Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge


(956) 784-7500

Map Directions

Things To Do


Along the banks of the lower Rio Grande is the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a 2,088 acre refuge established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds. Considered the 'jewel' of the refuge system, this essential 'island' of thorn forest habitat is host or home to nearly 400 different types of birds and a myriad of other species, including the indigo snake, malachite butterfly and the endangered ocelot.

At an ecological crossroad, Santa Ana is strategically located where subtropical climate, gulf coast, great plains and Chihuahuan desert meet. Thousands of birds from the Central and Mississippi flyways funnel through the area on their way to and from Central and South America. This small patch of midvalley riparian woodland is also habitat for about one half of all butterfly species found in the United States.

Before dams and control structures significantly reduced the flow of the Rio Grande, periodic floods cut shifting channels into the delta creating crescent-shaped oxbow lakes, referred to as 'resacas.' Santa Ana's management program mimics the historical flooding of the Rio Grande, maintaining the bottom land hardwood forest and providing crucial nesting and feeding habitat for birds, watering holes for animals, and homes for countless amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and insects.

With over 95 percent of the original habitat in the lower Rio Grande delta cleared or altered, Santa Ana is a reminder of the semitropical thorn forest that once dominated the area.

Map of Santa Ana NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 26.085001, -98.133488



  • Bird Watching

    The 397 species of birds found on Santa Ana make it a birder's delight. Waterfowl, marsh birds and shorebirds can be seen on the lakes and wetlands of the refuge. Some species to look for are black-bellied and fulvous whistling duck, mottled duck, blue-winged, green-winged, and cinnamon teal, least grebe, anhinga, tricolored heron, white ibis, lesser yellowlegs, long-billed dowitcher and least tern.

    Migrating raptors that fly over the refuge in spring and fall include osprey, broadwing hawk, northern harrier and peregrine falcon. Santa Ana NWR's rarest raptors, the hook-billed kite and gray hawk, are seen occasionally on the refuge and attract birders from around the world. Spring warblers are abundant, with over 35 species seen, including golden-winged warbler, magnolia warbler, northern and tropical parula, American redstart, palm warbler and yellow-breasted chat.

    Other specialties found in the lower Rio Grande Valley include the buff-bellied hummingbird, roseate spoonbill, masked duck, plain chachalaca, red-billed pigeon, Inca dove, ruddy ground dove, groove-billed ani, pauraque, ringed and green kingfishers, Couch's and tropical kingbirds, great kiskadee, green jay, clay-colored robin and Chihuahuan raven.

  • Bicycling

    Bicycles are welcome on the wildlife drive daily from sunrise to sunset.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    The seven mile wildlife drive, open on weekends during the summer, provides excellent opportunities for exploring the more remote areas of Santa Ana. The drive is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from May through November. Please call the Visitor Center at (956) 784-7500 before arrival to confirm that the drive will be open.

  • Hiking

    There are 12 miles of foot trails and access roads that are open to hiking in addition to the 7-mile tour road. These trails vary in length from ½ mile (paved and wheelchair-accessible) to the seven mile Wildlife Drive. Some start from the Visitor Center, others from parking lots along the wildlife drive. Trails are open every day from sunrise to sunset. During the winter season, roving naturalists and guides are available to assist visitors.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Bobcat, coyote, armadillo, long-tailed weasel and Mexican ground squirrel are a few of the mammals found on the refuge. The endangered ocelot and jaguarundi are also present but rarely seen.

    Zebra longwings, Julias, and Mexican bluewings are but a few of the more than 300 butterfly species found on the refuge. A favored spot by butterflies and visitors alike is the butterfly garden in front of the Santa Ana Visitor Center. You'll hardly need your binoculars! Peak diversity falls between October and December. A single October day has been known to produce a tremendous 65 documented species!



Refuge headquarters is located 7 miles south of Alamo, Texas, on FM 907 about 1/4 mile east on U.S. Highway 281.

Phone Numbers


(956) 784-7500