North Dakota’s 6 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer

American White Pelican
© Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin/

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde

Published: September 27, 2022

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North Dakota is located in the Northern Plains, a unique location between America’s central flyway where hundreds of bird species stop over during their yearly migration flight to their breeding and overwintering spots. In addition to the numerous bird species that nest in various habitats within the state, many of the visiting species spend several weeks and months in North Dakota. If you’re an avid bird watcher in search of North Dakota’s best birding spots, here are some great locations you should add to your to-do list. 

1. Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Virginia Rail bird

You can find Virginia rail birds in Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

© Hamilton

The Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge already has a thriving population of ducks and geese. However, thousands of birds on a southward migration journey join the native birds of this reserve, adding to the list of exciting attractions for visitors. The 22,300-acre reserve is an important part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. 

Shorebirds are the main highlight of this reserve. You may find up to 20,000 of them in this location in some seasons of the year. The endangered piping plovers are among the most famous nesting species you’ll find here. In addition, you may find 20 or more species of shorebirds here if you visit during spring or late summer. 

Common birds at the Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge

2. Icelandic State Park

Icelandic State Park

The Icelandic State Park is an awesome location for bird watchers to explore.

©McGhiever / CC BY-SA 3.0 – Original / License

Birders who love to take pictures of rare birds will find the Icelandic State Park and the nearby Gunlogson Nature Preserve an ideal location to explore. Both bird-watching spots are located in the northeastern part of North Dakota. This area is the range limit of several breeding birds absent in other parts of the country. 

While most of North Dakota is characterized by grasslands and plains, the Icelandic State Park has a slightly different terrain. Most of the park consists of moist forests with massive oak, elm, and ironwood trees. Consequently, the bird species in this location are considerably different as well. 

Common birds at the Icelandic State Park

3. Garrison Dam

The famous birding area around Garrison Dam is the Downstream Viewing Area.


The Garrison Dam is located in western North Dakota. It is built on Lake Sakakawea, one of the largest reservoirs in the north-central part of the country. The vast water and surrounding marshland habitats draw swarms of birds that visit during various seasons of the year. 

A fish hatchery in the dam’s vicinity lures birds of different kinds, including bald eagles, to this location. However, the most famous birding area around the dam is the Downstream Viewing Area. Located just below the dam on the east bank of the Missouri River, this sizeable scenic area is the perfect place to observe the birdlife around the bank. You’ll also see several bird species while driving in this dam area or hiking one of several walking trails along the riverbank. 

Common birds at the Garrison Dam

  • Ring-Billed Gull
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Caspian Tern
  • Herring Gull
  • Black-Legged Kittiwake
  • California Gull

4. Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve

American White Pelican

A large variety of birds exist in Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve.

©Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin/

Devils Lake is one of the main highlights of the Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve. The lake, surrounding wetland, and famous “prairie pothole” habitat draw different bird species (especially shorebirds and waterbirds) to the area. 

This national game preserve probably has the highest diversity of birds North Dakota has to offer. One primary reason for this is the diverse nature of the habitats in this location. It includes forest habitats, grass prairie, and wetlands. You can explore the different ecosystems in this location via a four-mile wildlife road and several hiking paths.

Common birds at the Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve

5. Sheyenne National Grassland

Sheyenne National Grassland

You would find several birds that prefer grasslands in Sheyenne National Grassland.

©Tanner Lunzman/

The Sheyenne National Grassland comprises 70,180 acres of public and privately owned land. If you’re looking for a birding location that takes you out of your local area without traveling out of the state, this national grassland is one of the best options. 

Although Sheyenne is a great place to see all types of birds, this national grassland area is most famous for its large population of prairie birds. As the only national grassland in the entire tallgrass prairie region of the country, you’ll find several birds that prefer grassland habitats in this location, including some very rare species. 

Common birds at the Sheyenne National Grassland

  • American Woodcock
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Yellow-Throated Vireo
  • Black-and-White Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Black-billed Cuckoo
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Grasshopper Sparrow

6. Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Migrating shorebirds find a resting place in Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

©Kit Carlson/

Kellys Slough is located just west of Grand Forks. If you go by its size alone, you’ll probably not find this national wildlife refuge impressive. Nevertheless, Kellys Slough has several wildlife species, including many beautiful birds. The notable bird varieties here are attracted to the wetlands, woodland, and mixed-grass prairie habitats the refuge offers. 

With more than 20 species frequently spotted during summer, Kellys Slough is an important resting place for migrating shorebirds. There are several nesting birds here as well. In the summer, the water level drops to create mudflats that draw various species of birds to this location. 

Common birds at the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge

  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • American Avocet
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Bobolink
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Bald Eagle
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Eared Grebe
  • Sora

In North Dakota, birding is a significant activity for residents and tourists. As this article shows, many of North Dakota’s bird-watching spots offer an impressive array of birds that satisfy birders with diverse interests. You can find out more about each of them depending on your preferences. 

Up Next 

Wisconsin’s 10 Best Bird-Watching Spots This Summer

Oregon’s 10 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer

Montana’s 5 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated content writer who can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature, and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and would love to have one someday.

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