About the Refuge

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Located in southeastern North Dakota, Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), encompasses 8,343 acres of grasslands and wetlands. These wetlands and surrounding grasslands provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and a variety of songbirds. The Wild Rice River winds its way through the Refuge providing water to several larger wetlands to serve as nurseries for young water birds and resting areas for thousands of migrating waterfowl.


On June 26, 1945, Tewaukon NWR was established as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. In 1946, 512 acres were purchased from local landowners who were interested in preserving the area's natural features and wildlife opportunities. Since that original Refuge purchase, additional lands have been acquired totaling 8,363 acres of wetland and grassland habitat. In 1956, the Refuge had one staff member (one manager) in its headquarters located five miles south of Cayuga, North Dakota. We now have seven full time staff of biologists, managers, maintenance, law enforcement, and administrative personnel along with additional seasonal employees.

Prior to settlement by Europeans, this area was inhabited by several plains nomadic tribes that were primarily hunter-gathers. The name Tewaukon is believed to come from an ancient tribe that lived in the area meaning the Sun God or Son of God.

Today Refuge staff manages the 8,343 acres refuge, over 15,000 acres of Waterfowl Production Areas, and over 50,000 acres protected by wetland and grassland easements.

Refuge Purpose

The Refuge provides food, water, shelter and space for a variety of wildlife species from the dainty butterfly to the large elegant tundra swan. Refuge grasslands and wetlands are managed to meet the needs of a variety of migratory birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects. Management focuses on migratory birds, especially those native species that depend on wetlands and grasslands.
A Place for Wildlife

The amazing flights of thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds are visible on the Refuge during spring and fall migration as they rest and feed on Refuge wetlands. During the summer months the grasslands are alive with the songs of bobolinks, western meadowlarks, upland sandpipers, grasshopper sparrows and other grassland dependent birds. Gadwalls, blue-winged teal, canvasbacks, pintails and many more duck species raise their young on protein (insect) rich diets to get them ready for the long trip south in the fall.

Tewaukon NWR also provides habitat for wildlife that make the prairie their year-round home. Mink, muskrat, coyote, badger, white tailed deer, garter snakes, leopard frogs, painted turtles, and woodpeckers are some of the hardier species that have adapted and found a way to survive in North Dakota’s harsh climate. Butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and other insects abound in this highly productive habitat providing pollination to a host of native wildflowers and food for a variety of bird species.

Managing the Habitat

It’s no small task to meet the needs of all the different species of wildlife that use and live on the habitats of Tewaukon NWR. Refuge managers try to focus resources and efforts primarily on native migratory birds. Fortunately, other species of wildlife benefit from the food and cover produced through habitat management techniques. Livestock grazing and periodic prescribed fire help remove dead plant material to produce taller, thicker grasses and wildflowers for improved nesting habitat and encourage native plants to out compete weeds and nonnative grasses.
Water management along the Wild Rice River has become necessary in some cases due to the changes in the surrounding watershed including increased water flow and volume because of wetland drainage across the landscape. These areas are managed as a flow through system to keep the water from getting too deep and becoming unusable by most ducks and shorebirds.

A Place for People

National Wildlife Refuges are wonderful places to see and learn more about wildlife and their habitats. Tewaukon NWR offers limited hunting and fishing, bird watching, wildlife photography, and hiking for visitors of all ages and abilities. Visitors can explore the grassland and wetland habitats of the Refuge on foot or by driving the Prairie Lake Auto Tour when open.