The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge supports a wondrous diversity of wildlife year-round.
The refuge has more than 30,000 lakes and ponds that come to life during the summer months when more than one million waterfowl flock to the refuge to breed and raise their young. The Refuge provides important breeding habitat for around 150 species 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. Notably, when the prairie pothole region experiences drought, displaced birds travel further north to Yukon Flats in search of suitable nesting sites. Arctic terns journey 10,000 miles across North and South America to raise downy chicks in the productive summer wetlands.
The Refuge is also home to one of only three spawning populations of Bering Cisco (a whitefish) in the entire world. 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.
The 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.