Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge: Where Wings and Wetlands Meet

Seven or eight flying Canada geese in sillouette against a cloudy sky

Located at the northern end of Cayuga Lake, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 10,004 acres of the Montezuma Swamp, a vital waypoint on the Atlantic Flyway. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this refuge protects a mosaic of swamps, pools and channels teeming with wildlife.

Adjacent to the refuge is the New York Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area, further safeguarding the Montezuma Swamp’s rich biodiversity. Together, these areas are pivotal in providing essential habitat for migratory birds, including snow geese, black ducks and more.

Check out articles about these other wildlife refuges: Bombay Hook, Blackwater, Prime Hook, Erie and Eastern Neck.

You’ll also find the ubiquitous Canada geese, in droves! You may also see great blue heron — my favorite bird — green heron and egrets. Beyond birds, mammals like raccoons, muskrats, red foxes, and bats inhabit the refuge. Notably, Montezuma initiated New York State’s first bald eagle restoration program in the 1970s, successfully reintroducing over 20 of these majestic birds into the wild.

Why the Name?

But why Montezuma, a name with roots in distant Mexico? The title traces back to 1806 when Dr. Peter Clark named his home “Montezuma” in homage to the palace of the Aztec Emperor Montezuma in Mexico City. This name, over time, became synonymous with the marsh, village, and ultimately the refuge.

For those eager to immerse themselves in this natural spectacle, the 3.5-mile Wildlife Drive offers a unique perspective of the 1,600-acre wetland, making wildlife observation and photography a breeze. In addition, the Esker Brook Trail and the Oxbow Trail, totaling almost three miles, welcome hikers and walkers to explore further. During our exploration of the refuge, we saw three bald eagles, two sandhill cranes (a first for me), lots of Canada geese, possibly some bufflehead ducks, mergansers and a lot of mallards.

The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York introduces us to the beauty and importance of natural habitats. It helps us connect with nature. Its rich history and role in conservation make it significant for both environmentalists and the general public. When you visit, you can expect to gain a deeper appreciation for the environment and the many species it sustains.

Know Before You Go

A visitor center and gift shop are open from April 1 to December 1 and have educational brochures, exhibits and specimens about the refuge and its wildlife. The drive is open most of the year with the exception of winter, when the road may not be passable.

Getting there: 3395 US-20, Seneca Falls, NY
Hours: The Wildlife Drive and Visitor Center are open annually from April 1 (weather-permitting) through November 30. Walking trails and observation areas are open year-round, with some trail closure during the white-tailed deer hunting season. Refuge visiting hours are sunrise to sunset; office hours are weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Visitor Center hours are daily, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 1 – November 30.
Website: Montezuma NWR

There’s so much to see and do in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York! For more great daytrip destinations, check out the articles below: