You Come Across a Bear. Your Next Move Is Very Important. Do You Know What To Do?

You’re out for a hike on a glorious summer or fall day. Suddenly, you spot a bear. And the bear has spotted you, too. Would you know what to do next?

A wild bear is a beautiful sight to see. It’s incredible to see them in the wild. The animal usually wants to avoid the encounters.

Bears in the news

Bear attacks are rare but they do happen.

In October 2022, a couple’s unleashed dog attracted unwanted attention from a black bear as they were picnicking on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The dog ran towards the bear, barking loudly, and park officials believe the bear was likely aggravated by the dog acting defensively toward the dog and the couple. Over the next several minutes, the bear repeatedly attacked until the couple and their dog were able to retreat to the safety of their car.

A short time later, a hunter was attacked west of Cody, Wyoming by a grizzly bear. An investigation indicated the hunter was attacked after a sudden encounter at close range with an adult female grizzly bear with two cubs.

In both cases, the people survived the attacks. But in the European country of Slovakia, a man died after being attacked by a brown bear in June.

All illustrate the point that rare does not equal never.

Keep your distance from all wildlife © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feasts for beasts

Bears are not picky eaters. They eat everything: ants, berries, fish, flowers, nuts, roadkill, and human food not secured. Our food is very attractive to them; it’s easy calories. Combine that with the fact that national parks have been setting attendance records and turning away visitors and you have a recipe for potential trouble. If more people are using public lands and more people are in the mix, there’s more potential for encounters and conflict.

The key is being prepared.

First rule of bear encounter: Keep your distance

The best strategy is to never get in harm’s way by enticing or provoking a wild bear. Trying to give a bear food or approaching cute cubs are particularly terrible ways to start an encounter. That’s just looking for trouble.

The National Park Service (NPS) site points out each bear and each encounter is different but there are general guidelines useful in most situations.

First of all, keep your distance if you happen upon a bear. Don’t approach it and give it plenty of room to walk away from you. Yellowstone National Park tells visitors to stay at least 100 yards away; Shenandoah National Park in Virginia suggests 200 feet for its black bears.

You can run afoul of the law as well as the bears if you get too close. A 25-year-old woman was given four days in federal custody and fines for staying too close to a grizzly bear and her cubs at Yellowstone National Park. According to violation notices, the charges stemmed from an incident on May 10, 2021 at Roaring Mountain when a sow grizzly and her three cubs were sighted. Other visitors slowly backed away and got into their vehicles but she stayed and continued to take pictures as the sow charged her.

Keep your distance from all wildlife © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other tips

  • If a bear happens to surprise you, stay calm. Do not surprise the bear if it’s unaware of your presence.
  • Slowly stand up and speak to the bear in a calm, confident manner. This will distinguish your voice from the noise of a potential prey animal.
  • Walk with a group (we’re smellier and noisier in packs) and stay on designated trails.
  • If you have a small child or dog, pick it up.
  • Slowly back away from the bear and keep an eye on it. If you back away and the bear follows you or begins to act aggressively, be ready to stand your ground and fight.

Remember that every bear encounter is different: bears will exhibit different behaviors in different situations. Understanding the behavior of bears can make the difference between life and death.

Keep your distance from all wildlife © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What if a bear starts coming at you anyway?

If a bear starts making assertive moves in your direction, you have important decisions to make—and fast.

First thing is: Stand your ground with bears.

With either grizzlies (a subspecies of brown bears) or black bears, don’t run. Bears can outrun anybody. Don’t climb a tree either. They can also climb trees better than you.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife also has some tips:

  • Make loud noises by yelling, banging pots and pans, or using an airhorn to scare bears away.
  • Make yourself look as large as possible by waving your arms.

You can usually intimidate or bluff your way out of sticky bear situations depending on the bear species and the situation.

Keep your distance from all wildlife © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But what if a bear is about to attack?

You’re now in the rarest of situations—you’ve attracted a bear’s attention. It didn’t retreat. The bear has started to come at you aggressively and fast. You think you’re about to be attacked. What’s next?

One very crucial thing is to make a quick identification of the kind of bear since your strategy will be different.

If it’s a black bear, NPS have a clear message: Do NOT run. Do NOT play dead. You want to stand your ground with black bears. Look as intimidating as possible. Throw things not at it but near it. Make that black bear intimidated by you. Let it know you are a big person. Pick something up; yell at it. If it attacks, fight back.

It’s a different situation with grizzlies.  If you’re dealing with a grizzly that won’t back off and an attack is imminent, you’re advised to do the opposite. You should play dead.

Act as unthreatening as possible with a grizzly. Play dead with a grizzly if it starts to attack. Tuck and cover. Get into a fetal position. Wrap your hands around your neck. Lay on your stomach. Once you do that, 99 percent of the time the grizzly will move on.

NPS elaborates: “Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously.”

Fighting back a grizzly bear is the last resort—your Hail Mary pass—when all other options are out.

Keep your distance from all wildlife © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do you tell a black bear from a grizzly?

First off, know your area and read up on the bears there.

In North America, grizzlies have a much more limited range than black bears. In the Lower 48, they are in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—and in Alaska, too. They also cover large parts of Western Canada.

Black bears have a much larger range. They can be found in as many as 40 U.S. states and much of Canada, the National Wildlife Federation says.

So say you’re in Quebec, the Appalachians, the Ozarks, California, or even parts of Florida, that’s going to be a black bear. But if you’re in Yellowstone or Glacier National Park or in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, for instance, that could be a black bear or a grizzly. That’s when it’s crucial to know how to make a quick visual ID.

You can’t go by the color of the fur. Black bears can be black, brown, cinnamon, blond, blue-gray or white, according to Bear.org.

One of the best ways to tell the difference is to look for a hump at the shoulders. Grizzlies have them. Black bears don’t.

The face shapes are also different. Black bear faces are a little rounder with a straight nose. A grizzly bear face looks more like a wild predator and has a dished shape.

Black bears have a prominent rump, a straight, dog-like muzzle, pointed ears, and dark claws.

Grizzly bears have a shoulder hump, dished face, rounded ears, and long, light-colored claws.

Keep your distance from all wildlife © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other tips and cautions

  • Don’t store food in tents or pop-up campers in campgrounds or in vehicles at trailheads.
  • Don’t leave food, coolers, and dirty cookware left unattended. Park rangers may confiscate them and cite you.
  • Dispose of garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters and trash cans.
  • Human-fed bears usually end up as chronic problems and need to be removed. A fed bear is a dead bear.
  • The bears are just being bears. We are way more of a threat to them. Bear attacks are rare. And fatalities are even rarer.

Worth Pondering…

Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby!

—James Rollins, Ice Hunt

Great Spots for Birding in Louisiana

Louisiana’s subtropical climate, forests, and position within the corridor of a major North American migratory flyway make the state a haven for a huge variety of birds and RVers who want to see them in their natural habitat

There’s no city in the United States like New Orleans and there’s no culture more distinctive than that of the Cajuns of southern Louisiana. For an RVing bird-watching enthusiast those rewards add to the appeal of a state full of productive national wildlife refuges, pinewoods, barrier islands, and wetlands. Who doesn’t enjoy great food and music after a day of birding?

Many of Louisiana’s best birding sites are within 50 miles or so of the Gulf Coast—and some are on the coast such as famed spring fallout spots Grand Isle and Peveto Woods. Wildlife refuges in the southwestern part of the state including Lacassine and Cameron Prairie provide at least some dry-land access to Louisiana’s truly vast expanse of wetlands. (Some estimates assert that Louisiana’s wetlands comprise 40 percent of those of the entire continental United States.)

Birds that could be considered target species in Louisiana would include Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Yellow Rail (there’s an annual festival in the town of Jennings dedicated to this elusive species), Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Painted Bunting.

Anhinga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana birding hotspots

Grand Isle

On Louisiana’s southern coast lies a barrier island about seven miles long that holds a legendary place in the minds of the state’s birders. The woodlands here comprise one of the best fallout sites for spring migration where northbound birds that have crossed the Gulf of Mexico stop to rest and feed. Add that to the long list of vagrant birds that end up here and to the shorebirds and seabirds found along the coast and you have a species list that tops 300.

The peak for spring migration occurs around mid-April and it’s then that it seems every tree has a birder peering up into its branches. He or she may be looking at a limb loaded with Gray Catbirds Scarlet Tanagers or mixed warblers. The list of possible birds at Grand Isle in spring is essentially the list of all the migrant land birds of eastern North America and a substantial number of sea- and shorebirds.

Hardcore birders also know Grand Isle as a place where seeing a rarity is hardly rare. A Fork-tailed Flycatcher or Black-whiskered Vireo or Varied Thrush might appear anywhere. (While spring is the top time at Grand Isle, many rarities show up during fall migration.) Of course, Grand Isle is also a fine place to see shorebirds along the beaches and mudflats and wading birds in the marshes, and these birds aren’t so seasonal-dependent.

Various nature organizations have purchased land around the island as bird sanctuaries and a state park occupies the eastern end. As is usual with fallout sites, the day after bad weather is usually the best time to be out birding.

Black-bellied whistling ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge

Although this expansive refuge suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it still offers excellent birding near New Orleans. In total, more than 270 species have been observed here from waterbirds to migrant songbirds. Much of the refuge is wetland that’s not accessible to the public, but the Ridge Trail allows excellent wildlife viewing.

Parking for the Ridge Trail is on the north side of Highway 90 about four miles east of I-510. From here, a boardwalk leads through wetlands and scrub. The levee here can also be walked for additional viewpoints.

Another access area is located on the south side of Highway 90 just east of the Ridge Trail. More marsh viewing is possible by taking Highway 11 north from Highway 90 and stopping carefully along the roadside.

Some of the notable species seen often at Bayou Sauvage include Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill, Gull-billed Tern (spring through summer), Black Skimmer (most common in late summer), and Painted Bunting (spring through summer).

Fulvous whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park / Barataria Preserve

A wonderful natural area just a short drive south of downtown New Orleans, the Barataria Preserve tract of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park protects around 23,000 acres of woods and wetlands. It’s not known for any particular rarity but for a rewarding day of birding in beautiful surroundings, it can hardly be topped.

Since it’s a unit of the National Park Service, Barataria Preserve has a fine visitor center on Highway 45 where you can get trail maps, a bird list, and advice. Many miles of trails wind through the preserve accessing live-oak woods, bald-cypress swamp, and marsh.

The woodland vistas here are truly sublime with the spreading limbs of live oaks covered in Spanish moss and dwarf palmettos in the understory. Some of the bald cypresses here are hundreds of years old. The Bayou Coquille Trail is a favorite of local birders. Parts of some preserve trails are wheelchair-accessible.

The preserve’s list of more than 200 species includes breeding birds such as Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting. Spring songbird migration can be good, too, although the birds aren’t as concentrated in this expansive forest as they are in small coastal woodlands.

Yellow-crowned night heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

New Orleans, on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain, gets all the publicity but the north shore is home to several appealing communities as well as worthwhile destinations for birders. One such site is Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

A tour here might start with the refuge visitor center in Lacombe, for maps and local advice. From there it’s only about three miles to the boardwalk trail and hiking paths on Boy Scout Road. Other primitive roads are located off Paquet Road to the east.

The main attraction at Big Branch Marsh is a small population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, an endangered species that depends on old-growth pinewoods. This refuge is one of many around the southeastern United States with a program to restore the species’s population. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers can be hard to locate so it helps to know their raspy call.

The refuge is also home to two other species associated with pinewoods: Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow. Once again, it’s important to know the squeaky call of the nuthatch and the whistled song of the sparrow. Other species nesting around the refuge include Mottled Duck, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, and Blue Grosbeak.

On Lake Pontchartrain just five miles west of Lacombe, Fontainebleau State Park boasts a bird list of more than 220 species and makes a good birding destination (though it can be crowded on weekends). Waterfowl, wading birds, and Bald Eagle can be seen from shore and Brown-headed Nuthatch is sometimes seen in pines here.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin

Located just east of the city of Lafayette, Lake Martin and the associated Cypress Island Preserve host one of Louisiana’s greatest bird spectacles in breeding season.

Hundreds of wading birds—herons, egrets, night herons, ibises, and Roseate Spoonbills—nest here, easily visible from boardwalks, a road the hugs the eastern shore of the lake and a walking trail around the north end of the lake.

Peak season is about March through May although there’s always something to see at Lake Martin. The Nature Conservancy operates a visitor center on Highway 353 (open seasonally) where first-time visitors can get advice.

With a large protected area of bald-cypress and tupelo swamp as well as bottomland hardwood forest, Lake Martin hosts much more than wading birds. Some of the other species found here include Black-bellied whistling duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered hawks, and Common Gallinule in wetlands. Land birds include Barred Owl, abundant woodpeckers, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge

Southwestern Louisiana is home to vast areas of marsh and other wetlands but access to most of the region is difficult without a boat and local knowledge. Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge offers an easy way to enjoy typical wetland birds. With a list of more than 250 species, it’s one of the birding hotspots of southern Louisiana.

The refuge is reached from Highway 14. Once inside the area, the usual strategy is simply to drive the several miles of gravel roads stopping wherever the birds are to scan the open water and vegetation. An elevated viewing platform on the loop drive allows slightly wider coverage.

Possible birds here comprise practically every regional species of waterfowl and wader. A few notable species found year-round are Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, many waders including Roseate Spoonbill, Common Gallinule, Forster’s Tern, and Marsh Wren. Present in nesting season are Least Bittern, Purple Gallinule, and Painted Bunting. In winter, many thousands of geese and ducks are present at Lacasssine.

Although the waters of the refuge are the main focus be sure to stop at patches of willows and other shrubs and vegetation for songbirds in migration and take time to quietly stand and watch marshy areas for shy species such as bitterns and rails.

Pintail Wildlife Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge

Located on Highway 27 just north of the Intracoastal Waterway, Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge provides birders with a great way to experience Louisiana wetlands on its 3-mile Pintail Wildlife Drive loop.

Before beginning the route, stop at the visitor center on the highway to see exhibits and pick up a map and bird list. Then drive south two miles to the entrance to the wildlife drive on the east side of the highway. It can be tempting to stop along Highway 27 to enjoy birds in roadside wetlands but there are very few safe places to pull over.

More than 230 species have been observed on the Pintail Wildlife Drive with (as is usual in southern Louisiana) waterfowl and wading birds the most conspicuous. The drive passes more than wetlands. Especially in migration, take time to scan grassy areas and search roadside trees and shrubs. There’s a boardwalk path along the drive allowing a closer inspection of the marsh habitat.

Both species of whistling-duck breed in the area and in winter Ross’s Goose is regular among the masses of Snow Geese. The shallow water means mostly dabbling ducks here with relatively fewer divers. Roseate Spoonbill is one of many common species of long-legged waders. Purple Gallinule nests here and Black-necked Stilt and Marsh Wren are present year-round.

In recent years, Crested Caracara has boomed in numbers in southwestern Louisiana and is seen regularly at Cameron Prairie. Note that this area is one of many places now where both Boat-tailed Grackle and Great-tailed Grackle are found in proximity as the latter continues its range expansion.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

Not much of the expansive Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is easily accessible to the public but one exception is found on Highway 27 about seven miles north of the coastal community of Holly Beach or about 14 miles south of Hackberry.

The refuge’s Wetland Walkway is simply an elevated path through a marshy area west of the highway, adjacent to a canal. Yet more than 200 species have been observed in this immediate area, testimony both to the richness of wetlands habitats and to the ability of the scattered trees and shrubs here to attract migrant songbirds, especially in spring.

The 1.5-mile path is handicapped-accessible and has an elevated viewing platform. Insects, heat, and humidity make a mid-summer visit inadvisable but the walkway is a delightful stroll in other seasons. The third week of April is the peak time for spotting migrant vireos, warblers, and other songbirds.
This is a good spot to look for Least Bittern in spring, among the many more-conspicuous waders. Roseate Spoonbill is present often.

While you’re in the area, it can be productive (from late summer through spring) to drive southeast to the town of Cameron. Though it’s less than 20 miles, you must cross the Calcasieu River on a ferry, which adds to the time. In town, turn south on Davis Road and drive about 2.5 miles to the end of the road. When the tide is right, very large numbers of waders, shorebirds, gulls, and terns can be present here.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peveto Woods Sanctuary

Like Grand Isle 200 miles to the east, Peveto Woods Sanctuary is a famed fallout site during spring migration where northbound birds that have crossed the Gulf of Mexico stop to rest and feed. This 40-acre woodland of live oak and hackberry trees on the Gulf Coast was saved from development and has long been a favorite birding location with more than 300 species recorded.

The spring rush begins about mid-March increasing to a peak in late April with some songbird migration continuing through May. The ideal time to visit is just after a front has moved through with north winds that tire trans-Gulf migrants and cause them to flock to the first coastal woods they see. At times a tree can be a temporary home to a half-dozen Cerulean Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, or Orchard Orioles.

Some birders wander through the sanctuary’s trails looking for flocks of birds in the trees. Others prefer to pick a spot and let the birds come to them. Often there’s a small pond in the center of the sanctuary with a water drip and nearby seating and spending time here is a favorite birding technique for some visitors.
Although dawn can be a good time for birding, the timing of waves of cross-Gulf migrants varies with conditions so it’s not unusual for a section of woods to come alive with recent arrivals in midday or mid-afternoon.

Fall doesn’t have the thrills of spring at Peveto but many rarities have shown up at that season such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Townsend’s Warbler.

Roseate spoonbills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge

In north-central Louisiana, Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent all-around birding destination with more than 210 species on its list. Although a major focus of the refuge is water management to attract wintering waterfowl it’s also managed to provide habitat for migrant shorebirds in late summe, and its habitats include extensive bottomland hardwood forest.

The most common way to explore Catahoula is to drive its 9-mile Duck Lake Wildlife route which encircles an impoundment where waterfowl hunting is not allowed. It’s easy to stop along this road and bird open water or woodland. The route also provides access to an observation tower and hiking trails. It’s a good idea to stop at the refuge headquarters just off Highway 84 to get a map and ask about trail conditions. Brochures are available if the office is closed. Keep in mind that hunting for deer and other species is allowed on the refuge seasonally.

Catahoula is a fine place to enjoy songbird migration in spring and its nesting species include Barred Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting. August may be the peak time for shorebird-watching with 15 or more species present. In late summer, too, look for Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill among the many herons, egrets, and ibises.

Winter is the time for waterfowl at Catahoula, when common species include Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Ring-necked Duck. Wood Ducks is common year-round.

Birding trail

Wetland Birding Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s Wetland Birding Trail, Louisiana  

Louisiana’s Gulf Coast region forms a generous jambalaya of all the ways that water and land can meet: lakes and rivers, cypress swamps, gum and tupelo bayous, flooded rice fields, freshwater marshes, salt marshes, mudflats, and sandy beaches. When locals say this birding trail crosses America’s wetland it’s no idle boast. But don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself by visiting any of the 115 sites along the trail’s 12 loops.

On the outer coast, brown pelicans have recovered from their population crash of decades past, and passing flocks can be seen constantly. Shallow lakes and swamps support a wealth of waders including snowy egrets, little blue herons, and tricolored herons. Elusive marsh birds are easier to see here than practically anywhere else, and you may get your best looks ever at buffy little least bitterns, rusty-red king rails, and other skulkers.

Easier to spot are the flocks of ducks and geese that arrive for the winter including major populations of greater white-fronted geese and snow geese. If you can tear yourself away from the water, the trail also offers concentrations of warblers, vireos, thrushes, and other migrating songbirds during spring and fall. 

Whether you are interested in spotting rare species or simply immersing yourself in the tranquil world of birds, Louisiana has something to offer for every birdwatching enthusiast.

Birding along the Gulf © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

FAQs:

Q: When is the best time to go birdwatching in Louisiana?

A: The best time for birdwatching in Louisiana is during the spring and fall migration seasons when a wide variety of bird species pass through the state. However, Louisiana’s mild climate makes birdwatching possible year-round, with different species present in each season.

Q: Do I need any special equipment for birdwatching in Louisiana?

A: While not necessary, a pair of binoculars and a field guide can greatly enhance your birdwatching experience. These tools allow you to observe birds from a distance and identify different species based on their physical characteristics and behaviors.

Q: Are there any birdwatching tours or guides available in Louisiana?

A: Yes, several birdwatching tours and guides operate in Louisiana, offering expert knowledge and guidance to enhance your birdwatching experience. These tours can take you to the best birding spots and help you identify various species.

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

Head Outdoors and Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week

There are hundreds of national wildlife refuges across the country like the one pictured below in New Mexico and now is the perfect time to visit for a day of fishing, hiking, or wildlife watching

October is a great time to visit a national wildlife refuge and next week might be a peak time to observe all the migrating birds you can find at a refuge—plus, it just happens to be National Wildlife Refuge Week.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled wildlife conservation network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts that provide vital habitats for thousands of species of birds and other wildlife and plants. It also provides access to world-class recreation opportunities ranging from birding to hiking, nature study, photography, and environmental education.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s National Wildlife Refuge Week—an annual celebration of the United States’ massive network of public lands dedicated to conservation. Walk, run, or stroll in nature during National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 8-14, 2023. Enjoy great outdoor recreation in America’s largest network of public lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Founded in 1903, national wildlife refuges offer access to a host of popular activities while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species.

National Wildlife Refuge Week occurs yearly during the second full week of October.

The Refuge System offers many healthful outdoor activities including fishing, wildlife viewing, and wildlife photography while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species including sandhill cranes, American alligators, bison, and sea turtles.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge System helps many species recover and thrive:

  • About 340 California condors fly free today thanks to efforts by Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, and many committed partners. In 1982, there were just 22 known condors in the wild. Refuge-led tidal marsh restorations in San Francisco Bay in California and Willapa Bay in Washington are providing new feeding and rearing areas for salmon and migratory birds while also protecting nearby communities.
  • There is a national wildlife refuge in all 50 states including refuges located within an hour’s drive of 100 major cities. Almost all refuges provide FREE entry year-round along with great birding opportunities.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Theodore Roosevelt established the Refuge System in 1903 at what is now Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The refuge includes the island and more than 5,400 acres of protected waters and lands in and near Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic coast.

The Blue Goose, originated by the late cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, is the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said: “Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving for themselves and their children as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National wildlife refuges contribute $3.2 billion per year into local economies and support more than 41,000 jobs, according to the Service’s report Banking on Nature. Visits to refuges have doubled in the last 10 years reaching nearly 65 million visits in 2021. National wildlife refuges also make life better by conserving wildlife, protecting against erosion and flooding, and purifying our air and water.

More than 101 million Americans—40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older—pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.

In celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week I’ve compiled a list of seven of my favorite national wildlife refuges.

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Located in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge conserves over 15,000 acres of once vast lower Mississippi alluvial bottomland hardwood forest and bald cypress tupelo swamp habitats. The Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge’s mix of scenic bayous, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forest is a great place to hunt, fish, boat, bird watch, paddle, or just plain enjoy the scenery.

Get more tips for visiting Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331 acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover site for migrating waterfowl. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and ducks who winter here each year. Over 30,000 acres of Bosque del Apache are designated wilderness. Celebrate the return of the cranes at the annual Festival of the Cranes.

Get more tips for visiting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Located in Southwest Arizona, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was originally established in 1939 as a game range to conserve and develop wildlife and other natural resources.

With 803,418 acres of designated wilderness, Cabeza Prieta offers great opportunities to explore the wild Sonoran Desert, home to at least 60 species of mammals, more than 350 bird species, 20 amphibians, some 100 reptiles, and about 30 species of native fish. In addition, more than 2,000 species of plants have been identified in the Sonoran Desert. In 2004, biologists stepped in to rescue the eendangered Sonoran pronghorns by creating a captive breeding program at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 for the protection of migratory birds.  Consisting of 140,000 acres, the refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, managed impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. These habitats provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 15 federally listed species. 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp and is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers.  The refuge provides habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and wood stork along with a wide variety of other wildlife.  It is world renowned for its amphibian populations. More than 600 plant species have been identified on refuge lands. There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee.  From the open prairies of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to the forested cypress swamp accessed through Stephen C. Foster State Park. Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

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Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge established in 1937 occupies the marshes between Calcasieu and Sabine lakes in southwest Louisiana. This area contains a diversity of habitat including freshwater impoundments, wooded ridges and levees, canals, ponds, lakes, and bayous. Located approximately 26 miles south of Sulphur, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge has numerous recreation areas where you can fish, crab or take a hike. Whether you are looking for an alligator to photograph or just a place to stretch your legs, the Wetland Walkway is always an adventure.

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Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America. Though small in size, Santa Ana offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies, and many other species not found anywhere else in the U. S. beyond South Texas. Santa Ana is home to resident species like green jays, chachalacas, Altamira orioles, and great kiskadees making it one of the top birding destinations in the world. 

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Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson