Seasons of Wildlife


Small green buds emerge on plants, and wetland vegetation peek out from the water. Arrive at the refuge early to hear a chorus of migratory songbirds, many of whom have recently returned to breed and nest for the season. Water levels in the lakebed may start to lower, which will pave the way to see more wildlife. Enjoy late spring blooms, such as red-flowering currant, an extremely popular plant among hummingbirds, or the vibrant pink rose spirea.


As migration slows, wildlife focus on raising their young; lucky visitors may see fawns run across the trail, or leap behind a patch of willows for cover. Geese goslings swim after their parents in deeper areas of the lakebed. Wetland plants such as smartweed will grow and bloom with bright pink flowers; wapato plants may be seen from a distance, and are recognizable by their white flowers; these flowers will become seeds and are perfect food for migrating waterfowl that arrive later in the year. Look to the sky to see turkey vultures circling, or the distinctive plumage of a soaring osprey.


Marsh and wetland habitat turn to browns and golds, matching the yellows and reds of the foliage on the trees and shrubs surrounding the lakebed. Many of the wildlife, mostly birds, seen in the summer will begin their journey to their winter homes. Other species, such as the cackling geese, will arrive for the winter, signaling the beginning of fall. Increasing rain will bring more water into the lakebed, a welcome site for more incoming migratory waterfowl.


With water levels significantly higher than in the summer, Wapato Lake looks a lot closer to its namesake. Due to the region’s relatively mild winter conditions, many species remain at the refuge for the winter, and are joined by other wildlife who have migrated from the north. Species such as the tundra swan become a common sight during the winter months, and the refuge hosts other less common visitors such as canvasbacks. Often thousands of waterfowl will occupy the lakebed at once, creating an amazing collage of winter colors.

Featured Species

Many species of wildlife can be seen throughout the season at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge, including tundra swans in the winter, deer and osprey in the summer, and red-tailed hawks and eagles year-round. 

Our refuge conservation management often includes specific focus on endangered or threatened species that are found on our refuge, and restoration of key habitat types. Through ongoing restoration projects, public outreach and education, Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge is able to further conservation efforts, including the protection and restoration for specific key federally and state recognized species. The conservation actions for these species involves habitat restoration, and annual surveys to monitor population numbers.