Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge, the oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas, is located twenty miles south of Muleshoe on State Highway 214 in Bailey County. It was established by an executive order of October 24, 1935, and is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is a unit in the national system of refuges in the central flyway. It serves as a wintering area for migratory waterfowl and sandhill cranes. Three saline lakes, White, Goose, and Pauls, each divided into upper and lower, are located within the refuge. At one time most of the lakes went dry annually, but in the 1930s this situation was remedied with the assistance of the WPA (see WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION). This enhanced the value of the area as a migratory waterfowl refuge and as a habitat for resident birds and animals. The full lakes offer 600 acres of water for wildlife, though they usually are not full. In years of sufficient water the refuge hosts tremendous numbers of sandhill cranes and a variety of waterfowl.
Wintering sandhill cranes normally begin arriving around the end of September for a half-year stay. Their numbers peak between December and mid-February, often at 100,000 or more. In February 1981 a record 250,000 sandhill cranes were sighted. When water is sufficient large numbers of migrating waterfowl begin arriving at the refuge during August, and their numbers peak by the end of December. Small flocks of snow geese visit the refuge during the spring and fall migrations, and a few Canada geese winter there. The most common species of duck seen at the refuge is the pintail, but American wigeons, mallards, green-winged teals, and ruddy ducks also frequent the Muleshoe preserve. Others are seen during migration.
The refuge comprises 5,809 acres, and the land is broken by two caliche outcroppings in the form of rimrocks near the northern and western boundaries. The outcroppings come alive with wildflowers in the spring. Short grasses, scattered yuccas, cacti, and mesquites cover the rolling, largely treeless sand hills. Livestock are rotated among several pastures to maintain the grass for wildlife. Trees and shrubs planted behind the refuge headquarters attract large numbers of songbirds, especially wood warblers in migration. Such raptors as red-tailed and Swainson's hawks can be seen, and in mid-winter it may be possible to see eight or more species of raptors in one day, including bald and golden eagles. Burrowing owls share homes with prairie dogs. Other animals found on the refuge include coyotes, badgers, cottontails, and jackrabbits. The best times to visit the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge are from October to February for cranes and waterfowl, spring and fall for migratory songbirds, and late summer for shorebirds. The refuge is open twenty-four hours a day all year.