Audubon National Wildlife Refuge


The next time you are traveling highway 83 between Bismarck/Mandan and Minot, rather than whizzing past the sign to Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, head east a mile and check it out.  There is plenty to see here, particularly during the fall and spring migrations.

A good place to start would be at the Visitors Center, which is open during normal business hours Monday through Friday.  Information on the refuge is available there, plus the Center houses various exhibits on topics relating to the refuge, local history and ecology.  They also have selected educational materials for sale.

The refuge, initially named Snake Creek National Wildlife Refuge, was established back in 1956 to replace habitat lost to Lake Sakakawea.  The refuge was renamed to Audubon National Wildlife Refuge in 1967 to honor John James Audubon who spent much the summer of 1843 along the upper Missouri River here in North Dakota.

The refuge consists of over 23 square miles or over 14,000 acres of wetland and northern mixed grass prairie habitat associated with Lake Audubon.  And with that size and diversity of habitat, the refuge is an excellent place for enjoying nature, particularly the avifauna.

Over 200 species of birds may be observed on the refuge, ranging from waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, to bobolinks, goldfinches, and short-eared owls.   It is worth noting that the refuge is home to the elusive Baird’s sparrow and the endangered piping plover.  Plus, whooping cranes have even been known to utilize the refuge during their spring and fall migrations.

Although the avifauna is arguably the biggest attraction, there are several other interesting animals on the refuge.  You have a good chance at seeing white-tailed deer, coyote or fox, badger, raccoon and other small mammals. And if you are willing to do some walking, you could even see a couple species of jumping mice, which jump like miniature kangaroos.

To enhance and encourage the visit, the refuge maintains a 1-mile long self-guided nature trail that passes through a variety of habitats.  There is also an 8-mile self-guided auto tour.   And if you are looking for some good nature photography options or just want to sit, concealed, and watch the show, there is a photography blind near Lake Audubon which provides a great place for observing nature, particularly the waterfowl and shorebirds.

So make time to visit Audubon National Wildlife Refuge this fall.  There is much to see and do there.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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