Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is for the birds


“Malheur’s for the birds”

That’s the slogan that read across a T-shirt I wore back in the late ’70s, when I worked there for the summer in the maintenance department for the Malheur Field Station. A branch of Oregon’s Pacific University, the “Field Station” was where they held month-long courses in botany and ornithology.

I also took their anthropology/wilderness survival course, called, “Aboriginal Life Skills of the Northern Great Basin.” There, we learned how the Paiutes lived off the land, hundreds of years before ranchers claimed it for themselves and their ubiquitous cows. Their armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building is apparently part of an effort to re-assert their “constitutional rights.”

As an avid birdwatcher, I know the refuge and its headquarters well. Possibly second only to Yellowstone National Park for biodiversity, wildlife can be found throughout the refuge. The Wildlife Department headquarters office is practically a required stop for die-hard birders, due to the oasis-like edge effect the treed property has in the midst of an otherwise contiguous sagebrush habitat.

Say’s the Portland Audubon Society of the unique national refuge:

This area is one of the premiere sites for birds and birding in the U.S. The refuge consists of over 187,000 acres of habitat which include wetlands, riparian areas, meadows, and uplands.

 Location: In the center of the southeast quarter of the state, 30 miles south of Burns in central Harney County.

Description: This area is one of the premiere sites for birds and birding in the U.S. The refuge consists of over 187,000 acres of habitat which include wetlands, riparian areas, meadows, and uplands. Refuge lands are configured in roughly a “T” shape, 39 miles wide and 40 miles long.

Ornithological Highlights: Malheur’s varied habitats, abundant resources, and location on the Pacific Flyway are utilized by a variety of migratory and resident birds. Over 320 species of birds have been observed at Malheur, including numerous watch-listed species such as Western Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Franklin’s Gull, Short-eared Owl, Greater Sage-Grouse, Bobolink, Trumpeter Swan, and Brewer’s Sparrow.

The refuge’s riparian habitat supports the highest known densities of Willow Flycatcher, up to 20% of the world’s population of White-faced Ibis, and significant breeding populations of American White Pelican and Greater Sandhill Crane. Breeding populations on the refuge also include a variety of gulls and terns and hundreds of pairs of various duck species. The first Oregon breeding record of Cattle Egret came from Malheur Lake in the mid-1980s. Black-crowned Night-Heron pairs nesting on the refuge generally number in the hundreds.

During migration, the Refuge regularly supports hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and tens of thousands of shorebirds, including a significant proportion of the total populations of several species. Malheur Refuge is also a winter concentration point for raptors of many species.

Thousands of birders come to the refuge annually to take part in the spectacle, whether they come for the waterfowl, songbirds, or both. Due to the high birder coverage and concentrated bird habitat Malheur Headquarters may have the highest all-time bird list of any single location in Oregon.

For more information on Malheur, please see the Technical Site Report in the National IBA database.


Yes, contrary to the cow-pushers who are now trying to take it over again, this time from the rest of the US citizens, Malheur’s for the birds…and for us bird watchers too.

4 thoughts on “Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is for the birds

  1. I spent a lot of time at the field station as well. It is one of my favorite places on earth. Many times I have considered living in the region due to my deep love of this refuge. My heart hurts over this aggressive take-over of a federal building. May it somehow be resolved in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone and gets these crazy people out of the Refuge.

  2. If there ever was a better time to rid our public lands of these rancher/moochers/hunters/trappers/outlaws–this is it. The agenda of this well-armed lawless culture, is to turn wildlife refuges, national forests, BLM land, & wilderness areas back to the states, or to privatize them–or both. This has been their agenda for decades, and it has now been rekindled with a vengeance.

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