North Dakota’s skies teem with life when waterfowl migration begins in September. Half of North America’s waterfowl flock to the state where the Prairie Pothole Region is a jewel for ducks, geese and other birds. Last Saturday marked the start of the hunting season for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers for North Dakota residents. The non-resident opener is October 1st.
Dozens of national wildlife refuges attract waterfowl to North Dakota, including Lake Ilo near Killdeer, Chase Lake north of Medina, and Long Lake near Linton. The rich Prairie Pothole Region blankets much of the state east of the Missouri River, and it extends into Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Canada, but it’s shrinking in size.
Wetlands and grasslands have been lost to agriculture and drainage, and the Prairie Pothole Region is considered the most endangered breeding habitat for waterfowl in the U-S. Only half the original wetlands remain after cropland conversion, and only a fraction of that is protected.
Federal, state and private ownership conserve a number of wetlands in North Dakota, saving stopovers in places like Lake Tewaukon where snow geese gather in spring, and Chase Lake, a haven for pelicans. Breeding ducks neared five million birds just a few years ago, but just over three million ducks fly the state’s skies today as drier weather and cropland conversion continues.
But looking to the state’s skies this fall one is still apt to see a diverse collection of birds roaming our central flyway — blue-winged teal, giant Canada geese, and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even see an endangered whooping crane. Just 300 exist in the wild, and they too will be on their way south through North Dakota.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura