About the Refuge


Located in central North Dakota, Audubon NWR encompasses 14,735 acres of native prairie, planted grasslands, and wetlands. The Refuge lies within the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region, which is named for its many small wetlands that resemble potholes. These wetlands and surrounding grasslands provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for waterfowl and other birds.

Known as the 'Duck Factory' of North America, the Prairie Pothole Region produces more than half of the continent's waterfowl. For hundreds of other species of migratory birds, it also provides the most productive breeding habitat on the continent. This unique Region includes portions of the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, and Canada.

  • History

    On May 25, 1956, Snake Creek NWR was established after construction of Garrison Dam was completed across the Missouri River. This 2.5-mile long dam created a large reservoir named Lake Sakakawea, which is 368,000 acres in size. Snake Creek NWR replaced some of the important wildlife habitat that was lost when Lake Sakakawea was filled. In 1967, Snake Creek NWR was renamed Audubon NWR to honor John James Audubon, one of the great naturalists and wildlife painters of the 19th century. Audubon spent the summer of 1843 near this area collecting bird specimens and painting pictures of northern plains wildlife.

  • Refuge Purpose

    Audubon NWR provides food, water, shelter, and space for a variety of wildlife species. Refuge managers focus their efforts on managing the land to meet the needs of waterfowl and other migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and resident wildlife.

  • A Place for Wildlife

    The majestic flights of thousands of waterfowl, sandhill cranes, and shorebirds are visible on the Refuge during spring and fall migration. Endangered whooping cranes are often seen migrating in small groups or with sandhill cranes. Piping plovers, a threatened species, nest in the area each summer. Giant Canada geese, in addition to ducks such as mallards, gadwalls, blue-winged teal, northern pintails, and lesser scaup, are common nesters on the Refuge.

    Other birds you may see include northern harriers, marbled godwits, upland sandpipers, western meadowlarks, bobolinks, and more than 200 other species.

    Audubon NWR also provides habitat for wildlife that make the prairie their year-round home. White-tailed deer, coyote, red fox, sharp-tailed grouse, and gray partridge are some of the hardier species that are adapted to North Dakota's climate. The ring-necked pheasant is also a Refuge resident whose numbers often decline during severe winters.

  • Managing for Wildlife

    Although Audubon NWR is managed primarily for waterfowl, resident wildlife species also benefit from the food and cover produced through habitat management techniques. Livestock grazing and haying of grasslands help remove dead plant material to produce taller, thicker grass for improved bird nesting habitat. Another important management tool is prescribed burning, which helps to control weeds, stimulate plant growth, and increase soil nutrients.

    Water management is important for many species of wildlife. Using pumps and siphons, water is moved from Lake Audubon to fill wetlands that would otherwise be dry in drought years. These wetlands provide habitat for waterfowl broods, shorebirds, and other water birds, as well as various mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. 

  • A Place for People

    National wildlife refuges are wonderful places to see and learn more about wildlife and habitat. The following opportunities are available for visitors to Audubon NWR: 

    1) Visitor Center - Fully accessible and features exhibits on prairie wetland and grassland habitat, migratory birds, night life of the refuge, John James Audubon, and refuge history. 

    2) Prairie Nature Trail - A 1-mile, self-guided trail begins on the north side of the visitor center. The trail starts with a 0.6 poured concrete loop. There is a 0.5 mile gravel extension loop that ties into the concrete path for those wanting to go a bit farther. The Prairie Nature trail winds through grasslands, trees (shelterbelt) and along wetlands, allowing visitors to observe many species of native grasses and wildflowers, birds, and other animals. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail. 

    3) South Shore Auto Tour Route - An 8-mile gravel auto tour route begins near the visitor center and winds along the scenic south shoreline of Lake Audubon. Highlights include views of the lake, prairie wetlands, grasslands, and opportunities to observe many species of birds, mammals, and plants. Spring and fall migration are peak times to observe large concentrations of birds on Lake Audubon and in adjacent wetlands. 

    4) Hunting - The refuge is open to hunting for deer, pheasant, grouse, and partridge. Please see the Hunting and Ice Fishing brochure for more information and regulations. 

    5) Ice Fishing - Walleye, perch, and northern pike are popular game fish in Lake Audubon. Ice fishing is permitted while ice covers the water. There is no open-water fishing on the refuge portion of Lake Audubon. Please see the Hunting and Ice Fishing brochure for more information and regulations.