north end of Cash Lake and at the Wildlife Viewing Area near Merganser Pond at North Tract. Volunteers help design and maintain these gardens, which provide food and shelter to butterflies, native bees and other insects that pollinate native plants and thus support the local wildlife populations. The gardens are beautiful and bring joy to their many visitors, and are especially appreciated by children and photographers.

Since the seeds choose where they like to grow, the gardens are an ever-changing landscape. As one of the gardeners noted, part of the fun of native plant gardening is enjoying the evolving display that changes with both the seasons and the successional stages of plant species as the landscape matures.

The gardens give visitors a chance to see pollinators in action in their natural habitat. They create an awareness of the beauty of native plants in home landscaping, and demonstrate the vital role they play in attracting beneficial insects as well as birds and other wildlife. The gardens are essentially an outdoor classroom, promoting good environmental stewardship by showing visitors what they can do in their own gardens.  

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