The 6,449 Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge lies about 20 miles south of Muleshoe. The first of 21 wildlife refuges in Texas to be established by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, it was created by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935.
From September to March, the refuge’s three saline lakes serve as the winter home for one of the largest groups of sandhill cranes in the Midwest. Preserve manager Harold Beierman estimates that more than 150,000 sandhill cranes wintered at the refuge in 2006. The numbers fluctuate depending on weather conditions; as many as 250,000 of the large, gray birds have been counted some years.
These long-legged birds, which have a six-foot wingspan and a “red cap,” spend their winter days scavenging through plowed fields and then roost at the lakes. At least 321 other species of birds, including golden and bald eagles and whooping cranes, also visit the refuge.
The lakes have nearly three times more salinity than cattle can tolerate. “That might be why the government found a willing seller,” says Beierman with a chuckle. The land and the water aren’t good for farming, but the spring and summer grasses are excellent forage for cattle, and windmills and native springs provide fresh water for wildlife such as mule deer, bobcats, badgers, skunks, coyotes, porcupines, and prairie dogs.