A pond with numerous male and female mallards. Photo by USFWS

"Waubay," means "a place where numbers of birds make their nests" in the Dakota language. The Refuge encompasses 4,650 acres of wetlands, native tallgrass prairie, and bur oak forest that provide a wide variety of nesting habitat for more than 100 species of waterfowl, song birds, and upland game birds as well as 140 additional bird species during migrations. Mammals include species from the ever present white-tailed deer to the more elusive coyote and the diminutive least shrew. The central location of Waubay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in North America gives visitors the chance to see a mix of eastern, western, northern, and southern species.

  • Birds

    Yellow headed blackbird in cattails. Photo by L. Hubers/USFWS

    The mix of habitats on the Refuge increase the number of species of birds likely to be seen. About 100 species nest on or near the Refuge and another 159 species have been observed during migrations. Woodlands are the best places to see warblers, orioles, vireos, and grosbeaks as well as the small forest hawks like Cooper's and sharp-shinned. The Spring Lake Overlook trail is a good place to look for grassland species like sharp-tailed grouse, bobolinks, savannah sparrows and sedge wrens. Check the wetlands both big and small for red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, great blue herons, ring-billed and California gulls, great egrets, and many different types of ducks and other waterfowl.

    Changing water levels and seasons will bring different species so visit often. Please contact the Refuge if you would like a current bird list.

  • Mammals

    Fox squirrel in tree. Photo by L. Hubers/USFWS

    Mammals are warm-blooded, have some hair covering their bodies, and provide milk to their young. They inhabit every type of habitat from oceans (whales), to the air (bats), and underground (gophers). Above ground they can be found in grasslands, woodlands, wetlands,  and some have even made themselves at home in our homes. There are about 49 species of mammals that can be found on the Refuge and surrounding area. Most common are white-tailed deer, skunks, red fox, coyotes, woodchucks, and numerous species of mice, shrews, and voles.

  • Reptiles and Amphibians

    Leopard frog in water. Photo by L. Hubers/USFWS

    Reptiles and amphibians together are considered herpetofauna, or herps for short. Herpetologists are biologists that study these animals. Some amphibians, particularly frogs, have been experiencing global declines due to loss of habitat, climate change, disease, pesticide and herbicide use, and invasive species. Herps are vital parts of the ecosystem and scientists have even produced important medical compounds from amphibian skin. 

    There are 8 known species of amphibians and 9 reptiles that occur in the area. Most common are leopard and chorus frogs, tiger salamanders, garter and redbelly snakes, and painted and snapping turtles. 

  • Fish

    Northern pike in a tank. Photo by L. Hubers/USFWS

    Fish in South Dakota lakes and ponds are considered warm water species. There are usually low numbers of game fish and high numbers of minnows, carp, and suckers in area waters. Before water levels rose in the 1990's, few if any game fish existed in Refuge lakes. Now there are good populations of yellow perch, northern pike, and walleye. To protect breeding waterfowl for which this Refuge was established, only ice fishing is allowed.

  • Invertebrates

    Regal fritillary butterfly on pink flower. Photo by L. Hubers/USFWS

    Invertebrates make up more than 97% of the world's animal life. They are the work horses of the animal world. Few people appreciate all these creatures do for us and wildlife. They decompose plants and animals, are a source of food for many animals and people, eat pests that bother us as well as pollinate plants that benefit many farmers. Of course there are also invertebrates that are parasites, transmit diseases, can cause damage to our homes, bite or sting, and can be squishy, slimy, prickly or just generally unpleasant. 

    But they can also be beautiful and fascinating and help us to see when we are poisoning our environment. Recent problems with bees and colony collapse disorder should make us look closely at what we are doing to affect these animals.  What happens to the smallest - and most numerous - will eventually affect us all.

  • Threatened and Endangered

    American burying beetle. Photo by USFWS

    There are few federally threatened or endangered animal species that are known to occur at Waubay NWR. Piping plovers have nested nearby but have not been seen in many years since high water levels have eliminated many sandy beaches around wetlands. The whooping crane will occasionally be seen migrating in this area. 

    Though once common over much of North America, the American burying beetle (photo left) has disappeared from 90% of its range.  Hypotheses explaining its decline range from deforestation, loss of available carrion in the required size since the extirpation of passenger pigeon and declines in prairie chickens, and increased competition for resources from skunks, raccoons, and other scavengers.

    The bald eagle was recently removed from the endangered species list. Evidence of its success can be seen in the many nests that can be found throughout South Dakota and the country. 

    Dakota skipper and Poweshiek butterflies are candidate species for listing.  They are small, fast flying butterflies found primarily in high quality native prairies.  It is unknown what is causing the decline in these species though habitat loss is probably an important factor.

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