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
  • Bobolink
  • Bohemian Waxwing
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Boreal Chickadee
  • Boreal Owl
  • Brambling
  • Brant
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Brewer’s Sparrow
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Brown Creeper
  • Brown Pelican
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  • Bufflehead
  • Bullock’s Oriole
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Cackling Goose
  • California Gull
  • Canada Goose
  • Canada Warbler
  • Canvasback
  • 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
  • Dickcissel
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Dunlin
  • 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
  • Gadwall
  • 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
  • Gyrfalcon
  • 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
  • Killdeer
  • 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
  • Mallard
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Marsh Wren
  • McCown’s Longspur
  • Merlin
  • 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
  • Osprey
  • Ovenbird
  • 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
  • Redhead
  • 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
  • Ruff
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • Sabine’s Gull
  • Sage Thrasher
  • Sanderling
  • 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
  • Sora
  • 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
  • Veery
  • 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
  • Whimbrel
  • 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
  • Willet
  • 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

Ultimate Bird Watching in Other Midwestern States

Check out these guides to birding in neighboring states. (I realize North Dakota is listed here redundantly.)

Gary Sonnenberg

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