Top 5 National Wildlife Refuges For Bird Lovers

Birding (aka bird watching) might seem right up there with coin collecting and cross-stitch in terms of exciting hobbies, but don’t dismiss it, especially if you love watching the sunrise, hiking to remote places or playing with binoculars.

Birds can be spotted just about anywhere, in your neighborhood, local forests or State Parks. But if you’re really serious about spotting some spectacular birds, you can’t beat national wildlife refuges.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “refuges’ concentration along the country’s four main flyways ­ — Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific – make them natural bird magnets. Some refuges have been designated Important Birding Areas – sites that provide essential habitat for one or more bird species – by the National Audubon Society.”

Want to give it a try? Here are the top five wildlife refuges for bird lovers.

Malheur National Wildlife RefugeSource: Friends of Malheur

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – Southeast Oregon

Comprised of lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud and Harney Lakes, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” The Refuge is the temporary home of more than 320 bird species, including American white pelicans, snow geese and tundra swans. Its location on the Pacific Flyway and its abundant water and food attract both resident and migratory birds.

Aransas National Wildlife RefugeSource: Wikimedia Commons

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge – Texas Coast

With mild winters and an abundance of food, it’s no surprise that Aransas National Wildlife Refuge boasts more than 400 bird species, including the rarest bird in North America: the Whooping Crane. In winter, many other birds feed on fish, blue crab and shellfish in the coastal marsh. The refuge’s oak hills provide important habitat for neotropical birds, such as orioles, grosbeaks and buntings, migrating between North and Central America.

Tamarac National Wildlife RefugeSource: USFWS

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge – Minnesota

Did you ever read E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan as a kid? It was all about a very special Trumpet Swan, one of the most majestic birds known to man and unique because it mates for life. In the late 1880s, trumpeter swans disappeared from Minnesota. In 1987, the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge teamed up with the state to restore these magnificent birds. Today, more than 30 pairs nest on the refuge. April through October is the best time to see them.

Merritt Island National Wildlife RefugeSource: NASA

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Florida’s East Coast

Launching space shuttles isn’t the only thing that makes Cape Canaveral famous. Located nearby is Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is world-famous as a birding destination. From December to February, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds use the refuge as a rest stop or winter in refuge impoundments. During warmer months, resident wading birds, shore birds, songbirds and raptors forage in refuge marshes, open waters and forests. The Scrub Ridge and Pine Flatwoods trails offer your best bets for seeing the Florida scrub jay, a species found only in Florida.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife RefugeSource:

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – Delaware Bay

Birds returning from their winter vacation spots often choose Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge as a resting spot before continuing North. Every spring and fall, hungry birds interrupt their journey to visit this spot on the Delaware Bay. They can be spotted feeding by the thousands on the salt marsh mudflats and in freshwater impoundments. Common species include semi-palmated sandpipers, dunlin, dowitchers, yellowlegs, semi-palmated plovers and American avocets.

This is only a tiny sampling of all of the marvelous National Wildlife Refuges that play host and home to unique bird species. Know of another one that belongs on this list? Share it in a comment!

You can also check out the FWS’ list of “Great Refuges For Birding.”

Lead Image via Thinkstock

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven12 days ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Jennifer Scott
Jennifer Scott2 years ago

Too bad you didn't mention Sanibel’s J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Fi T.
Fi T.2 years ago

Leave the birds tranquil

Christine Stewart

It is sad when hunting is allowed on refuges.... But I am glad for the preservation of habitat, so people can see the birds in their natural environment.

DIane L.
DIane L.2 years ago


Mark Stephen Caponigro
Mark Caponigro2 years ago

Thanks for this sample, from around the country. It is always encouraging, to hear of other people's continuing love of birds and other animals and their natural homes.

A spectacular place that I enjoyed visiting almost 20 years ago is Bosque del Apache NWR, on the Rio Grande not too far south of Albuquerque, NM. I remember especially the quails and the sandhill cranes, with a few whooping cranes mixed in, as well as a roadrunner.

Nicole W.
Nicole W.2 years ago

thank you for posting

Anne Moran
Anne Moran2 years ago


Karen and  Ed O.
Karen and Ed O.2 years ago

Here we go with the FWS again. According to their web site:

"Hunting, trapping and fishing are considered by many to be a legitimate, traditional recreational use of renewable natural resources. The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, other laws, and the Fish and Wildlife Service's policy permit hunting on a national wildlife refuge when it is compatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established and acquired."

Would those "considered by many" include the NRA by any chance? They seem to have open season on anything that moves, including people.

I love the statement "compatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established and acquired." When we have visited wildlife "refuges" the condition some of them are in indicates to me that the only reason they were "established and acquired" was so the government can make money off of the permits.

Oh, and by the way, I don't consider animals natural resources. To me they are fellow travelers on this obscure little planet.