Southwest Indiana Birding Opportunities - Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge

Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge is a 10,000-acre Import Bird Area IBA in the counties of Pike and Gibson.

Northern Bobwhite

Though labeled as a bottomland forest habitat, it is the diversity of habitats that make it special to birders. Within the refuge, one can find seasonally flooded agricultural fields, grasslands (850 ac.), swamps and marshes (950 ac.), forested sloughs and oxbows, and reforestation planting at different levels of succession. Due its diversity, the refuge holds something for year-round birding.

The bottomland forests offer valuable habitat to nesting birds such as Prothonotary Warblers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers. The grasslands are home to nesting Henslow’s Sparrows, Blue Grosbeaks, Dickcissels, Bobwhite and Bell’s Vireos.

The flooded fields host numerous shorebird and waterfowl species, depending on season and water level. During the winter and into April waterfowl numbers can be quite significant at hotspots like Oatsville and Monty’s Station if floodwaters are present. If the previously mentioned hotspots remain flooded and shallow through the first week of June then a birder can expect nearly any species of shorebird. If water is present into summer, then large congregations of waders like Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons can be seen feeding along with reliable yearly sightings of Snowy Egrets and Little Blue herons and more uncommon sightings of Yellow Crowned Night Herons.

By fall, the seasonally flooded areas are usually dry, but a birder can still find waders on permanent wetlands such as Dillin Bottoms, Snakey Point and Bucks Marsh but often this requires walking into areas without trails and looking over the marsh as the water levels are usually too shallow to boat

If one considers all the public properties that surround the wildlife refuge, a birder has over 25,000 acres of opportunity.

Ebird Hotspot link:

Total Birding Time:
2-6 hours. Most birding will be done from the county roads.

Best Times to Bird: 
Four seasons of birding exists within the refuge. Spring migration is the best time to bird the refuge. Aside from the season, one of the most important aspects to consider when birding the refuge is the water level of the Patoka River. The river is often in some level of flooding during the winter and early spring.

510 ½ West Morton St
Oakland City, IN 47660
Between Wheeling and Pikeville, along the Patoka River, with Oakland City as the center.

Hours: open year-round, sunrise to sunset. However, nocturnal birding can be had from the road.
Ownership: US Fish and Wildlife Service. (Note that adjacent properties are often unmarked to ownership.
Admission: None
Restrictions: Open to hunting. Hunters and other users may be present.
Parking: Many large and/or popular parcels have small parking areas. Roadside viewing can be on busy roads, so caution is necessary.
Nearby Amenities: At the Boyd Trail parking lot is a new pit toilet, there are no other public restrooms. Gas stations are available at Arthur, Winslow, Francisco and Oakland City. Oakland City and Petersburg are the nearest towns with restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and campgrounds only one nearby hotel at Oakland City. Princeton is 20 minutes from Oakland City. Evansville is 30 minutes.
Accessibility: The refuge has miles of trails mowed and maintained by volunteers, yet conditions change with the seasons and weather. Boyd and Maxey, near Snakey Point in Oakland City, have the best accessible trails for visitors.
Phone Number: (812) 749-3199

Written by: Jeremy Ross

Photo by: Shari McCollough