The wetlands, riparian woodlands and desert scrub-grasslands at Feather Lake support a diverse wildlife community. Walk the 1-mile path around the lake on a spring day, and you might see muskrats motoring across the water surface, spiny softshell turtles and pond sliders basking on clumps of vegetation in the marsh, and little striped whiptail lizards skittering ahead of you on the trail.
But Feather Lake is best known for its birds. Over the years, 220 different species have been observed at the sanctuary. Not surprisingly, birds associated with water are especialy well represented. In some years, there can be hordes of Yellow-headed Blackbirds in early fall, up to 4,000 ducks in mid-winter, and squadrons of White-faced Ibis in spring.
When water is present, Feather Lake is open to the public on weekends, September through May. Hours are 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 2 p.m. to dusk on Sundays. Admission is free.
Due to prolonged drought and persistent lack of water, the Sanctuary has been closed for over 7 years now.
Tours for school classes and other groups are available on weekdeays or weekends throughout the year. For information on scheduling a classroom or group tour, cleck on Schedule a Tour or call (915)747-8663. For a flyer describing the tours, click here.
When water is present, the levels at Feather Lake fluctuate constantly, and the pattern from year to year is always different. The lake has two sources of water: storm runoff and irrigation flows. The lake holds water most reliably during the rainy season (July-September). After heavy storms, the level can rise as much as 4 to 5 feet overnight. In addition, during the irrigation season (typically mid-February to mid-October), water remaining in local delivery laterals after deliveries have been made is periodically sent to Feather Lake. Of course, neither of these sources is entirely consistent or predictable. In wet years, the lake might hold water all year, or for several years. If no water is available from either source for prolonged periods, often the case in late fall-early winter, the lake can go dry.
Starting in August 2020, Feather Lake was dry or almost dry for 11 months, until runoff from a storm in late June flooded the basin. Storms in mid-July and mid-August led to even greater flooding, with the lake reaching a record depth of approximately 7 feet 8 inches due to runoff from the August storm. The water level dropped rapidly in late August, and the lake was again dry by the end of the month. The graph below shows the water depth at Feather Lake from October 1, 2020 to October 1, 2021.
The Audubon Society also has regularly scheduled workdays at Feather Lake. The highly productive natural wetlands and riparian woodlands once found along the Rio Grande in the El Paso area have virtually disappeared. At Feather Lake workdays, volunteers carry out an ongoing habitat management program that aims to restore examples of these habitats at the sanctuary. The next workday will be Saturday, December 4, starting at 2 p.m.