Birds call Gray Lodge Wildlife Area home year-round. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Zipping through the air, doing acrobatics like pros, all the while singing songs whose lyrics are definitely in a foreign language.

Birds. They were everywhere.

Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Butte County is only going to get busier as winter approaches. This is a major stopping point for those migrating along the Pacific Flyway. It’s estimated more than 1 million waterfowl stop here each fall/winter.

Hundreds of species of birds flock to this Butte County wildlife area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The best viewing is reportedly November-February. Even so, we were not disappointed in mid-October.

According to the wildlife area, “The marsh offers seasonal resting places for waterfowl from as far away as Wrangle Island near Russia and the Pacific Ocean. They feed on invertebrates and plants such as swamp timothy, spike bulrush, pondweed and watergrass.”

The wildlife area encompasses about 9,100 acres and is home to more than 300 species of resident and migrant birds and mammals.

In addition to the multitude of birds we also saw a river otter and rabbits.

Some of the birds one can see at Gray Lodge include swifts, humming birds, kingfishers, woodpeckers, flycatchers, shrikes, vireos, jays, lark, swallows, titmice, nuthatches, wrens, kinglets, thrushes, mockingbirds, starlings, wagtails, waxwings and wood warblers.

A river otter pauses before returning to the water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A 3-mile driving route through the wetlands makes this property accessible to everyone.

Walking trails are also available. We started on the self-guided wetland discovery nature trail. With a pamphlet available at the start, we could then read from it at each of the stations.

It wasn’t just birds we learned about; a wealth of information about the ecosystem spilled forth. Such as, “Standing about 25-feet tall, this native blue elderberry is an important part of the wetlands. Groves of elderberry once thrived in the vast riparian forest of California’s Central Valley. Now less than 2 percent of this habitat remains. The berries are an important source of food for birds. This plant is considered critical habitat to the endangered valley elderberry longhorned beetle.”

A blue heron keeps to itself at the wildlife refuge. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At another juncture we learned: “Gray Lodge Wildlife Area is divided into nearly 100 fields. Each field has a specific habitat plan. Transition zones called ‘edges’ exist where different types of habitats meet. These ‘edges’ are often where the greatest variety and density of wildlife are found.”

Before finishing the paved nature trail we veered off on a dirt route that got us closer to the flocks.

With the Sutter Buttes in the background much of the time, it made the setting even more dramatic.

One doesn’t need to know much about birds to be impressed by Gray Lodge.



  • Address: 3207 Rutherford Road, Gridley
  • Website
  • The website says: Each visitor 16 or older must possess a state lands pass. They must be obtained ahead of time.
  • At the site a kiosk requested a $5 fee per person, but there was no info about needing the lands pass.
  • Take binoculars.

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