North Dakota is where birds meet

By | Category: Travel destinations
Bairds Sparrow © Grand Cities Bird Club

Bairds Sparrow © Grand Cities Bird Club

The tourist board for North Dakota will tell you that the state is “smack dab in the middle of the Central Flyway, making it a top destination for millions of birds.” which is rather an unfortunate turn of phrase!

North Dakota is smack dab in the middle of the Central Flyway, making it a top destination for millions of birds.

Nonetheless, the state is of those birding destinations that any avid follower should visit just so that you see the vast numbers of birds that meet there. The spring migration season provides opportunities to see birds in their natural habitat and the state has picked out birding drives and hiking trails so that any visitor has opportunity to see, hear and photograph a large variety of birds.

Before starting out collect one of the many checklists that are available to make your visit more understandable and enjoyable. You can download them or collect them from any of the 63 national wildlife refuges in the state. Many refuges have visitor centres, hides – of course -and photography blinds so that  you can watch in relative comfort. Throughout the state, visitors will also find a network of trails, like Birding Drives Dakota with six distinct drives and the International Adventure Trail, a network of 15 notable birding sites situated on both sides of the U.S. and Canada border, in and around the Turtle Mountain region. The trail takes you through North Dakota and south-western Manitoba, providing beginner and avid birders plenty of opportunities to see as many breeds as possible.

One of the best times of the year to visit is June because it coincides with  four birding festivals are held in North Dakota: Turtle Mountain Birding Festival, Birding Drives Dakota, Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival and Lostwood Birding Festival.

So why is North Dakota so popular for birds? The grasslands that carpet the state provide an abundance of food and that’s certainly one reason. Another is that the range of grasses attract different birds. What grows one year may not be as widespread the second so bird watchers visiting two years in a row might see breeds they wouldn’t in the first year.

So what will you see?

Baird’s Sparrow – seems to becoming rarer. Generally to be seen from May until the onset of September on mixed grass prairie lands. Doesn’t like it too wet or too dry. there is concern that, in maybe ten years time, it will be limited to Canada and not summer in the state.
Chestnut-collared Longspur – fairly common from April until the end of September and more in the west of the state. Prefers very grazed land. Usually seen perched on fences.
Ferruginous Hawk – you’ll probably be feeling smug if you spot the hawk as they are quite rare. Best seen from March until October in the south west of the state. Try looking at electricity pylons or solus trees.
Gray Partridge –  to be seen all-year round in cultivated areas during May and June and early in the morning

Least Tern – rare and on the endangered list, this bird prefers sparsely vegetated sandbars on the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Birds nest, raise young, and relax on barren river sandbars during the summer so this is your best chance to see them – if you’re very lucky!.

Le Conte’s Sparrow – another common bird that prefers the wetter springs and summer so try marshes, areas with succulent grasses and meadows as this gives them ground cover in which they hide.
Piping Plover – increasingly rare bird that is most likely to be found until August along side rivers, lakes or marshy land where little grows.  The best place to see this species is The Nature Conservancy’s John E. Williams Preserve near Turtle Lake.  When lake levels are low this species can be found on the shores of Lake Sakakawea.
Sharp-tailed Grouse – a commonish game bird seen more easily in the spring although it can be found all year round.  What attracts visitors is the birds “dancing” in April and May time. Come the winter it is more likely to be found in harvested fields.
Sprague’s Pipit – Not uncommon but you would need to keep your eyes peeled for this songbird which you are more likely to hear before you see it. Likes open, dryer areas.
Western Meadowlark – nests on the ground in grasslands and prairies. Is the state bird although a number of other states also use the bird as their state bird as well.
Yellow Rail – prefers boggy or damp areas and not that easily seen. More of these birds seem to be around in wetter years but even then they seem to concentrate in preferred areas rather than becoming widespread


For more information about North Dakota, click here.


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