Natural North Dakota | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Natural North Dakota

Saturday and Sunday at 8:35 am CT
  • Hosted by Prairie Public

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota" and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers. Lura was a biology professor at Dakota College at Bottineau, and published research on ecological aspects of grasslands in the northern Great Plains.

Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up February 12-15.  As some of you may know it is an effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada to help scientists better understand the population dynamics and movements of birds during the winter.

The Milky Way

Jan 30, 2021


Clear summer nights are great for looking up at the heavens.  But there is something about clear winter nights that makes the night sky even more awe inspiring.  I am not sure why.  Maybe it has something to with the cold crisp air.  I was thinking about one night recently when I happened to look skyward and saw the Milky Way in all its glory.  What a sight!  We need to look up more often at night.  


  It never ceases to amaze me how quiet the prairie, woods, and marshes can be during the dead of winter here in North Dakota.  Oh, there are the occasional sightings, such as that of deer and coyotes, plus the sighting or calls of chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds.  But it often seems hauntingly quiet during the winter.  That is a bit deceiving.  A closer look reveals that many animals are quite active during the winter.  I was thinking about that recently while taking a walk in the Turtle Mountain aspen forest.


If I had one wish, it would probably be time travel.  And one of the first places I would go would be the Great Plains of North America before European influence to see for myself those immense herds of bison on their native range.  There may have been up to 30 million or more bison on the plains of North America.  What a sight that must have been!


Some of you longtime North Dakota residents may recall the old North Dakota tourism campaign, North Dakota-Mountain Removal Project Completed.  That campaign, back in the day, was complete with highway billboards.  But any knowledge of the present-day North Dakota geography would indicate that the mountain removal project was not completed.  

Longer Days Coming!

Jan 2, 2021


Happy New Year!  I suspect that most of us were ready to see 2020 in the rearview mirror.   Here is hoping 2021 is your best year ever.  Things are getting brighter!  Most of us might not have noticed it much yet, but the days are getting longer!

Pine Siskins

Dec 26, 2020


The winter finch forecast predicted that the pine siskins were likely to stay up north to take advantage of a good conifer seed crop across much of western Canada.  As some of you may know, they are one of our more adventurous and erratic winter visitors, unpredictably moving considerable distances in search of food.  I do not think there are enough of them at our bird feeders to indicate an irruption this winter.   But they are keeping me busy stocking our feeders with sunflower and thistle seeds.

Muskrat Push-Ups

Dec 19, 2020


As I drove down the highway past a pond shortly after ice-up a few weeks ago, I noticed a few small piles of what looked like mud and vegetation on the ice.  I suspect that some of you may have noticed something similar.  What is that all about?

They were mud and vegetation!  In short, they were muskrat push-ups.  These push-ups are often constructed by muskrats shortly after ice-up on area ponds and marshes.  The muskrats chew through the thin sheet of ice, creating a hole large enough for them to crawl up onto the ice.  They then bring up plant material and mud onto the ice, and form it into a small hut or lodge, just large enough for one muskrat to use as a feeding platform or resting spot that is well insulated and safe from predators.  

The Holiday Season is coming quickly. Consider giving a gift that helps someone to better enjoy nature.

When I was a kid, I gave my parents a bird feeder for Christmas. In retrospect, it was probably more than a bit self-serving, but it got my mom and dad interested in birds and kept them entertained for years. A bird feeder can do that! They come in a variety of types and prices, so it should be easy to find a good fit. A bird house or a bird guide could also make a good gift. There are several bird guides on the market. The more popular guides include the Sibley Guides, Audubon, Peterson, National Geographic, and Kaufman’s. There are also some great apps for the cell phone as well. Maybe a good pair of binoculars is in order. 7 x 35’s or 8 x 50’s are popular for bird watching.

The Winter Finch Forecast is out.  Based on the abundance of winter food availability in Canada, the forecast predicts the movement of some finches and other birds during winter. Some of these birds are visitors to North Dakota bird feeders, such as purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, crossbills, pine grosbeaks, and evening grosbeaks. 

Don’t expect to see big numbers of pine grosbeaks this winter.  The fruit crop of mountain ash was good across much of the northern coniferous forest this year, so they will probably stay put. The pine siskins will also likely stay up north due to excellent spruce seed production in western Canada.