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North Dakota Birds – Watching and Feeding Information

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark – North Dakota State Bird

North Dakota is a great place to watch and feed birds. Birdbaths, misters and drippers are especially effective in attracting birds, including non seed-eating species. Species that might be expected at feeders include: American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Common Redpoll, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird and Mourning Dove. Each of these species is shown in the Nifty Fifty mini-guide.

The Nifty Fifty Birds of North Dakota

The Nifty Fifty is a mini-guide to the birds of North Dakota. It includes descriptions, images, video and songs of 50 of the most often observed birds of North Dakota.

Bird feeding

Developing bird-friendly habitat in your yard is the best way to attract a greater variety of species and to support local and migrating species. Native plants provide food and cover, are more insect and disease resistant than non-native species, and may require less water. A list of bird-friendly native plants for North Dakota is available by following the link on the left.

Bluebirds in North Dakota

All three species of bluebirds can be found in North Dakota, although the Mountain Bluebird is the only one of the three to be widespread within the state.

Bluebirds are usually found in fields, open woodlands, parks or along golf courses or other open areas, including suburban locations with open spaces and scattered tress. In the mountains, they are found in clearings and meadows.

mountain bluebird

The Mountain Bluebird is well known for its hovering flight as it hawks for insects.

eastern bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird has a musical flight call that often reveals its presence.

western bluebird

Western Bluebird

Visit the bluebird section for detailed information on feeding bluebirds or building your own bluebird house.

Bluebirds can be attracted to peanut butter mixes, suet and fruit. Raisins soaked in hot water to soften them are well received. The bluebird’s special favorite is mealworms.

All three species of bluebirds nest in North Dakota, but the Western Bluebird’s range is limited to the far western part of the state. Its range does not overlap that of the Eastern Bluebird, which is limited to the very eastern part of the state. One or two broods may be produced.

If you have a bluebird box, watch for House Sparrows trying to use the next box and immediately remove any House Sparrow nesting material.

Hummingbirds in North Dakota

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species found in North Dakota. Its range is limited to the eastern half of the state.

ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Visit the hummingbird section for details on attracting hummingbirds as well as images of all regularly occurring North American hummingbirds.

Purple Martins

Purple Martins nest in the eastern half of North Dakota and can be seen throughout the state during migration.

Visit the Purple Martin section of the this site for detailed information.

Purple Martins are one of America’s favorite birds. Their arrival each spring is a much heralded event in many backyards and their departure each fall marks the passing of another year for many. In the eastern U.S., Purple Martins nest almost exclusively in Purple Martin houses and gourds provided by man. In the west they nest more regularly in natural cavities.

Purple Martin Scouts

Scouts are the earliest arrivals each year. They are the oldest members of the population and head north each year to claim the best nesting locations. Scouts can be either male or female birds.

Purple Martins nest in the eastern half of North Dakota and can be seen throughout the state during migration. In North Dakota look for scouts to start arriving in mid April. Martins move north as the weather warms and insect populations start to increase so the arrival time will vary from year to year and from one part of the state to another.

Purple Martins winter in South America. The journey can be as long as 5000 miles each way, each year! Martins follow at least three different paths as they return each spring. Some move through Mexico on their way to the West Coast. Others cross the Gulf of Mexico, leaving from the Yucatan Peninsula or take a route through the Caribbean islands to arrive in Florida.

Fall migration can start as early as mid-July in some parts of the country. In Florida migrants can be seen into September or October, with isolated reports even later in the the year. Prior to heading to South America, flocks of thousands of martins collect in roosts, some as large as hundreds of thousands of martins.

During the winter season these birds are apparently concentrated chiefly in the Amazon Valley of Brazil (Manaqueri, Barra do Rio Negro, and Itaituba) but are found in other parts of South America. A list of possible martin roosts in Alabama is available on the Purple Martin Conservation Association web site.

Martin nests typically have from five to six white eggs. One egg is laid each day at sunrise and no days are skipped until the egg-laying stops. Incubation lasts about 15 days but may last longer in cool weather. Purple martins fledge about 25-35 days after hatching.

Visit thePurple Martin section of the main Birdzilla Web site for information on martin houses, attracting purple martins and becoming a good purple martin landlord.

From the Bent Life Histories

Finally, here’s a glimpse at what noted ornithologist Alexander Sprunt Jr. said about purple martins in the Bent Life History series:

“It has always seemed to me that literature has been somewhat chary of the purple martin. Song and story have long stressed the advent of robin, bluebird, and goose as heralds of spring, and so they are, but is the martin any less so? True, it comes somewhat later than these others, but who can fail to thrill when, on waking early one morning, one hears the rich, gurgling calls of the first martin! It is a signal that spring is really at hand, indeed, at one’s very door. When the martins come, can summer be far behind? This largest of the swallows, in its handsomely glossy livery, whether slurred by literature or not, has ken a favorite with humanity for many generations. Even before the White man came to America’s shores it was a dooryard bird in Indian villages, and its status as such is unchanged today. It is, beyond all doubt, the “bird-box” species of this country. Its range is extensive, almost universal indeed, and it occurs from coast to coast and border to border. Young and old admire it, encourage it, and protect it, and those who have a word of criticism for it are few and far between. Alexander Wilson said that, in his day, he never found but one man who disliked the martin, and many a modern ornithologist will have had the same experience, if indeed it can be matched! Some birds occupy high pedestals in human regard, typified by the robin in the North and the mockingbird in the South, but in North and South the purple martin comes and goes as a welcome arrival and regretful departure; an always invited avian neighbor. Few are those anywhere who would fail to subscribe heartily to the wish: may its tribe increase.” (Mr. Sprunt and Mr. Wilson are two of America’s best known and most respected early ornithologists.)

purple martins

Purple Martin, male


North Dakota provides birders with a variety of exciting birding locations.

The birding section of this site has tips on birding locations and bird identification. The state-based birding information section provides additional birding related information.

North Dakota Resource Information

Dakota Prairie Audubon Society
1514 Skyline Lane
Jamestown, ND 58401

Grand Forks Audubon Society
2111 4th Ave N
Grand Forks, ND 58203

North Dakota Birding Festivals

Burke County Birding Festival
Annually in June
Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge
, Bowbells, North Dakota
Phone: 701-377-5627
E-mail: [email protected]
Lostwood NWR has a seven mile auto tour and a seven mile hiking trail. Bird watchers visit here for the abundant grasshopper sparrow, Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow and the piping plover. The lookout tower has been refurbished to accommodate the public and enables a 360-degree view of the Refuge from 50 feet in the air!
 We will have guided birding tours, guided walks, wildflower identification and youth activities. Shorebirds and waterfowl seminars will be on Saturday in addition to music, art, farmers market and family events in the afternoon.

Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival

Annually in June
Jamestown, North Dakota
Phone: 888-921-2473
E-mail: [email protected]
As a state with 62 National Wildlife Refuges (more than any other state!) North Dakota has a lot to offer-it’s one of those very special places left in the world. Our group, Birding Drives Dakota, is a unique coalition of communities working in concert with four of those refuges, and a host of other federal, state and local agencies, to promote birding and conservation. We have developed a network of birding trails or, as we are calling them here, birding drives, that encourage anyone interested in watching wildlife to go out and appreciate the richness of the Prairie Potholes.

Sullys Hill Birding and Nature Festival

Annually in June
Fort Totten, North Dakota
Phone: 701-766-4272
E-mail: [email protected]
Join us and enjoy a fun and educational celebration of migratory birds, wildlife, and nature! The Sullys Hill Birding and Nature Festival is, simply put, a celebration of birding, nature, and history. The purpose of this festival is to offer educational, engaging, and enjoyable programs, presentations, workshops, and outdoors recreational opportunities for people who enjoy birding and the outdoors. Visitors have opportunities to take guided birding & nature walks or on your own walks in and around Sullys Hill, the Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge, Kelly’s Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Grahams Island State Park, Fort Totten State Historic Site, and other areas in the Devils Lake region of North Dakota. The Festival is FREE and open to the public. Pre-registration is recommended. Sullys Hill Wildlife Refuge Society, P.O. Box 286, Fort Totten, ND 58335

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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