Featured Species

J. Clark Salyer Wetland Management District serves as a critical sanctuary for thousands of migratory birds. Over 250 bird species are found here, including waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects live on the Refuge as well.


J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge is one of seven sites in North Dakota that underwent extensive butterfly research. Biologists are now armed with an inventory of butterflies that can be found within the 58,700-acre refuge - 75 of the 145 recorded species in North Dakota.
Where can I find butterflies? 

The numbers and types of butterflies change not just daily and weekly, but hourly as well, depending on temperature, wind and location. Just as deer - and all animals - have certain basic needs for food, water and cover, so do butterflies. But butterflies are not as adaptable as deer. Instead, think of butterflies as being more like the bighorn sheep of the insect world - less versatile, less flexible - needing more of a certain type of niche in which to live their lives. J. Clark Salyer offers woodland butterflies, such as Edwards' hairstreak and grassland butterflies like the Melissa blue. The Edwards' hairstreak lives its life intrinsically tied to the ants and oak trees of the refuge's hardwood forest, as seen in the photo by Dr. Ron Royer of Minot State University.

When should I look for butterflies? 

Butterflies are diurnal (active during the day). In fact, being cold-blooded creatures, they become more active as cool morning temperatures give way to summer warmth.

What do they eat? Native silverberry, a cousin to the Russian olive tree, is found in several places in the Wetland Management District, and in early June provides valuable nectar for many butterfly species. Another readily available woodland plant - aspen leaves - provides delicious food for tiger swallowtail caterpillars.

How long do they live? The butterfly has a four-stage lifecycle. The first stage is the egg, followed by the larva (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. Butterflies really are just caterpillars with wings. Their mobility allows for escape, finding food, mating and genetic diversity. After emerging from the chrysalis, the third stage in their life cycle, the colorful adult butterfly generally only lives about two weeks. But during that time, the subtle insect offers a fleeting splash of color, enlightening and enhancing a summer's day.


Many mammals live in the J. Clark Salyer WMD. Beaver, mink, muskrats, raccoons, and weasels make their homes in and around the marshes. The upland and sandhill areas provide shelter for whitetail deer, elk, moose, coyotes, badgers, red fox, porcupines, and snowshoe hares.
Beaver     The beaver is North America's largest rodent, weighing between 30 and 60 pounds and ranging from 25-30 inches in length (excluding the tail).  A beaver's tail is usually about 9-10 inches long and is used as a rudder. Their powerful teeth can cut a 5-inch diameter tree in 3 minutes. The tree bark is used for food and the remaining trunk and branches are used for building beaver lodges. A family of beavers typically consists of a pair of adults with their yearlings and kits. The life expectancy of a beaver in the wild is 10 years or more.
Common Porcupine The porcupine is the second largest rodent of the northern Great Plains. Their average weight is 10-30 pounds and they are typically 26-31 inches long. Short, muscular tails and curved claws allow them to climb and perch in trees. Quills can be more than 3 inches long and are found on their back, sides, legs, and tail. More than 30,000 quills can be found on a single porcupine. Quills are not thrown at predators, but are easily released when contacted. Barbules within each quill expand over time and pull it deeper into embedded tissue, often causing infections. Porcupines may be found in willows, cottonwoods, aspens, and grasslands near riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
woodlands. They typically eat buds, small twigs, leaves from grasses and forbs, evergreen needles, and the inner bark of trees. Additional nutrient salts are taken from bones or antlers. Home ranges for these animals can be 25-35 acres.
Coyote A coyote is about the size of a German Shepherd dog and typically weighs about 20-35 pounds. They are very adaptable and able to live in a variety of habitats, including open grasslands, brush, badlands, woodlands, and mountainous areas. Coyotes are most active from dusk until dawn, resting during the day. Their diet consists mainly of cottontails, jackrabbits, rodents, birds, eggs, insects, fruits, and deer.  Many coyotes don't live beyond their fist year, but some have been known to live for 13 years or more.
Moose In recent years, the moose has become a frequent sight for visitors at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge. The moose is a member of the deer family. An adult bull moose stands more than 6 feet tall at the shoulders and weighs more than 1,400 pounds. Its long legs force the moose to kneel down to drink shallow water or to eat low-lying plants. The male moose has huge, flattened antlers with fork-like tines. Their eyesight is poor, but their sense of smell is keen. Good moose habitat is found in the wooded areas of Canada and the northern United States. However, the moose population on J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge and in the Turtle Mountains is expanding into the adjacent farmland. Moose are now surviving in areas where it was once thought uninhabitable by moose. Their favorite "dish" on the Refuge is willows. Moose actually help control the spread of willows into the river meadows.
Muskrat Muskrats are named for the musky odor of both males and females during the breeding season. Their color ranges from reddish-brown to blackish-brown. They prefer marshy areas with sedges, cattails, and bulrushes. Muskrat houses have underwater entrances and living areas above the water. They will also live in burrows in streambanks.  Muskrats generally prefer roots, stems, leaves, and bulbs of aquatic plants but they will also eat corn, grains, mollusks, crayfish, carrion, and other muskrats.
Whitetail Deer Whitetail deer are a common sight in most areas of the Refuge. Adults stand more than 3 feet tall at the shoulder and males can weigh 200-300 pounds while females range from 90-200 pounds. Their coats change from reddish-brown during the summer to gray during the winter. Bucks typically shed antlers during February or March and grow new ones by early September. Whitetails can adapt to most habitats and eat a variety of foods, including crops, grasses, fruits, mushrooms, and acorns. Most deer feed in the early morning and early evening.

Marsh Birds

Waterbirds can be found in a variety of water habitats in the J. Clark Salyer WMD. They are usually alone or in pairs and are easily identifiable.
American BitternThe American bittern blends well with its surroundings and is often difficult to spot. It prefers to feed along the shoreline, amongst the cattail and bulrush. It eats small fish, giant waterbugs, frogs, and small snakes.  Its call is easy to distinguish and is often referred to as a "pump-er-lunk" call.
Great Blue Heron     The great blue heron is a very large bird, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet. It has a gray-blue color and is often seen foraging on the edges of marshes and rivers. It prefers to eat fish but will also eat frogs, snakes, salamanders, and shrews.
Great Egret     The great egret is a large white heron seen in freshwater and saltwater marshes. They usually arrive in North Dakota around the middle of August. They prefer to eat fish, frogs, and snakes.
Sandhill CraneSandhill cranes are long-necked, long-legged birds with varying shades of gray, yellow, and reddish-brown plumage. They are often seen feeding in open grasslands and crop fields. Their call is very distinctive and can be heard for miles. Some of these birds live to be more than 20 years old.
Western GrebeThe western grebe has a distinct black and white coloration and is the largest of the North American grebes. During courtship, the male and female pair run side-by-side to perform the "rushing ceremony". They prefer freshwater lakes and eat fish, mollusks, salamanders, and aquatic insects.


North Dakota has nine different owl species, although only four of them commonly nest here.
Barn OwlThe barn owl is easily identified by it's white heart-shaped face. It's wingspan is about 3.5 - 4 feet. They are considered rare in North Dakota. They roost in large trees, barns, and buildings during the day and hunt for mice, rats, ground squirrels, and rabbits during the night.
Barred OwlThe barred owl has a wingspan of about 4 feet and has a distinct barred pattern across it's breast and belly. They are considered rare in North Dakota. They are nocturnal and hunt for mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, fox, crows, frogs, small snakes, and insects.
Eastern Screech OwlThe eastern screech owl looks like a miniature great horned owl and has a wing span of 1.5  -2 feet. It lives in a wide variety of habitats and generally nests in tree cavities. They are nocturnal and feed on mice, insects, pocket gophers, crayfish, snakes, frogs, fish, and small birds.
Great Horned OwlSometimes referred to as a "cat owl" or "hoot owl", it is a large owl with a wingspan that can reach 3 - 5 feet. They nest in North Dakota and will reside in a wide variety of habitats. Their diet consists of ground squirrels, rabbits, ducks, and voles.
Long-Eared OwlAlso know as the "lesser horned owl", it has a wingspan of about 3 - 3.5 feet and has long ear tufts. They are a rare sight in North Dakota and are very secretive. They are nocturnal and feed mostly on mice, squirrels, and pocket gophers.    
Northern Saw-Whet OwlThe northern saw-whet is a very small owl with a wingspan of about 1.5 - 2 feet. Most are migratory, although some have been documented as nesting in North Dakota. They are nocturnal and feed primarily on insects but will also eat mice, rats, small squirrels, and chipmunks.
Short-Eared OwlThe wingspan of this owl is about 3.5 feet and it has small ear tufts that are difficult to see. You can find them in grasslands and marshes, where they nest on the ground. They hunt during the day and prefer to eat rodents.
Snowy Owl  The snowy owl is the heaviest and most powerful of the North American owls, with a wingspan of 5 feet. They nest on the ground and feed on gulls, waterfowl, rabbits, ground squirrels, rats, and grouse. You may see them perched on hay bales, fence posts, and powerline poles.
Western Burrowing Owl

This is a migratory owl that prefers to winter around Texas and Mexico. They often live in burrows dug by prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or badgers. Their main diet consists of insects.


Hawks, eagles, and falcons are raptors. Raptors are excellent predators that have strong grasping feet with sharp talons, a hooked upper beak, and superb vision.
American KestrelAmerican kestrels are known as "sparrow hawks" because of their size. They are the smallest and most common falcon in North Dakota. They are easily identified by the two black stripes that run vertically on each side of both eyes and the rust colored back and tail. American kestrels generally feed on large insects during the summer and on mice and small birds during the winter. They are cavity nesters who will use natural or man-made holes.
Bald EagleThe Bald eagle is a large bird of prey. It is easily identified by it's white head and tail, which do not appear until the eagle is about 4 years old. Bald eagles feed mainly on fish but will also eat injured animals and roadkill, especially during the winter. Nesting generally begins in March or early-April. The bald eagle usually uses the same nest site every year but continues to add layers to it, resulting in very large nests as the years go by.
Cooper's HawkThe Cooper's hawk is very similar to the sharp-shinned hawk and the northern goshawk and they can be difficult to identify in the field. They are generally found in the Pembina Hills, the Turtle Mountains, and the wooded valleys of the Missouri, Sheyenne, and Red rivers in North Dakota. They prefer to feed on medium-sized birds and small mammals. They can usually be seen in North Dakota from April to October.
Red-Tailed HawkOne of the most commonly known hawks in North America, the red-tailed hawk prefers a variety of habitats including pastures and cropland interspersed with trees. It can usually be seen in North Dakota from March until early-October.
Rough-Legged HawkGenerally a tame hawk, the rough-legged hawk will often allow humans within a fairly close distance. They are identified by their yellow legs that are feathered to the toes, a dark belly band, black patches at their wrists, and a black band at the base of their tails. They usually arrive in North Dakota in October, after leaving their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska.
Swainson's HawkThe Swainson's hawk resembles the red-tailed hawk, but it has a dark bib that runs from it's throat to about mid-breast. They can be found in grasslands, small open woodlands, and some croplands hunting for large insects and small rodents. They can usually be seen in North Dakota from late March until late-September.

Reptiles and Amphibians

A variety of frogs, toads, snakes, and turtles are found in the J. Clark Salyer WMD.
Frogs The northern leopard, or meadow frog, can jump a distance of five to six feet at a time. During the summer, they can be found long distances from a body of water. Wood frogs have a dark mask around their eyes and can be found near moist woodlands. Western chorus frogs are only 1 1/2 inches long, making them North Dakota's smallest frog. Their distinctive call can be heard from April to June.
Salamanders     Tiger salamanders can be found almost anywhere that is damp. They are usually bi-colored with spots, bands, bars, or blotches of color. They will eat almost anything they can find.
Snakes The common garter snake, plains garter snake, redbelly snake, smooth green snake, and western hognose snake inhabit J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge. They are all non-venomous and generally harmless. Common garter snakes are often found in residential areas, the plains and smooth green snakes prefer grasslands and marshes, redbellies prefer woodland edges, and the hognose prefers sandy, graveled areas within grasslands or trees.
Toads The Canadian toad, or Dakota toad, lives along the margins of lakes and smaller wetlands. They can be 2-3 inches in length and are generally green to brownish-red, with brownish-red warts.
Turtles The western painted turtle is a common sight. The backs (or carapaces) are generally black, greenish, or brown. Yellow lines decorate their head, neck, and legs. They prefer to eat worms, minnows, and aquatic insects. Snapping turtles can be found at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, although they are more difficult to spot. They are a dull greenish-black color and can weigh up to 65 pounds. Their jaws are very strong and are used to capture and crush their prey. They eat invertebrates, fish, amphibians, other turtles, and small mammals.


Many species of shorebirds are seen in North Dakota during the spring and fall migrations. Shorebirds generally have long legs, pointed bills, and are found along mud flats and sandy shorelines.
American Avocet The American avocet is a large shorebird with a long, upturned bill. It prefers to nest on dry, rocky ground. When searching for food, it walks through shallow water and sweeps its bill back and forth. This movement in the water causes insects to surface.
Black Tern The black tern has a black head and body with gray wings and tail.  They can be found in marshes, sloughs, and small lakes. They generally feed on insects and small fish.
Franklin's Gull     The Franklin's gull is a small gull with a black hood and a crescent shaped white patch above and below its eyes. You will find large colonies throughout J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge marshes. They prefer to feed on insects and can also be seen following agricultural equipment through fields, hoping to catch earthworms, grasshoppers, or grubs.
Upland Sandpiper The upland sandpiper is a shorebird that prefers the prairie. You may see them perched on wooden fence posts or tree stumps. Their diet consists mainly of insects, but they will also eat grain and foxtail grass seeds.
Wilson's Phalarope The Wilson's phalarope is a small bird found in freshwater and saline wetlands. It often spins in circles in the water to stir up insects to feed on. They also feed near ducks, who stir up insects for them.


Songbirds are found in a variety of habitats. Identifying them can be challenging, but a pair of binoculars and a good bird guide will help if you choose to go birdwatching.
Baird's Sparrow Baird's sparrow are usually found in native grasslands or those that closely resemble natives. It prefers to run on the ground instead of flying.
Black-capped Chickadee The black-capped chickadee is a very common year-round inhabitant of North Dakota. It has a distinct black cap on the top of its head and a song that sounds like chicka-dee-dee-dee.
Clay-colored Sparrow The clay-colored sparrow can be found in pastures with low shrubs, edges of fields, and shelterbelts. It has a song that sounds like a series of insect-like buzzes.
Eastern Bluebird Eastern bluebirds can be found perching on fence posts and utility lines in open prairies. They are cavity nesters once threatened by introduced species that out-competed them for nesting sites. You can find bluebird boxes attached to fence posts along the scenic auto tour.
Grasshopper Sparrow The grasshopper sparrow is one of the most common grassland sparrows and can be found in prairies, pastures, and hay fields. It has a grasshopper-like song that is easy to distinguish.
LeConte's Sparrow     The LeConte's sparrow is one of the smallest sparrows. It prefers wet meadows and marshes with dense vegetation. They are secretive birds that run along the ground to hide and are difficult to flush. 
Western Meadowlark The western meadowlark is the North Dakota state bird. It is easy to identify by sight and sound. It has a yellow breast with a black V-shaped breast band and can often be seen perched atop fence posts or barbed-wire.

Upland Game Birds

Upland game birds include ring-necked pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge, ruffed grouse, and wild turkey.
Gray Partridge Also known as the Hungarian partridge, the gray partridge was introduced to North America in the early 1900s. Both males and females are gray to brown in color, with tan or orange markings on their face and neck.  A dark brown horseshoe shaped patch can be seen on their breasts and is often more pronounced on the males. They prefer to live near crop fields, especially those with cereal grains and numerous hedgerows.
Ring-necked Pheasant The ring-necked pheasant is probably the most well-known introduced bird. The males are very colorful and easy to identify, while the females are a very drab mottled brown. You can usually find them along roadsides, field borders, and shelter belts with tall grasses and forbs. They prefer to run for cover but will fly short distances.
Ruffed Grouse Ruffed grouse prefer the canopy of young trees and thick understories offered by shrubs and saplings. They have a cryptic plumage consisting of mottled gray, brown, and black. Both sexes have a dark band near the tip of their tail and a tuft of feathers on the sides of their neck.
Sharp-tailed Grouse Sharp-tailed grouse prefer dense grasslands with shrubs and will perch in bushes and trees. The males perform courtship dances on leks each spring. While dancing, pinkish/pale violet air sacs are visible on both sides of its neck and a drumming sound is made by rapidly stomping their feet. J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge has a grouse blind that can be reserved so that visitors can experience the sights and sounds of a grouse lek during the spring. For more information about reservations, please contact us.
Wild Turkey The wild turkey can be seen feeding on acorns, nuts, fruits, seeds, and insects during the day. They can be found roosting in trees at night. Turkeys have a distinct appearance and call. The males have a beard that hangs from the upper breast and spurs on their feet. Females can also have beards, although they are not as common. Both males and females make the well known gobbling sound when they are young but, as they grow, the females gradually stop.


Dabbling Ducks    Dabbling ducks usually prefer fresh, shallow marshes and rivers. When they feed in water, they tip forward with their head under water and their tail above. You may also see them feeding in crop fields, as they can walk well on land. Mallards, northern pintail, gadwall, American wigeon, northern shovelers, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, wood ducks, and the American black duck are all puddle ducks.
Diving DucksDiving ducks prefer larger, deeper lakes and rivers. These ducks feed by diving under water, often for long distances.  Canvasbacks, redheads, ring-necked ducks, scaup, goldeneyes, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, red-breasted mergansers, common mergansers, and hooded mergansers are diving ducks.
GeeseCanada geese, or "honkers", have black heads and necks, and white cheeks. Snow geese can be white or blue. The white morph is completely white and the blue morph is dark gray-brown, except for its white head and foreneck.
Swans     Trumpeter swans are slowly increasing in number. They are the largest of the two native North American swans. The tundra swan, or whistling swan, is slightly smaller than the trumpeter and is more common.


J. Clark Salyer WMD has a variety of native plants that support an exceptional diversity of prairie wildlife.

This region of North Dakota is mostly mixed-grass prairie that is sandwiched between the western shortgrass prairie and the eastern tallgrass prairie. The primary plant species here are green needlegrass, western wheatgrass, blue grama, buffalo grass, and prairie junegrass. Tallgrass species, such as little bluestem, big bluestem, sideoats grama, and switchgrass, are found in moist areas.  Prairie sandreed and sand bluestem are found in the drier sandhills.