National Wildlife Refuge System

Grays Lake Refuge Important for Cranes and Swans

Grays Lake Refuge hosts the densest breeding population of sandhill cranes in the world.
Credit: USFWS
A portion of the Oregon Trail passed along the southern boundary of the refuge.
Credit: USFWS

June 22, 2015 - While planting up to 100 acres of barley to feed their annual autumn visitors, employees of Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge, ID, will celebrate 50 years as protected habitat for migratory birds this month.


“Grays Lake is truly a refuge in the strictest sense of the word,” said William Smith, the refuge’s wildlife biologist.


With fewer than 5,000 visitors per year, refuge employees focus their attention entirely on accommodating resident and migratory bird populations. While a roadway remains open around the perimeter of the lake year-round, much of the interior is closed to the public during mating season to minimize disturbance to the birds. Parts of the refuge’s interior are open to the public from September through March.


A portion of the Oregon Trail passed along the southern boundary of the refuge and ranches were established at Grays Lake as homesteads during the late 1800s.  In 1908, the Bureau of Indian Affairs acquired water rights in the Grays Lake basin for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.


Reduced to near extinction in the early 20th century, trumpeter swans were re-introduced to the Grays Lake area in the 1990’s.
Credit: USFWS

The refuge, situated around 22,000 acres of bulrush marsh, hosts the densest breeding population of sandhill cranes in North America. As a natural draw for waterfowl, the refuge sees an influx of up to 1,600 cranes passing through southeastern Idaho each autumn on their way to wintering habitats.


Until mid-October, when Grays Lake begins to freeze, the refuge is a hotspot for local waterfowl hunters. Visitors may also enjoy hiking, waterfowl hunting, cross country skiing and snowshoeing and wildlife photography.


Grays Lake Refuge has one of the largest breeding population of trumpeter swans in the Rocky Mountain area, one of the few regions where the birds live year-round. Reduced to near extinction in the early 20th century, the swans were re-introduced to the Grays Lake area in the 1990’s. Due to careful attention from refuge staff, including population counts, nest surveys, and radio tag monitoring, about 25 swans now call the refuge their permanent home.


“We’re watching the swans closely to assess and identify any potential hazards they might face in our area,” Smith said.

 

 


 

 

Last updated: June 22, 2015