National Wildlife Refuges are among the unsung heroes of the birding world. Too many Americans choose to cast themselves off to far-off destinations, missing the spectacles of nature that take place right here at home in the protected space of the country’s extensive national wildlife refuge system.
There are more than 600 wildlife refuges in the United States, each working to protect or maintain habitat for an array of birds, fish, and other wildlife. While not every refuge has open access, a large number are open to the public and make great birding destinations. It’s no surprise that many refuges are centered along the country’s four principal north-south bird flyways — Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific. Nor that many have been designated Globally Important Birding Areas by the American Bird Conservancy.
When the flyways fill during spring and fall migrations, that’s a great time to follow suit and visit a refuge. Many refuges celebrate migration by hosting bird festivals that focuses on a regional migratory phenomenon, notably the Biggest Week in American Birding at Ottawa NWR. Other refuges celebrate the return of fall and wintering birds, such as the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.
So what are the best national wildlife refuges for birding? There’s no single answer, of course. Your favorites may depend on where you live and what birds you like to see. Take a look at our “starter” list, below, and tell us what you agree with, or what we missed. Each of the following refuges is sure to introduce you to one or more of nature’s miracles.
We’ll be adding to the list, so check back often!
Northwest and Pacific
- Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
- Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
- Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
- Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
- Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
- Florida Keys Refuge Complex, Florida
- J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
- Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware
- Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts
- Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts
- Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah
- Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota
- Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota
- Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
- Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
- Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, California
- Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, California
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to the USFWS for their assistance with this article.