Newsroom Midwest Region

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

30 years of conservation among Minnesota’s wetlands and prairie

January 31, 2019

Male greater prairie-chickens on prairie breeding grounds. Photo by Greg Kramos/USFWS.
Male greater prairie-chickens on prairie breeding grounds. Photo by Greg Kramos/USFWS.

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are celebrating Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which was established 30 years ago in early January. The refuge is nestled within Minnesota’s working landscape of agriculture, industry, conservation and the tight-knit communities that weave them together. Take a moment to learn more about this prairie gem and plan a trip to experience it first-hand.

Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge lies on the eastern edge of the Prairie Pothole Region and was established in 1989 as breeding grounds for waterfowl and other migratory birds. The broader Prairie Pothole Region extends across five U.S. states and three Canadian provinces and is considered America’s duck factory. This area was so well-known for outstanding birding that as early as 1871 a movement started to name surrounding lands after wildlife artist John James Audubon. After a visit to the area, Audubon’s niece was so impressed with the abundance and diversity of wildlife that she asked the governor to name a township for her famous uncle. Today, the refuge is in Audubon Township, a mile from the City of Audubon.

While the regions wetlands have seen major declines over the years, refuge land managers have been restoring Hamden Slough’s wetlands and tallgrass prairie for three decades. That hard work is paying off. Since the refuge was established, more than 200 pothole wetlands and nine larger wetlands have been restored to provide breeding habitat for waterfowl like blue-winged teal, northern shoveler and ring-necked duck. If you’re looking for a great place to sharpen your birding skills, plan a trip to Bisson Lake, a 112-acre marsh and the largest of these wetlands. Spring and fall migration are full of watchable wildlife!

That’s not the only place you’ll find great birding at the refuge. In the summer months, you’re likely to see common breeding species like mallard, lesser scaup and trumpeter swan. The refuge is also home to the greater prairie chicken. A relic of the Minnesota tallgrass prairie, the greater prairie chicken range once extended from south to north along the western edge of the state. As more and more prairies were plowed, numbers dropped and the remaining prairie chickens were driven to inhabit either the high, dry beach ridges of glacial Lake Agassiz or low, wet ground, neither of which were suitable for agriculture. Today, Hamden Slough’s population is thriving and you can hear their haunting booms every spring on the Hamden Lake lek. Communal leks are the special stretches of prairie where male prairie chickens display their breeding plumage for females in a dramatic dance. During the display, they raise ear-like feathers above their heads, inflate orange sacs on the sides of their throats and stutter-step around while making a deep hooting moan. It’s quite a sight to see and hear each spring! Reserve your spot in the prairie chicken blind by calling the refuge office at 218-847-4431.

We are proud to continue the tradition of restoring America’s heartland in support of waterfowl and migratory birds and welcome you to visit this prairie gem.

Learn more about Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and plan your trip today!

Historic photo by USFWS.

Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past

This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff.

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