Wildlife & HabitatThe most popular recreational activities on the refuge. Viewing wildlife in its native environment is a richly rewarding activity. Here are some tips that will help you see and enjoy refuge wildlife.
Your car makes an excellent observation blind. Many types of wildlife can be approached more closely in a car than on foot.
Because road access is very limited on the refuge, hiking into more remote areas may provide excellent opportunities to view animals, take in the beautiful scenery and experience the solitude and wildness of the refuge. Hike quietly to improve your odds of wildlife encounters.
Binoculars or spotting scopes are very important for viewing wildlife across the great expanses of refuge habitat.
Wildlife are most active and easiest to spot in the early mornings and late evenings, especially in the heat of the summer.
Pronghorn are commonly seen in large numbers on Sheldon NWR in the late summer and fall but during spring and early summer, they disperse throughout the refuge in small bands.
At about the beginning of the 20th century, pronghorn (antelope) populations were dwindling in North America. Conservation efforts, such as the establishment of refuges, have helped them rebound. Large numbers of pronghorn gather in late summer and fall to water and feed on greenery around Swan Lake. They spend winters on Big Springs Table. Pronghorn rely on keen eyesight and remarkable speed for safety.
You may catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep along the rocky, steep walls above Thousand Creek, Hell Creek and the IXL Ranch, and near the west approach to old refuge headquarters at Little Sheldon. These illusive animals are difficult to see with the naked eye; but use of binoculars is helpful to spot their white rump patches.
California bighorn sheep were once common in northwestern Nevada, as documented by numerous petroglyphs. Due to human activities, sheep disappeared from the area in the early 1900s. Thanks to several reintroduction, nearly 150 sheep now call the refuge's canyons and rocky table lands home.
Sage grouse have excellent camouflage, which makes them challenging to see. Watch for them along the road from Catnip Reservoir to the Last Chance Ranch in the short sagebrush and along the edges of meadows. They may flush when approached by humans, so remaining in your vehicle provides the best viewing opportunities.
Greater sage-grouse prefer habitat with gentle hills and valleys where openings of low sage intersperse big sagebrush patches. In the spring, they gather on traditional mating grounds (leks) and perform elaborate courtship dances. Males strut and thump their unique air sacks to impress prospective mates.
Dufurrena Ponds and Big Springs Reservoir host a wide variety of water birds that are easily viewed from car or on foot. Swan Lake and Catnip Reservoir are popular destinations for Canada geese and American white pelicans. The water at the IXL Ranch is managed to benefit waterfowl and meadow dependent wildlife.
Mule deer seek the protection of the juniper and mountain mahogany patches in the higher elevations of the refuge. Watch for them in the early morning and late evening near Badger Mountain, Catnip Reservoir or Little Sheldon. Look for the white rump patch or a twitching ear.
Feral horses and burros are common sightings off Hwy 140 East, and have spread to almost all areas of the refuge. Burros are often seen in the flats east of Thousand Creek and throughout Virgin Valley.
Free-roaming horses frequent refuge water holes and stream sides between the Badger and Catnip Mountains. Just like livestock, they impact the environment and compete with native wildlife for water and food.
Horses and burros are periodically relocated off the refuge to keep their numbers in check. If you are interested in adopting these animals, contact the Refuge Manager.