With its many National Wildlife Refuges, Wildlife Management Areas, State Forests, State Parks, State Recreation Areas, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota is home to many species of birds and wildlife and is considered a top birding destination. Areas such as the Missouri Coteau, the Turtle Mountains, the Missouri River Valley, the Badlands, the Pembina Gorge and the Sheyenne Grasslands are popular destinations for avid birdwatchers.
The North Dakota Birdwatchers’ Checklist consists of 365 species of prairie birds. A few of the birds on the list are the Bairds’ sparrow, Le Contes’ sparrow, Spragues’ pipit, piping plover, ferruginous hawk, least tern, upland sandpiper, chestnut-collared longspur, boblinks and prairie chicken.
North America’s tallest bird, the whooping crane, migrates between Canada and Texas each year, which brings them to North Dakota in April and October as they make their journey between north and south.
Though you are more likely to view rare species of birds in the protected state and national areas mentioned above, you will be surprised where you might see various birds throughout the entire state of North Dakota. The sparsely populated state is full of open fields and prairies, and it is common to see birds almost anywhere. You may be driving along a country road when you spot a family of owls, or be driving by a local farm and see thousands of Snow Geese simultaneously fly out of a grain field.
Bird watching opportunities are available year-round in North Dakota. The spring season brings the migration of birds to North Dakota, the summer offers the nesting season where songs of birds are prominent, and the fall season once again brings migration of birds through the area. Though bird sightings are not as common in the cold winter months of North Dakota, birds such as Snowy Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Gray Partridges, Pileated Woodpeckers, and more are often spotted during this time of year.
Though there are many areas where you will see many bird species, you may want to try a recommended birding drive or trail. There are several to choose from in North Dakota, including the Steele Birding Drive, Bismarck-Mandan Birding Drive, Lake Region Birding Trail, Central Dakota Birding Drive, and Birding Drives Dakota.
The Steele Birding Drive takes you through Kidder County, which has been referred to as one of the “Top 10 Birding Hotspots in North America.” From the town of Steele, this drive will take you through Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Slade National Wildlife Refuge and Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge. This particular drive is the first birding drive that was developed in the United States! For a free drive booklet, call Steele Birding Drive at (701) 465-3825.
The Bismarck-Mandan Birding Drive takes you to popular birding sites located in the Missouri River Valley. Hotspots on this drive include the Cross Ranch State Park and Nature Preserve, portions of the Lewis & Clark Trail, and Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge. You can request maps and a birding booklet by calling the Bismarck-Mandan Birding Drive at (800) 767-3555.
The Lake Region Birding Trail takes you through a five-county area with various grasslands, woodlands and wetlands. Sullys Hill National Game Preserve and Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge are the most popular spots on this Trail, where you can see samples of the more than 300 bird species found in the area. For more information or a free brochure, contact the Lake Region Birding Trail at (800) 233-8048.
The Central Dakota Birding Drive also offers more than 300 bird species, which can be seen on the routes along the Souris and Sheyenne Rivers. Destinations on this drive include the Lone Tree Wildlife Area, Wintering River National Wildlife Refuge and Sheyenne Lake National Wildlife Refuge. For a booklet about this drive, call the Central Dakota Birding Drive at (701) 465-3825.
Birding Drives Dakota is an organization of bird-lovers in the Carrington, Jamestown and Steele communities. On their drives, you can view the locations seen in the Steele Birding Drive, as well as Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge, Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Audubon’s Alkali Lake Sanctuary, Hawk’s Nest Ridge and Lake Juanita. For a brochure with maps and descriptions, call Birding Drives Dakota at (888) 921-2473.
Other popular spots to go birding are the Lewis & Clark Trail in Williston, wildlife areas of Minot and the Missouri area of Kulm. Once again, the numerous wildlife refuges and other park areas encourage hundreds of bird species to call these areas home. For more information about birding the Lewis & Clark Trail near Williston, call the Williston Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 615-9041. The Minot Convention and Visitors Bureau can give you more information about birding in the Minot area, and they can be reached at (800) 264-2626. If it is the Kulm area that interests you, find out more about birding in Kulm by calling (701) 647-2451.
For the avid birdwatcher, there are also some birding festivals offered throughout the year in North Dakota. Held in May is the Turtle Mountain Birding Festival, and in June you will enjoy the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival and Sullys Hill Birding and Nature Festival.
Turtle Mountain Birding Festival, held in Bottineau in May, is hosted by Minot State University at Bottineau. This event will take you through prairies, wetlands, woodlands and lakes in the Turtle Mountain area to view various bird species. This event is scheduled to occur at the same time as the spring migration of 25 species of warblers and many other songbirds. Hiking, canoeing, a pontoon boat trip and a keynote presentation are among events at this event. Attendees can enjoy tours through J. Clark Sayler National Wildlife Refuge, Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge and Lord’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge. For more information, contact the Turtle Mountain Birding Festival at (800) 542-6866, ext. 410.
The Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival, held in the Carrington, Jamestown and Steele area in June, is a four-day event. Nationally-recognized birding experts will lead the festival, which will offer guided bus trips to Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Horsehead Lake. For more information about the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival, call (888) 921-2473.
The Sullys Hill Birding and Nature Festival, held in Devils Lake in June, celebrates birding, nature, culture and history of the area. Educational programs, workshops and presentations will be shown at this festival, and outdoor recreational opportunities will be offered. Sullys Hill National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge are destinations of this festival, which will allow attendees to view migratory birds and other wildlife.
For more information about viewing birds (and other wildlife) in North Dakota, you can get a copy of the North Dakota Wildlife Viewing Guide for $3.00 from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, which can be reached at (800) 435-5663.