Cibola National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)

Sandhill Cranes



This is great area with an excellent mix of habitats.  Sandhill Cranes, geese, Bald Eagles, and waterfowl are the biggest draws, but wintering sparrows are second to none!  In addition, there are bittern, migrant warblers and flycatchers, and a long list of breeding birds. Raptors are not uncommon here, and it's one of the few areas I've seen Golden Eagle and White-tailed Kite on multiple occasions.  Cibola's location along the Colorado River guarantees that rare vagrants will also turn up and may be spotted by the persistent birder. 

Vermilion Flycatcher
around many of the riparian areas

Cibola Lake - watch for Bald Eagles here!


Site #8 on the  Yuma County Map

Getting here from the intersection of  1st Street and 4th Ave takes about 1.5 hours (79 miles):

- Drive north on 4th Ave .3 miles and get onto I-8 westbound immediately after crossing the Colorado River
- Drive west 15 miles on I-8 to the Ogilby Road exit.  
- Drive north on Ogilby Road for 39 miles.
- At the CA Hwy 78 "T" intersection, turn right.  Drive east and north on Hwy 78 for approximately 23 miles. 
- Turn right on a gravel road, which is "sometimes" signed "Colorado River/Cibola NWR".  Follow this road past Oxbow Lake and turn left onto the levee road--heading north.
- You'll soon see a sign to Cibola NWR--turn right here and cross over the Colorado River Channel Bridge. Turn right and follow the levee road south along the river for about .5 miles.  Turn left on Baseline Road and take it east about 3 (?) miles.
- At the three-way intersection turn right (south) onto River Road and follow it to the refuge entrance.

(Numbered spots correspond with the map on the right.  Thanks to Brenda Zaun for contributing to these hints!)

1)  Oxbow Lake
After you exit CA Hwy 78, this lake will soon appear on your left.  Look for gulls, tern, waders, kingfishers, and waterfowl in various seasons.  A county park on Hwy 78 affords further views and a restroom. 

2)  Hunting Clubs
Once driving east on Baseline, watch the fields north of the road for Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes.  A hunting club at "2" has a large pond with good varieties of waterfowl during the winter.  You can view the pond well from the road shoulder.
3)  Cornfield Nature Trail
The parking lot for the Nature Trail is about ˝ mile after entering the auto tour loop. The 1-mile Nature Trail (a walking trail) loops around through mesquite, cottonwood, and willow forests. Halfway around the trail, visit an elevated observation deck that overlooks a 20-acre pond where thousands of geese, cranes, and ducks congregate at mid-day to drink. During spring and fall migration, the forests attract numerous warblers including MacGillivray’s, orange-crowned, Wilson’s, black-throated gray, hermit, and Townsend’s. This is also a great place to see blue grosbeaks, western tanagers and Lazuli buntings. During the summer, mourning doves and western kingbirds nest there along with an occasional Vermilion flycatcher. 

4)  Self-guided auto tour (3-mile drive)
From Cibola NWR visitor center, continue northwest through red gates (there are signs). This drive is also called Goose Loop and Canada Goose Drive. From late October through February, the farm fields surrounding this drive are full of Canada, snow, and Ross’ geese. Mid-late September is the best time to see white-fronted geese as they are passing through on migration-- occasionally several will winter on the refuge. The largest portion of the lower Colorado River population of greater sandhill cranes winter on the refuge as well as thousands of ducks including mallard, northern pintail, Am. wigeon, ring-necked, ruddy, northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and cinnamon teal. 
     It is not uncommon to see bald eagles and golden eagles in the farm fields. An occasional peregrine falcon has visited also. American kestrels, northern harriers, and prairie falcons are common sights during the winter. Kestrels are here year-round and nest in the artificial nest boxes we have provided for them. Watch for these on the utility poles as you drive around the loop. 
5)  Island Unit
     Continue south on Cibola Lake Road approximately 4 miles past the refuge headquarters and turn right on Island Unit Road. Cross the bridge and continue west. Stop at the kiosk to obtain a permit (no charge). Continue west and turn left at the first dirt road across an irrigation canal. This road will take you along a restored historic river meander, some farm fields, and moist soil units where waterfowl and shorebirds congregate. Some of the birds seen here include white-faced ibis, American avocet, black terns, dowitchers, killdeer, black-necked stilts, sandpipers, cattle - snowy - great egrets, great blue and black-crowned night herons, American bitterns, yellowlegs, and common snipe.

6)  Hart Mine Marsh
Hart Mine Marsh is open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It is an attractive roost to waterfowl, herons, and egrets. Yuma clapper rails nest here as well as in Cibola Lake. Least bitterns are commonly seen in the marsh and in Cibola Lake.

7)  Colorado River
The Levee Road which borders the Colorado River on both the east and west side gives you fine vantage points to both the river and surrounding riparian areas.
8)  Cibola Lake
Cibola Lake is closed in the winter to provide a safe, undisturbed roosting area for wintering waterfowl and other wildlife. However, you can view geese, ducks, Clark’s, western, and pied-billed grebes on a high cliff overlooking the southern portion of the lake. This is a great place to view bald eagles too. They are often seen perched on the snags within the lake. The lake opens on March 15 and is a great place to birdwatch from a canoe or kayak. The only motors allowed on the lake are trolling motors.

Cibola NWR
Click here for Overview Map



Red numbers correspond to 
the birding suggestions on the left
Blue areas are water (canals, rivers, ponds, marshes, etc.)
Blue grassy spots are marshy areas
R = rest room


Osprey along the Colorado River

Bird Sightings

Click here to look at the Cibola NWR Bird List, which has birds seen at the refuge over the past five years.

(Web Pages)

These pages give you some idea of the birds that you can find in this location during the winter and fall.
Birding Trips

Photos © Henry D. Detwiler
Last Update: 30 Dec 2002