Wildlife in North Dakota Rangelands

Written by: Benjamin Geaumont, Research Assistant Professor, Hettinger Reserach Extension Center, NDSU
Last updated: 5/8/13

North Dakota consists of substantial acres of rangelands all of which provide habitat for numerous wildlife species.  Rangeland types in North Dakota include both tall and short grass prairies, forested woodlands, and countless riparian areas.  It is this rangeland diversity that allows North Dakota to be home to such a wide variety of wildlife species including animals like mule and white-tailed deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, sharp-tailed grouse, and grasshopper sparrows. 

Perhaps one of the most critical conglomerates of rangelands located in North Dakota are those which occur in what is known as the prairie pothole region.  The prairie pothole region is known as the duck factory of the United States and it is estimated that greater than 60% of the breeding populations of waterfowl species such as mallard, gadwall, and blue-winged teal occur here.  The rangelands in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota provide valuable nesting habitat for waterfowl and it is the rangelands close proximity to wetlands “potholes” that make this area critical for North American waterfowl populations.

North Dakota’s grassland dominated rangelands provide nesting habitat for several neotropical migrants of which many are considered species of conservation concern.  The Baird’s sparrow is one such species that raise a family in North Dakota.  Baird’s sparrows prefer grasslands that have been lightly to moderately grazed for nesting cover and often can only be located by their song.  Other grassland nesting birds that make their summer home in North Dakota include chestnut-collared longspurs, grasshopper sparrows, and sprague’s pipit.  It is in large part due to North Dakota’s rangelands and the habitat provided by them that these small birds continue to persist.  While grassland dominated rangelands in North Dakota are beautiful in their own right, it is the presence of these small summer residents that lead thousands of bird watchers from around the world to visit the state each year.

Rangelands of North Dakota do not provide habitat for just native residents, but also for such species as ring-necked pheasant, a commonly sought after and harvested gamebird.  Southwest North Dakota is now home to countless ring-necked pheasant of which many are dependent on the permanent rangeland vegetation for their year round survival.  Pheasants were introduced into North Dakota around 1910 and have since become an important economic species throughout much of the state.  Folks come from all around to partake in pheasant hunting in North Dakota each fall.  Rangelands provide the permanent cover shown to be critical for both nesting and brood rearing hen pheasant.

Rangelands in North Dakota are well known for their ability to sustain livestock production, but it is their ability to provide habitat for such a diverse suit of wildlife that truly makes them special.