Wildlife & Habitat

Wildlife and Habitat

Glacial Ridge is located in the Mississippi Headwaters/Northern Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem. It is a key component of the prairie pothole mix of small wetlands surrounded by upland prairies and woodland savannas. This mix of small wetlands and uplands are crucial as breeding habitat for an array of migratory birds, including waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds, and others.

  • Greater Prairie-Chicken

    Prairie Chicken

    Historically, prairie chickens were abundant in Midwestern tallgrass prairies, but they are picky about their habitat and don’t adjust well to agriculture, roads, or powerlines. By the 1930s they were nearly extinct. Refuge staff and partners have been restoring prairie habitat and the prairie chickens have returned! 


    The greater prairie chicken is a large land bird that puts on quite a show at dawn in early spring. Male prairie chickens – in an attempt to woo the females – will gather together in a group called a “lek”, dance across the grass, and make “booming” noises with their bright orange air sacs. If you enjoy early mornings, you can reserve a prairie chicken viewing blind through the Crookston Chamber of Commerce and see the show for yourself. Please see the "Guide To Prairie Grouse Viewing" for more information about this experience.

  • Tallgrass Prairie

    Tall Grass Prairie

    The northern tallgrass prairie ecosystem is dominated by native grasses that are often 3-6 feet tall. The prairie contains an immense variety of grasses and wildflowers, but the most dominant species defining the prairie are big bluestem, Indian grass and little bluestem. The prairie landscape is mostly treeless. Due to the deep, rich, fertile soil that supports this expanse of grass, the prairie was easily transformed into crop land as it was settled. From a historic range of about 25 million acres in Minnesota and Iowa alone, only about 300,000 acres of the original tallgrass prairie remains today. The Refuge strives to protect, conserve and restore as much of our native prairie as possible.

  • Upland Sandpiper

    U Sandpiper 2

    The Upland Sandpiper, a shorebird that thrives in grassland habitat, has steadily declined since the mid-19th century. This sandpiper inhabits the native prairie and other open grassy areas in the Great Plains of North America. Glacial Ridge NWR, the largest prairie and wetland restoration in North America, provides a vast area of suitable habitat for this shorebird. 

  • Western Prairie Fringed Orchid

    Fringed Prairie Orchid

    The western prairie fringed orchid is a tall perennial flower that was once found in prairies from Manitoba to Missouri. It is now federally endangered as those prairie habitats have disappeared. On Glacial Ridge Refuge, the orchid may be found in wetlands called “fens.” As more fens are restored, it is expected that the western prairie fringed orchid will expand its range within the Refuge. 

  • Fens


    Fens are wetlands that typically form in upland areas. They consist of a thick peat soil with ground- fed water beneath, which makes the ground look like it’s perched on top of the water. This type of fen is typically found in northern tallgrass prairie and into the prairie-forest border. The rich peat fens of Glacial Ridge Refuge can be 25-75% covered with shrubs, primarily bog birch. There are also grasses, forbs, and mosses.

  • Northern Leopard Frog

    Leopard Frog

    With its numerous dark spots – like a leopard - the northern leopard frog is appropriately named. The northern leopard frog needs different habitats for different life stages. They mate in wetlands such as slow-moving streams or seasonal wetlands. Sub-adult young migrate to larger, more permanent bodies of water for better feeding sites. Adults are semi-terrestrial and will spend an entire summer in the tallgrass prairie, wet meadows or damp wooded areas. During the winter months, these clever creatures return to the water to hibernate from as early as October to April. Visit the refuge from April to September to hear the deep snore of the northern leopard frog!