Summer Birding: Five Great National Wildlife Refuge Destinations

With Memorial Day weekend upon us and spring migration winding down across most of the continent, it’s time to think summer birding. High temperatures and fewer, less vocal birds can send birders into a torpor (or into an enthusiasm for dragonflies, butterflies, or herps instead) but summer is also a great time to pack up the family, or just the binoculars, and explore the country. To that end, here are five National Wildlife Refuges that offer great summer birding:

1. Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska – One of the great nesting locations for waterfowl and shorebirds, this refuge funnels birds into almost every flyway in the world. Look for Emperor Geese, Trumpeter Swans, puffins and more among the summer residents at this refuge.

Emperor Geese at Yukon Delta NWR /USFWS

Emperor Geese at Yukon Delta NWR /USFWS

2. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico – Heading to New Mexico in the summer may seem counterintuitive, but just last July this refuge played host to the first U.S. record of Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. Even if you don’t get that lucky, summer at this refuge still offers chances at birds like Montezuma Quail, Neotropic Cormorant, Aplomado Falcon, and Chihuahuan Raven.

3. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida – A great option for birders vacationing with non-birders, Merritt Island shares territory with the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Check out Florida specialties like Anhinga, Mottled Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, and the endemic Florida Scrub Jay, while your loved ones visit the rocket garden and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Roseate Spoonbills at Merritt Island NWR by Jonathan Milak

Roseate Spoonbills at Merritt Island NWR by Jonathan Milak

4. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon – Founded by Theodore Roosevelt specifically for the protection of breeding birds, this refuge delivers with habitat for both water birds like American White Pelican, Franklin’s Gull, and Wilson’s Phalarope, and grassland species such as Greater Sage-Grouse, Prairie Falcon, and Sage Sparrow.

5. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Hawai’i – Little needs to be said about the vacation merits of Hawai’i. Tucked away at the northernmost point on Kauai, this refuge provides breeding habitat for seabirds that mainland American birders dream about – species like Laysan Albatross, Red-footed Booby, and Red-tailed Tropicbird. The Great Frigatebird and a small reintroduced population of the highly endangered Nēnē are year-round residents. This is a slice of paradise for vacationing birders.

Nene at Kilauea Point NWR by Brenda Zaun

Nene at Kilauea Point NWR by Brenda Zaun

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