A Bird Extravaganza: Central California in Winter

Wildlife refuges in central California are exciting places to watch birds, any time of year. But in winter, they’re phenomenal because California as a whole is rich with birdlife. It is one of only three states in the U.S. which is home to more than 500 species of birds (Arizona and Texas are the others). California is also a crucial wintering area for a majority of the Pacific Coast’s ducks, geese and shorebirds.

For a glimpse at these birds try visiting Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Surrounded by farm fields, this wetland and its neighboring refuges within 30 miles (called the San Luis Refuge Complex) and provides an oasis for millions of birds and dozens of species. Ornithologists estimate that more than half a million wintering shorebirds like curlews, plover, and dunlin and over a MILLION ducks and geese make their winter homes in Central California!

Visitors to Merced National Wildlife Refuge can observe birds from two elevated towers or their can drive the one-way touring route that accesses the heart of the refuge. On a typical day, visitors may see thousands of water birds such as shovelers, coots, teal, ibis, and the long-legged Black-winged Stilt. Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes can be seen feeding in nearby fields.

The Merced Refuge is also famous for its flocks of geese. Snow Geese are regular visitors and you can marvel as you see them form gigantic flocks. On any given day, hundreds of Snow Geese can be seen taking to the sky in what looks like a blizzard of noisy birds. The smaller and rarer Ross’s goose often joins these flocks. But watch carefully – it takes a sharp eye or a good spotting scope to tell them apart!