Ultimate Birding in North Dakota: More Than Fields of Grain

When I was young, our family took a vacation almost every year to Valley City, North Dakota, where one of my sets of grandparents lived. Sometimes we would drive into the countryside, not for North Dakota bird watching, but to visit other friends and relatives.

Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark – North Dakota state bird

Photo Credit

Little did I know back then that North Dakota really does have an abundance of birds. Part of the state is on the Central Flyway, meaning many birds migrate yearly through the area.

Here are some of the more popular North Dakota birding hotspots that you should take time to visit whenever you’re in the Flickertail State.

Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve

Located in Devils Lake, here you can find more than 260 bird species including a wide variety of waterfowl, shore and marsh birds.

Specific species to seek are Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole

Photo Credit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Near Medora, this national park is known to have 186 observed species and even more suspected kinds of birds.

Look for Sharp-tailed Grouse, Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Black-billed Cuckoo, Burrowing Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Prairie Falcon, Say’s Phoebe, Black-billed Magpie, Rock Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Sprague’s Pipit, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Bullock’s Oriole, and Baltimore Oriole.

Lake Metigoshe State Park

In the Turtle Mountains (didn’t know North Dakota had mountains, did you?), look for the red-necked grebe, white pelican, common loon, herons, red-eyed vireo, Philadelphia vireo, and various hawks and grouse.

Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge

Visit Lostwood near Kenmare to see Baird’s sparrow and many other waterfowl and songbirds.

You should be able to see nesting ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, American Bittern, Sora, American Avocet, Piping Plover, Willet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Black Tern, and Nelson’s Sparrow.

On the prairie, you’ll note Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Short-eared Owl, Say’s Phoebe, Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Grasshopper Sparrow, Baird’s Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Bobolink, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, and Sharp-tailed grouse.

Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Head to Moffit for puddle ducks, upland plovers, marbled godwits, willets, and sharp-tailed grouse, among the 200+ species known in the area.

Sandhill Cranes stop here on their way south. As many as 20,000 shorebirds visit in migration, including the Piping Plover. Also discover the Western Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, American Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, Franklin’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Black Tern, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Bobolink.

Turtle River State Park

Bitterns, terns, and blue herons are just a few birds you’ll discover near Arvilla.

Souris Loop National Wildlife Refuge

Look here! You can find Sprague’s pipits, Baird’s sparrow, Le Conte’s sparrow, grebe, pelicans, tundra swans, grouse, and cranes. Souris Loop NWR is really over 100,000 acres of land including the J. Clark Salyer, Upper Souris, and Des Lacs NWRs.

In the J. Clark Salyer NWR (and probably the other areas too), find Sharp-tailed Grouse, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, American Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Northern Harrier, Virginia’s Rail, Sora, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Black Tern, Forster’s Tern, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Nelson’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Orchard Oriole, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Grasshopper Sparrow, Baird’s Sparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

Audubon National Wildlife Refuge

Find 239 different birds near Coleharbor. 95 of them nest in this area.

Baird's Sparrow
Baird’s Sparrow

Photo Credit

Cross Ranch State Park and Nature Preserve

Get your binoculars or spotting scope out for 149 birds close to Center.

Sheyenne National Grasslands

You want the greater prairie chicken? No problem finding one in this 70,000 acre grassland near Lisbon, since the largest population of this bird is located here.

Seek and you will find the Sharp-tailed Grouse, Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Grasshopper Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Dickcissel, Bobolink, American Woodcock, Black-billed Cuckoo, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, and Baltimore Oriole.

Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge

On the Wild Rice River near Cayuga, check out the migrating birds in this section of the Central Flyway.

Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge

Head out to Pingree for the 266 bird species found in this NWR.

This is one the best places in the state to see Sharp-tailed Grouse. Geese, Tundra Swans, and ducks such as Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Hooded Merganser, as well as Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, American Avocet, Piping Plover, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black Tern, Horned Lark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Bobolink inhabit the area.

In marshy areas, search for American Bittern, Sora, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, and Nelson’s Sparrow.

Icelandic State Park and Gunlogson Nature Preserve

Find Cavalier on your map and visit the nearby state park and nature preserve for an abundance of North Dakota birds.

You can hear the Ruffed Grouse and the Veery, along with the Pileated Woodpecker. Others to look for are the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Wood-pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Purple Finch.

Fort Ransom State Park

This relatively small park near Lisbon has a wide variety of habitats and therefore a corresponding variety of birds to look for.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Near Stanton you can find a pleasing assortment of raptors, shorebirds, warblers, waterfowl, and thrushes.

The Burning Coal Vein Site close to Amidon is the place for Audubon’s warbler, turkeys, chickadees, nuthatches, and poorwills.

Audubon's Warbler
Audubon’s Warbler

Photo Credit

Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge

This NWR has the largest white pelican population on the continent. It contains between 10,000 and 12,000 of the birds. You’ll also discover the piping plover, Baird’s sparrow, and Sprague’s pipit.

Hawk’s Nest Ridge

I love the name of this site – Hawk’s Nest Ridge. There better be some hawks near Carrington. You can also find the shrp-tailed grouse, gray partridge, and pheasants.

Kelly’s Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Head east to Grand Forks for mallards, pintails, Canada geese, wood ducks, great blue herons, American bitterns, and American avocets.

12 species of ducks nest here, with Mallard and Gadwall being the most common. Other ducks include the Canvasback, Redhead, and Hooded Merganser.

See the Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Sora, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Bald Eagle, Marbled Godwit, Willow Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, and Bobolink.

Pembina Hills

Here, near Wallhalla, is a warblers paradise. 14 breeding warblers are in the area. Also look for ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, and 75 more species of breeding birds.

Garrison Dam

Near Garrison Dam in western North Dakota, see gulls including the Ring-billed, Herring, Black-legged Kittiwake, Sabine’s, Bonaparte’s, Mew, California, Thayer’s, Iceland, and Glaucous. Dabbling and diving ducks can be common here too.

See if you can locate the American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, Franklin’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, and Forster’s Tern.

Forster's Tern
Forster’s Tern

Photo Credit

North Dakota Bird Checklist

Here is an alphabetic checklist of the birds of North Dakota. If enough visitors are interested, I can create a more user friendly document from this list. Until such interest is shown, what you see below will have to suffice.

Acorn Woodpecker
Alder Flycatcher
American Avocet
American Bittern
American Black Duck
American Coot
American Crow
American Golden-Plover
American Goldfinch
American Kestrel
American Pipit
American Redstart
American Robin
American Tree Sparrow
American White Pelican
American Wigeon
American Woodcock
Arctic Tern
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Baird’s Sandpiper
Baird’s Sparrow
Bald Eagle
Baltimore Oriole
Band-tailed Pigeon
Bank Swallow
Barn Owl
Barn Swallow
Barred Owl
Barrow’s Goldeneye
Bay-breasted Warbler
Bell’s Vireo
Belted Kingfisher
Bewick’s Wren
Black Rail
Black Scoter
Black Tern
Black-and-white Warbler
Black-backed Woodpecker
Black-bellied Plover
Black-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Magpie
Black-capped Chickadee
Black-crowned Night-heron
Black-headed Grosbeak
Black-legged Kittiwake
Black-necked Stilt
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Sparrow
Blackburnian Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Blue Grosbeak
Blue Jay
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Warbler
Bohemian Waxwing
Bonaparte’s Gull
Boreal Chickadee
Boreal Owl
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brewer’s Sparrow
Broad-winged Hawk
Brown Creeper
Brown Pelican
Brown Thrasher
Brown-headed Cowbird
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Bullock’s Oriole
Burrowing Owl
Cackling Goose
California Gull
Canada Goose
Canada Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Carolina Wren
Caspian Tern
Cassin’s Finch
Cattle Egret
Cedar Waxwing
Cerulean Warbler
Chestnut-collared Longspur
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chimney Swift
Chipping Sparrow
Cinnamon Teal
Clark’s Grebe
Clark’s Nutcracker
Clay-colored Sparrow
Cliff Swallow
Common Eider
Common Gallinule
Common Goldeneye
Common Grackle
Common Loon
Common Merganser
Common Nighthawk
Common Poorwill
Common Raven
Common Redpoll
Common Tern
Common Yellowthroat
Connecticut Warbler
Cooper’s Hawk
Curlew Sandpiper
Dark-eyed Junco
Double-crested Cormorant
Downy Woodpecker
Eared Grebe
Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Screech-owl
Eastern Towhee
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Eastern Wood-pewee
Eskimo Curlew
Eurasian Collared-dove
Eurasian Wigeon
European Starling
Evening Grosbeak
Ferruginous Hawk
Field Sparrow
Forster’s Tern
Fox Sparrow
Franklin’s Gull
Fulvous Whistling-duck
Glaucous Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Golden Eagle
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-winged Warbler
Grasshopper Sparrow
Gray Catbird
Gray Jay
Gray Partridge
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Blue Heron
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Egret
Great Gray Owl
Great Horned Owl
Greater Prairie-chicken
Greater Sage-grouse
Greater Scaup
Greater White-fronted Goose
Greater Yellowlegs
Green Heron
Green-tailed Towhee
Green-winged Teal
Hairy Woodpecker
Harlequin Duck
Harris’s Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow
Hermit Thrush
Herring Gull
Hoary Redpoll
Hooded Merganser
Hooded Warbler
Horned Grebe
Horned Lark
House Finch
House Sparrow
House Wren
Hudsonian Godwit
Iceland Gull
Inca Dove
Indigo Bunting
Kentucky Warbler
King Rail
Lapland Longspur
Lark Bunting
Lark Sparrow
Laughing Gull
Lazuli Bunting
Le Conte’s Sparrow
Least Bittern
Least Flycatcher
Least Sandpiper
Least Tern
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Scaup
Lesser Yellowlegs
Lewis’s Woodpecker
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Little Blue Heron
Little Gull
Little Stint
Loggerhead Shrike
Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-eared Owl
Long-tailed Duck
Long-tailed Jaeger
Louisiana Waterthrush
MacGillivray’s Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Marbled Godwit
Marsh Wren
McCown’s Longspur
Mew Gull
Mottled Duck
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Plover
Mourning Dove
Mourning Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Nelson’s Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Northern Flicker
Northern Gannet
Northern Goshawk
Northern Harrier
Northern Hawk Owl
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Parula
Northern Pintail
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Shoveler
Northern Shrike
Northern Waterthrush
Northern Wheatear
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Orange-crowned Warbler
Orchard Oriole
Pacific Loon
Palm Warbler
Parasitic Jaeger
Passenger Pigeon
Pectoral Sandpiper
Peregrine Falcon
Philadelphia Vireo
Pied-billed Grebe
Pileated Woodpecker
Pine Grosbeak
Pine Siskin
Pine Warbler
Pinyon Jay
Piping Plover
Plumbeous Vireo
Prairie Falcon
Prairie Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Purple Finch
Purple Martin
Pygmy Nuthatch
Red Crossbill
Red Knot
Red Phalarope
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-throated Loon
Red-winged Blackbird
Ring-billed Gull
Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Rock Pigeon
Rock Wren
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Ross’s Goose
Ross’s Gull
Rough-legged Hawk
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruffed Grouse
Rusty Blackbird
Sabine’s Gull
Sage Thrasher
Sandhill Crane
Savannah Sparrow
Say’s Phoebe
Scarlet Tanager
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Sedge Wren
Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-eared Owl
Smith’s Longspur
Snow Bunting
Snow Goose
Snowy Egret
Snowy Owl
Snowy Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Song Sparrow
Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Towhee
Sprague’s Pipit
Stilt Sandpiper
Summer Tanager
Surf Scoter
Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Thrush
Swallow-tailed Kite
Swamp Sparrow
Tennessee Warbler
Thayer’s Gull
Townsend’s Solitaire
Townsend’s Warbler
Tree Swallow
Tricolored Heron
Trumpeter Swan
Tufted Titmouse
Tundra Swan
Turkey Vulture
Upland Sandpiper
Varied Thrush
Vermilion Flycatcher
Vesper Sparrow
Violet-green Swallow
Virginia Rail
Warbling Vireo
Western Bluebird
Western Grebe
Western Kingbird
Western Meadowlark
Western Sandpiper
Western Tanager
Western Wood-pewee
White Ibis
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-crowned Sparrow
White-eyed Vireo
White-faced Ibis
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-tailed Kite
White-throated Sparrow
White-winged Crossbill
White-winged Dove
White-winged Scoter
Whooping Crane
Wild Turkey
Willow Flycatcher
Willow Ptarmigan
Wilson’s Phalarope
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Warbler
Winter Wren
Wood Duck
Wood Stork
Wood Thrush
Worm-eating Warbler
Yellow Rail
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Loon
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-crowned Night-heron
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Vireo
Yellow-throated Warbler

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