Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, located in northeastern South Dakota, is in the Prairie Pothole Region, a key region in North America for waterfowl conservation. Artist George Catlin described this area as a "blue and boundless ocean of prairie."

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There are all kinds of things to do at a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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. You can check out the visitor center to learn about prairies, wetlands, and the people that help conserve them. You can walk the trails and look for wildlife. You can start birdwatching or add a bird to your life list. You can learn bird songs. You can take photographs of flowers, trees, a pelican, or maybe even an eagle. You can get a bird's eye view of the Refuge and surrounding area by climbing the 110-foot tall tower. You can try fishing through the ice or hunt deer using a bow and arrow, an old-fashioned muzzleloader, or a modern rifle. You could try your hand at drawing, painting, or nature journaling if you bring a sketch pad or journal. You can learn what a leopard frog sounds like or look for snakes. There are so many places to explore and things to discover at Waubay National Wildlife Refuge - we hope you'll plan on visiting more than once. 

Location and Contact Information

      About Us

      Potholes and More

      Waubay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. It is administered by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At the time Waubay National Wildlife Refuge was established, this part of the country was in the midst of a devastating drought that affected people, agriculture, and waterfowl populations. Today, the National Wildlife Refuge System has more than 565 Refuges and is in all 50 states. The Refuge System is the largest system of lands in the world dedicated to preserving fish, wildlife, and their habitats.

      The Refuge includes 4,650 acres of lakes, marshes, grasslands, and woodlands which support diverse and abundant wildlife. The name Waubay comes from the Dakota word "wabe" meaning a waterfowl nesting place. There couldn't be a better name for this Refuge, where people have observed 245 species of birds, and more than 100 species of birds nest here. Both eastern and western bird species of the United States can be found here. Waubay is also at the southern end of the breeding range of red-necked grebes and LeConte's sparrows and at the northern edge of red-bellied woodpeckers, northern cardinals, and yellow-billed cuckoos.

      Water levels in prairie lakes, like Waubay Lake, are subject to extreme fluctuations. In the 1930s, Waubay Lake was dry. That said, heavy precipitation between 1993-1997 caused the lake level to rise 15 feet, flooding out 100-year old trees. When water levels change, wildlife using the area changes. Lower water periods draw thousands of diving ducks attracted to sago pondweed beds. On the other hand, flooded timber makes ideal habitat for nesting wood ducks.

      What We Do

      The main habitats at Waubay National Wildlife Refuge include wetlands, woodlands and grasslands. The main goals for habitat and wildlife management are:

      • Habitat Goal: To preserve, restore, and enhance the ecological diversity of grasslands, wetlands, and native woodlands of the Prairie Pothole Region of the Great Plains on Waubay National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
      • Wildlife Goal: To promote a natural diversity and abundance of native flora and fauna of the Prairie Pothole Region.

      These goals are achieved using a variety of tools and techniques, which include grazing, prescribed burning, restoration, haying, weed management, and rest when appropriate. Refuge staff constantly strive to maintain or improve refuge lands for the benefit of the wildlife. Many factors complicate the work including surrounding habitat (or lack of), size of tract, insufficient science or data, local weather conditions, as well as climate and landscape changes.