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Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex

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Willows, California

The Refuges

The six national wildlife refuges of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex lie like a small oasis in a sea of agriculture in the Sacramento Valley. The valley is bordered east and west by the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Mountain Ranges.

The refuges - Sacramento, Delevan, Colusa, Sutter, and Butte Sink - cover some 24,000 acres of grassland, marshes, ponds, and seasonal wetlands. They are located 50 to 90 miles north of Sacramento, California. The sixth refuge - Sacramento River NWR, was established in 1989 to protect and restore the River's riparian habitat; it includes portions of the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Butte City. The Butte Sink NWR is an important sanctuary and is closed to the public.

These refuges represent a small portion of the vast grasslands, seasonal marshes, and permanent ponds that once existed in the Sacramento Valley. Millions of migratory waterfowl and other water birds wintered here with deer, elk, pronghorn, and grizzly bear.

Today, most of the wetlands are gone, having been drained and reclaimed for agriculture. Levees were constructed to confine rivers for flood control and irrigation. Gone too, are the pronghorn, elk, and grizzly bear; however, some of the most spectacular concentrations of waterfowl on the continent can still be seen. These are among the most intensively managed wildlife refuges in the nation.

Havens for Wintering Waterfowl

Many of the ducks wintering in the Sacramento Valley are produced in Alaska and the prairie pothole region of North America. Most of the geese migrate from Alaska and the Canadian arctic. Ducks begin arriving during August and are joined by geese in September and October. Numbers may exceed two million by December after the wetland areas of the Klamath Basin and other areas to the north become frozen.

Pintails, mallards, wigeon, northern shoveler, snow, Ross's, and white-fronted geese are most commonly seen during these months, but the careful observer can find many others. Waterfowl numbers gradually decline in February and March when they return to their northern breeding grounds.

Habitat Diversity Attracts Birds and Other Wildlife

Although managed mainly for migratory waterfowl, the refuges are also attractive to other wildlife. The marshes, with readily available fish, frogs, and invertebrates are attractive to grebes, white pelicans, egrets, herons, and bitterns. Shorebirds probe the mud for seeds, snails, and worms. Raptors find an abundance of waterfowl, rodents or small birds on which to feed. Woodpeckers, warblers, and other songbirds feed and nest in the cottonwoods and willows bordering the waterways and creeks. Deer and jackrabbits graze in the grasslands and on edges of wetlands.

The following list contains 269 species of birds recorded on the refuges since 1937.


Sp - Spring - March through May
S - Summer - June through July
F - Fall - August through November
W - Winter - December through February


a - abundant, certain to be seen in abundance
c - common, certain to be seen in proper habitat
u - uncommon, seen infrequently
r - rare, rarely seen (10-20 sightings)
o - accidentals (1-10 sightings)
* - nesting
# - endangered species

LOONS Sp S F W ___ Red-throated Loon - - - o ___ Common Loon r - r r
GREBES Sp S F W ___*Pied-billed Grebe c c c c ___ Horned Grebe r - r r ___ Red-necked Grebe - - - o ___*Eared Grebe u r u c ___ Western Grebe - - - u ___*Clark's Grebe u u u c
PELICANS AND CORMORANTS Sp S F W ___ American White Pelican c u c u ___ Double-crested Cormorant c c u c
BITTERNS, HERONS AND EGRETS Sp S F W ___*American Bittern c c c c ___*Least Bittern r r u r ___*Great Blue Heron c c c c ___*Great Egret c c c c ___*Snowy Egret c c c c ___ Little Blue Heron o o o o ___*Cattle Egret r r r u ___*Green Heron r u u r ___*Black-crowned Night-Heron c c c c
IBIS AND SPOONBILLS Sp S F W ___*White-faced Ibis c c c u
WATERFOWL Sp S F W ___ Fulvous Whistling-Duck o o o o ___ Black-bellied Whistling-Duck o o o o ___ Tundra Swan u - u c ___ Trumpeter Swan - - - o ___ Greater White-Fronted Goose u - a c ___ Snow Goose c - a a ___ Ross' Goose c - a a ___ Emperor Goose - - - o ___ Brant - - - o ___*Canada Goose u u u c ___*Wood Duck u u u u ___ Green-winged Teal c r a a ___ Baikal Teal - - - o ___ American Black Duck - - - o ___*Mallard a c a a ___*Northern Pintail c u a a ___*Blue-winged Teal r r r r ___*Cinnamon Teal c c c u ___*Northern Shoveler a u a a ___*Gadwall c u u c ___ Eurasian Wigeon r - r r ___ American Wigeon a u a a ___ Canvasback u r u u ___*Redhead u u u u ___*Ring-necked Duck u r c c ___ Greater Scaup - - r r ___ Lesser Scaup r - u u ___ Harlequin Duck - - - o ___ Long-tailed Duck - - - o ___ Surf Scoter - - - o ___ White-winged Scoter - - - o ___ Common Goldeneye r - r u ___ Bufflehead u - u u ___ Hooded Merganser r - r r ___*Common Merganser r - r r ___ Red-breasted Merganser o - - - ___*Ruddy Duck c r c c
VULTURES Sp S F W ___ Turkey Vulture c c c c
OSPREY, KITES, EAGLES AND HAWKS Sp S F W ___ Osprey o o o o ___*White-tailed Kite u u u u ___ Bald Eagle# r - r r ___*Northern Harrier c c c c ___ Sharp-shinned Hawk u r u u ___ Cooper's Hawk u r u u ___*Red-shouldered Hawk r r r r ___ Swainson's Hawk r r r - ___*Red-tailed Hawk c c c c ___ Ferruginous Hawk r - - r ___ Rough-legged Hawk r - r r ___ Golden Eagle r r u u
FALCONS Sp S F W ___*American Kestrel c c c c ___ Merlin - - - r ___ Peregrine Falcon# r r u u ___ Prairie Falcon r r r r
GALLINACEOUS BIRDS Sp S F W ___*Ring-necked Pheasant c c c c ___*California Quail u u u u
RAILS Sp S F W ___ Yellow Rail o o o o ___ Black Rail o o o o ___*Virginia Rail u u u u ___*Sora u u u u ___*Common Moorhen c c c c ___*American Coot a c a a
CRANES Sp S F W ___ Sandhill Crane r - r u
PLOVERS Sp S F W ___ Black-bellied Plover u - r r ___ American Golden Plover o - o - ___ Snowy Plover o - - - ___ Semipalmated Plover r - r - ___*Killdeer c c c c
STILTS AND AVOCETS Sp S F W ___*Black-necked Stilt c c c u ___*American Avocet c c c u
SHOREBIRDS Sp S F W ___ Greater Yellowlegs c u c c ___ Lesser Yellowlegs u r r r ___ Solitary Sandpiper r - r - ___ Willet - - r - ___ Spotted Sandpiper r - r r ___ Whimbrel r - r - ___ Long-billed Curlew u - u u ___ Marbled Godwit - - r - ___ Ruddy Turnstone o - o - ___ Red Knot o - o - ___ Sanderling o - o - ___ Semipalmated Sandpiper - - o - ___ Western Sandpiper c - c u ___ Least Sandpiper c - c u ___ Baird's Sandpiper o - o - ___ Pectoral Sandpiper r - r - ___ Dunlin c - r c ___ Long-billed Dowitcher c - a c
SNIPE Sp S F W ___ Wilson's Snipe u - u u
PHALAROPES Sp S F W ___ Wilson's Phalarope u - u - ___ Red-necked Phalarope u - u - ___ Red Phalarope o - o -
GULLS AND TERNS Sp S F W ___ Franklin's Gull - - - o ___ Bonaparte's Gull r - r - ___ Mew Gull - - - o ___ Ring-billed Gull u u c c ___ California Gull r r r u ___ Herring Gull u u c c ___ Glaucous-winged Gull - - - o ___ Black-legged Kittiwake - - - o ___ Sabine's Gull - - - o ___ Caspian Tern u u u - ___ Forster's Tern r r - - ___ Black Tern u u - -
DOVES Sp S F W ___ Rock Dove r r r r ___ Band-tailed Pigeon r - - - ___*Mourning Dove c c c u
CUCKOOS Sp S F W ___ Greater Roadrunner o o o o
OWLS Sp S F W ___*Barn Owl c c c c ___*Western Screech-Owl r r r r ___*Great Horned Owl c c c c ___ Snowy Owl - - - o ___ Northern Pygmy-Owl o - o o ___*Burrowing Owl r r r r ___ Long-eared Owl r - r r ___*Short-eared Owl r r r r ___ Northern Saw-whet Owl r - r r
GOATSUCKERS Sp S F W ___ Lesser Nighthawk r u r - ___ Common Nighthawk r r r - ___ Common Poorwill r r - -
SWIFTS Sp S F W ___ Black Swift r r r - ___ Vaux's Swift r r r - ___ White-throated Swift r r r -
HUMMINGBIRDS Sp S F W ___*Black-chinned Hummingbird u r u - ___*Anna's Hummingbird u r u r ___ Rufous Hummingbird r r r - ___ Allen's Hummingbird r - r -
KINGFISHERS Sp S F W ___*Belted Kingfisher u u u u
WOODPECKERS Sp S F W ___ Lewis's Woodpecker r - r r ___*Acorn Woodpecker r r r r ___ Red-breasted Sapsucker r - r r ___*Nuttall's Woodpecker u u u u ___*Downy Woodpecker r r r r ___ Hairy Woodpecker - - - r ___*Northern Flicker u u c c
FLYCATCHERS Sp S F W ___ Olive-sided Flycatcher o - o - ___*Western Wood-Pewee u u r - ___ Willow Flycatcher r - r - ___ Gray Flycatcher o - o - ___ Pacific-slope Flycatcher r - r - ___*Black Phoebe u u u u ___ Say's Phoebe - - r r ___*Ash-throated Flycatcher u u r - ___*Western Kingbird c c u -
LARKS Sp S F W ___ Horned Lark r r r u
SWALLOWS Sp S F W ___ Purple Martin r r - - ___*Tree Swallow c c u u ___ Violet-green Swallow r r r - ___ Northern Rough-winged Swallow r r - - ___ Bank Swallow r - - - ___*Cliff Swallow c c u - ___*Barn Swallow c c u -
JAYS, MAGPIES AND CROWS Sp S F W ___*Western Scrub Jay r r r r ___ Clark's Nutcracker o - o - ___*Yellow-billed Magpie c c c c ___*American Crow u u u u ___ Common Raven u u u u
CHICKADEES AND TITMICE Sp S F W ___ Mountain Chickadee - - o - ___*Oak Titmouse u u u u
BUSHTITS Sp S F W ___*Bushtit u u u u
NUTHATCHES Sp S F W ___ Red-breasted Nuthatch o - o - ___*White-breasted Nuthatch r r r r
CREEPERS Sp S F W ___ Brown Creeper - - r r
WRENS Sp S F W ___ Rock Wren o o o o ___*Bewick's Wren u u u u ___*House Wren r r r r ___ Winter Wren r - r r ___*Marsh Wren c c c c
KINGLETS, BLUEBIRDS AND THRUSHES Sp S F W ___ Golden-crowned Kinglet r - r r ___ Ruby-crowned Kinglet c - c c ___ Blue-gray Gnatcatcher r r - - ___ Western Bluebird r - - r ___ Mountain Bluebird r - - r ___ Swainson's Thrush r - - - ___ Hermit Thrush u - u u ___*American Robin u r r u ___ Varied Thrush r - r r
MOCKINGBIRDS AND THRASHERS Sp S F W ___*Northern Mockingbird u u u u ___ Sage Thrasher o o o o
WAGTAILS AND PIPITS Sp S F W ___ American Pipit c - c c
WAXWINGS Sp S F W ___ Bohemian Waxwing r o r r ___ Cedar Waxwing u r r u
PHAINOPEPLA Sp S F W ___ Phainopepla o - - o
SHRIKES Sp S F W ___ Northern Shrike r - r r ___*Loggerhead Shrike u u u u
STARLINGS AND MYNAS Sp S F W ___*European Starling c c c c
VIREOS Sp S F W ___ Cassin's Vireo r - r - ___ Hutton's Vireo o o o o ___ Warbling Vireo r r r -
WARBLERS Sp S F W ___ Orange-crowned Warbler r - r r ___ Nashville Warbler r - - - ___ Northern Parula o - o - ___ Yellow Warbler u - r - ___ Chestnut-sided Warbler o - o - ___ Yellow-rumped Warbler c - c c ___ Black-throated Gray Warbler r - r - ___ Townsend's Warbler r - r - ___ Hermit Warbler r - - - ___ Palm Warbler o - o - ___ Ovenbird o - o - ___ Northern Waterthrush o - o - ___ MacGillivray's Warbler r - r - ___*Common Yellowthroat c u u u ___ Wilson's Warbler u - r - ___*Yellow-breasted Chat r r - -
TANAGERS Sp S F W ___ Summer Tanager o - o - ___ Western Tanager u - r -
GROSBEAKS AND BUNTINGS Sp S F W ___*Black-headed Grosbeak u u - - ___*Blue Grosbeak u u - - ___*Lazuli Bunting r r - - ___ Indigo Bunting o - o -
TOWHEES AND SPARROWS Sp S F W ___ Spotted Towhee r r r r ___*California Towhee u u u u ___ American Tree Sparrow - - - o ___ Chipping Sparrow r - - r ___ Brewer's Sparrow - - - o ___ Vesper Sparrow - - r - ___ Lark Sparrow r r r r ___ Savannah Sparrow c u u c ___ Fox Sparrow r - r r ___*Song Sparrow c u c c ___ Lincoln's Sparrow r - r c ___ Swamp Sparrow - - - o ___ White-throated Sparrow r - r r ___ Golden-crowned Sparrow u - r c ___ White-crowned Sparrow c - c c ___ Harris' Sparrow - - - o ___ Dark-eyed Junco u - c c ___ Lapland Longspur - - - o ___ Chestnut-collared Longspur - - - o ___ Snow Bunting - - - o
BLACKBIRDS, MEADOWLARKS AND ORIOLES Sp S F W ___*Red-winged Blackbird a a a a ___*Tricolored Blackbird c c c u ___*Western Meadowlark c c c c ___*Yellow-headed Blackbird u u u r ___*Brewer's Blackbird c c c c ___ Great-tailed Grackle o - o - ___*Brown-headed Cowbird c c u u ___ Hooded Oriole - o - - ___*Bullock's Oriole c c u -
FINCHES Sp S F W ___ Cassin's Finch - - - o ___*House Finch c c c c ___ Red Crossbill - - - o ___ Pine Siskin - - - r ___*Lesser Goldfinch u u u u ___ Lawrence's Goldfinch - o - - ___*American Goldfinch c u u u ___ Evening Grosbeak - - - r
WEAVER FINCHES Sp S F W ___*House Sparrow c c c c

For more information contact:
                      Refuge Manager
                      Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
                      752 County Road 99 West
                      Willows, California 95988      
                      Telephone: 530/934-2801
                      Hours: 8-5 (Pacific Time)
                      24-Hour Information: 530/934-7774

This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1994.  Wildlife of the Sacramento National 
     Wildlife Refuge Complex.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1994.  Wildlife of the Sacramento National 
     Wildlife Refuge Complex.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
     Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 30DEC2002).

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mission Statement - to conserve, protect, and enhance the nation's fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of people.

No person shall, on the basis of race, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, physical or mental restrictions, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination in any program or activity of the Department of the Interior.

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