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Breeding Birds of North Dakota

Forest Communities


Forest habitats in North Dakota can be grouped for general descriptive purposes into two major categories designated as floodplain deciduous forests and upland deciduous forests. A third minor type referred to as upland evergreen forest also occurs on very limited areas in western North Dakota. Forest habitats in 1967 were found to occupy about 2 percent of the total state area. Excluding the small, heavily forested Turtle Mountain Region, the proportion of forest habitat varied from less than 1 percent on the Southern Drift Plain, Northwestern Drift Plain, Missouri Coteau, and Missouri Slope to a high of 9 percent on the Little Missouri Slope.

Eastern River Floodplain Forest

This rich woodland community occurs on the floodplain of the Red River and its various tributaries within the Agassiz Lake Plain Region and also extends into the Prairie Pothole Region along the Sheyenne River, upstream as far as central Eddy County. Probably the finest examples of this community are found along the Sheyenne River in northwestern Richland County and northeastern Ransom County.

The mature stands of this forest are dominated by a variety of trees. These include bur oak, hackberry, American elm, basswood, and green ash. Ordinarily a well developed understory, usually present, is composed of small trees and tall shrubs including hop-hornbeam and prickly ash. The herbaceous vegetation of the forest floor is especially luxuriant and is composed of a great variety of species. The more common plants are nodding fescue, Virginia wild rye, nodding muhly, charming sedge, Sprengel's sedge, jack-in-the-pulpit, wood leek, large bellwort, false Solomon's seal, Solomon's seal, nodding trillium, carrion flower, wood nettle, wild ginger, columbine, kidneyleaf buttercup, tall meadowrue, bloodroot, yellow wood violet, pink wood violet, wild sarsaparilla, honewort, and waterleaf.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species: Extraneous species:

James River Floodplain Forest

Along the James River, floodplain forest is largely restricted to the portion of the valley that extends between Jamestown and Grand Rapids. This forest is dominated by American elm, box elder, and green ash, with occasional peachleaf willow along the river banks. In undisturbed areas a shrub understory is usually present that is composed of such species as Missouri gooseberry, black currant, buckthorn, and nannyberry.

The more common herbaceous plants include the following: Virginia wild rye, nodding muhly, Sprengel's sedge, false Solomon's seal, Solomon's seal, carrion flower, tall nettle, wild four-o-clock, baneberry, kidneyleaf buttercup, wormseed mustard, tall meadowrue, white evens, pink wood violet, sweet cicely, yellow wood parsnip, fringed loosestrife, wood stickseed, wild cucumber, giant goldenrod, lowland white aster, Jerusalem artichoke, and tall coneflower.

JPG -- Picture of a James River floodplain forest.

Plate 11. James River Floodplain Forest. Stutsman County, August 1975 (photo by John T. Lokemoen). The predominant overstory trees at this location include the American elm, box elder, and green ash, and the shrub understory is composed chiefly of Missouri gooseberry, black currant, buckthorn, and nannyberry. Breeding birds of frequent occurrence are represented by the Mallard, Wood Duck, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Black-billed Cuckoo, Great Horned Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-shafted Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Blue Jay, Common Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species: Extraneous species:

Mouse River Floodplain Forest

On the Northwestern Drift Plain, a narrow band of floodplain forest occurs along the Mouse and Des Lacs rivers within McHenry, Ward, and Renville Counties. This forest is largely dominated by American elm, box elder, and green ash. In general, this community closely resembles the James River floodplain forest insofar as species composition of the vegetation is concerned.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species: Secondary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Extraneous species:

Western River Floodplain Forest

Floodplain forests occur as bands along undisturbed portions of the Missouri River and its tributaries. Most of the mature stands, dominated by cottonwood, are representative of early successional stages. Locally, stands representing later successional stages are present and are dominated by American elm, box elder, and green ash. In general, the vegetation of the western floodplain forest is less variable and less luxuriant than the vegetation of the eastern floodplain forest.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Extraneous species:

Turtle Mountain Deciduous Forest

The forests on the Turtle Mountains are generally dominated by quaking aspen. Other deciduous trees are common associates including balsam poplar, paper birch, bur oak, and green ash. A well-developed shrub understory composed chiefly of beaked hazelnut is characteristic of most of these stands. Other shrubs or small trees that are locally common include willows, red raspberry, prickly rose, pin cherry, and highbush cranberry. Some of the more common herbaceous species on the forest floor include false lily-of-the-valley, early meadowrue, yellow evens, pink wood violet, wild sarsaparilla, dwarf cornel, pink wintergreen, and arrowleaf aster.

JPG -- Turtle Mountain deciduous forest.

Plate 12. Turtle Mountain Deciduous Forest. Bottineau County, August 1975 (photo by John T. Lokemoen). Quaking aspen is the predominant overstory tree in this stand and it is associated with bur oak and green ash. The shrub understory is composed chiefly of beaked hazelnut. Breeding birds of frequent occurrence include the Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Great Horned Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-shafted Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Common Crow, Veery, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary inrraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Extraneous species:

Northeastern Upland Deciduous Forest

This woodland community is best represented in the Pembina Hills of eastern Cavalier County, western Pembina County, and western Walsh County, and on the deltaic sand area of western Pembina County. Similar communities with a more limited fauna and flora also occur in the hills near the south shore of Devils Lake and along the shores of other permanent lakes within Benson, Ramsey, Nelson, Eddy, and Griggs Counties.

The forests are usually dominated by a mixture of deciduous trees including quaking aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, bur oak, American elm, box elder, basswood, and green ash. An understory is frequently present and is composed of shrubs and small trees including American hazelnut, beaked hazelnut, black currant, Missouri gooseberry, red raspberry, Saskatoon serviceberry, hawthorn, pin cherry, choke cherry, smooth sumac, downy arrowwood, and highbush cranberry. Numerous herbaceous species are characteristic of the forest floor. Some of the more common species include rattlesnake fern, nodding fescue, bottlebrush grass, Virginia wild rye, slender wedgegrass, nodding muhly, false Solomon's seal, false lily-of-the-valley, carrion flower, broad-leaved stitchwort, baneberry, wild strawberry, yellow evens, common blue violet, yellow wood violet, sweet cicely, yellow wood parsnip, cow parsnip, wood stickseed, and smooth blue aster.

JPG -- Picture of a Northeaster deciduous forest.

Plate 13. Northeastern Deciduous Forest. Cavalier County, August 1975 (photo by John T. Lokemoen). Bur oak is the predominant overstory tree in this area and it is associated with quaking aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, American elm, basswood, and green ash. Woody understory plants include beaked hazelnut, Saskatoon serviceberry, choke cherry, smooth sumac, downy arrowwood, and highbush cranberry. Breeding birds of frequent occurrence include the Red-tailed Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Common Crow, Veery, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Rufous-sided Towhee, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Extraneous species:

Southeastern Upland Deciduous Forest

Small tracts of this forest community are largely restricted to bluffs along the Sheyenne River in Richland, Ransom, Barnes, Griggs, Nelson, and Eddy Counties and also occur locally along the shores of permanent lakes in southwestern Richland County. Similar communities with a somewhat diluted biota occupy small local areas along bluffs of the James River in Stutsman County and LaMoure County; on north- or east-facing escarpments of the Missouri Coteau in Wells, Stutsman, LaMoure, and Dickey Counties; and along shores of a few permanent lakes in eastern Stutsman County and Barnes County.

A mixture of deciduous trees characterizes most of these stands. The principal species are quaking aspen, bur oak, hackberry, and green ash, and along the Sheyenne River bluffs, American elm, basswood and hop-hornbeam are common associates. Understory shrubs and herbaceous vegetation in general are composed of species similar to those occurring in the northeastern upland deciduous forest.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species: Extraneous species:

Western Upland Deciduous Forest

Small tracts of upland deciduous forest occur in the Southwestern Slope Region. These are situated on north- and east-facing escarpments or slopes of badlands and buttes in Dunn and McKenzie Counties and also occur locally on a few buttes and along river bluffs elsewhere in the region. The largest tract of this community, covering several hundred acres, is located on the Killdeer Mountains in northwestern Dunn County.

Bur oak and green ash are usually the chief dominant species of trees in these isolated western stands of deciduous forest. Locally, quaking aspen, paper birch, western black birch, and American elm are common associates. Characteristic plant species of the understory shrub layer and of the herbaceous vegetation of the forest floor correspond to those of the more eastern upland deciduous forests although generally they are less varied in terms of number of species represented.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Extraneous species:

Western Evergreen Forest

Scattered stands of western evergreen forest, usually quite restricted in area, are found in the southern portion of the Little Missouri Slope, particularly in the badlands of Billings, Golden Valley, Slope, and Bowman Counties. The largest tract of this forest community, occupying several hundred acres, is located in north-central Slope County in the badlands along the Little Missouri River. Elsewhere in the Southwestern Slope Region a few small somewhat atypical stands occur locally on north- or east-facing escarpments of badlands, buttes, and river bluffs. These are more limited in variety of species than the typical stands in the southern portion of the Little Missouri Slope.

The overstory of the more typical stands on the southern Little Missouri Slope are dominated by ponderosa pine or Rocky Mountain cedar or by a mixture of the two. In western Slope County, one very unique open stand is dominated by limber pine. Elsewhere, the small, isolated tracts of this community are composed chiefly of Rocky Mountain cedar. Deciduous species including bur oak and green ash are frequently associated with the evergreens in many evergreen forest communities. Species composition of the understory shrub layer differs from the understory of upland deciduous forests in that two evergreen species -- dwarf juniper and creeping juniper -- are generally more frequent. The herbaceous vegetation of the forest floor is often dominated by a dense growth of little ricegrass, and locally by bluebunch wheatgrass.

JPG -- Picture of a Western evergreen forest.

Plate 14. Western Evergreen Forest. Slope County, August 1975 (photo by John T. Lokemoen). Ponderosa pine is the predominant overstory tree in this areea and it is associated with scattered Rocky Mountain cedar, bur oak, and green ash. Dwarf juniper, creeping juniper, and skunk sumac are common in the shrub understory. Breeding birds of frequent occurrence include the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Poor-will, Black-billed Magpie, House Wren, Audubon's Warbler, Brown-headed Cowbird, Spotted Rufous-sided Towhee, and Chipping Sparrow.

Characteristic Breeding Birds

Primary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Secondary intraneous species (including well-marked subspecies): Extraneous species:
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