Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Pacific Southwest Region
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Refuge Wildlife

The Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR is geographically located within the southwestern edge of the Colorado zone of the Sonoran Desert biome. This location, coupled with an elevation of 227 feet below sea level, results in extremely low annual precipitation and extremely high day time temperatures. Despite the harsh environmental conditions, the Bird Collage.  (USFWS)Salton Sea supports one of the most diverse avian compositions in the United States as well as a host of endangered and other wildlife species.

Endangered and Threatened Species

Refuge Wildlife Species List (pdf, 8.48MB)

Bird List - text only (pdf, 166KB)

Habitat diversity on Refuge lands provides for the needs of resident wildlife species as well as numerous seasonal residents and migrants of the Pacific Flyway. Over 400 bird species have been recorded at the Refuge and at least 93 species have nested on the Refuge. In addition, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, 4 species of amphibians and 15 species of fish have been identified in the area.

Numbers and species of birds that can be seen on the Refuge vary according to season. Heavy migrations of waterfowl, marsh and shorebirds occur during spring and fall. Throughout the mild winter and spring a wide variety of songbirds and birds of prey are present. They are attracted to the freshwater marshes and riparian habitat along the New and Alamo rivers. The greatest number of species are present from November to May.

Common Species found at the Salton Sea



Common species of mammals found on the Refuge include:
* desert cottontail >>>>>>>>''* Merriam's kangaroo rat
* raccoon >>>>>>>>>>>>>'''* Valley pocket gopher
* coyote >>>>>>>>>>>>>>'''* Round-tailed ground squirrel
* striped skunk >>>>>>>>>>''* Desert pocket mouse
* muskrat

Visibility varies greatly from species to species due to the nocturnal habits of some and seasonal hibernation of others. Most rodent species exist in terrestrial habitats where they provide important food resources for raptors and other predators. During winter months, rodents provide food for heron and egret species as well. Muskrats are present in freshwater drains and ponds where their feeding and burrowing activities help maintain marsh habitats for various other wildlife species.

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Woodhouse Frog.  (USFWS) Due to environmental factors, amphibians are not found in large numbers or diversity at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR. Species occurring on the Refuge include bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) and lowland leopard frogs (Rana yavapaiensis). Lowland leopard frogs respond well to shallow, permanent wetland habitat created for the Yuma clapper rail. They are not present elsewhere on the Refuge due to competition from exotic bullfrogs. Woodhouse’s toad (Bufo woodhousii) and red-spotted toads (Bufo punctatus) are also found on the Refuge.

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Many different species of reptiles occur on the Refuge. Common species include the gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), western diamondback (Crotalus atrox), coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus sp.), desert spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister) and side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana). The spiny soft-shell turtle (Trionyx spiniferus) and the desert tortoise (Gopherus agasReptiles.  (USFWS)sizii) are also found on the Refuge. Spiny soft-shell turtles are found in freshwater drains and ponds, while the desert tortoise, although rarely seen, can be found in the upland desert areas.

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Fish populations thrive in the Salton Sea. The aquatic ecosystem is extremely productive because of the large amounts of nutrients it receives. The nutrients stimulate growth of phytoplankton and algae, which in turn, support zooplankton and worms. All of this provides a continuing supply of food for fish. Periodically, decomposition of large algal blooms diminishes the dissolved oxygen in the water. This decomposition has been tied to occasional fish die-offs that occur throughout the year.

Tilapia is the most common fish found in the Salton Sea. Tilapia is the most populous fish in the Sea due to its ability to adapt to highly saline conditions and the fact that it is a prolific breeder. Tilapia are an important food source for birds and other fish, along with being a popular game fish. They can weigh more than 3 pounds.

The endangered desert pupfish, while present in the Sea, is rarely seen.

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Last updated: May 23, 2011