Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, image

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is near Brigham City, Utah. | Steve Greenwood/NWS

Road Journals Blog—Bridging Main St. in Brigham City, an enormous sign reads: “Welcome to Brigham Gateway: the World’s Greatest Bird Refuge.”

My expectations were low. I expected a marshy lake and some interpretive signs. But what I found a mile or so south, at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, was not only a stopping point for millions of migrating birds, but a refuge for people looking for an immersion into nature and a chance to dream of flying.

The impressive Wildlife Education Center features ongoing exhibits, kid crafts, and a small theater (featuring a movie called “Wings of Thunder”), all of which helped place us into the lives of birds that rely on these 74,000 acres.

I learned that this vital migratory stop nearly dried up because so much water from the Bear River was diverted to farms and towns. This, combined with an avian botulism epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of birds, made for grim graveyard scenes.

It was bird hunters who championed the need for rehabilitating the wetlands. Now, a section of the refuge is for hunters, but most of it is for people like me.

From the Center’s viewing deck we watched a bird ride a current of air, then dive and dip as if playing a game of airborne tag. It being December, with winter on the ground, we looked for hawks, bald eagles and flocks of horned larks. A ranger painted a picture of spring for us, describing a festival of flocks and a feast for the eyes with courting, nesting, singing, and fuzzy babies trailing mothers.

I made a note to return in March with my boys to see the scores of eagles, white pelicans, and sandhill cranes; and again in April to see the rest of the feathered crews, including Canadian geese and all the nesting. In May we might swing by to spot the newly hatched broods, maybe while riding bikes on the 12-mile elevated dike or exploring some of the refuge’s trails.

Like many of these feathered visitors, I too am shaping my plans and hopes around springtime, when the snow will be melted, the days longer, and the sun warm on my skin.

This blog post was first published in February 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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