USGS - science for a changing world

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

  Home About NPWRC Our Science Staff Employment Contacts Common Questions About the Site

Marshbirds and Shorebirds of North Dakota


The terms 'marshbirds' and 'shorebirds' encompass two large, yet selective, groups of birds that inhabit wetlands, mud flats, and sandy shores. American ornithologists have separated the two groups mainly on habitat preference.

Marshbirds tend to live or breed in a wide variety of wetlands. These areas consist of treeless wet tracts of sedges, cattails, and other herbaceous wetland plants. They can also be found in swamps where the land is water-saturated and dominated by trees and shrubs. The following families are considered marshbirds: Heron family; Stork family; Crane family; Limpkin family; Flamingo family; and Rail family. Members representing the Heron, Crane, and Rail families can be found in North Dakota. Another family of birds, the grebes, nest in North Dakota's marshes and wetlands. Even though unrelated to marshbirds, grebes will be included with this group due to their habitat preference.

Shorebirds have long legs, either long or short pointed bills, and are usually found along mud flats and sandy shorelines of lakes, rivers, and alkali wetlands. Members of this large group include plovers, sandpipers, yellowlegs, dowitchers, godwits, avocets, and phalaropes. Many species of shorebirds migrate a great distance from, their wintering grounds in South America to their nesting grounds in the arctic. Thus, many shorebirds are observed in North Dakota only in spring and fall during seasonal migrations. Another group of birds that are associated with marshes, wetlands, and alkali lakes are the terns and gulls. Terns and gulls are distant relatives of shorebirds and are often observed together foraging for food. Because of these reasons, terns and gulls will be grouped with the shorebirds.

When it comes to identifying these birds in the field, marshbirds are much easier to identify than shorebirds. Marshbirds are frequently observed in pairs or singly. Shorebirds usually flock into groups of ten or more. Marshbirds have characteristic plumage patterns and colors that make them easier to identify. Shorebirds can be much more difficult to identify. For example, there are ten different species of sandpipers that are similar in appearance and may be the most difficult of all birds to identify. It is recommended that you invest in a good field guide that shows breeding, winter, and juvenile plumage characteristics for all species of birds. Binoculars are also a must if you want to correctly identify these birds since many of them are small and wary of intruders.

The following map illustrates the geographical regions and major National Wildlife Refuges located in North Dakota. The geographical regions and wildlife refuges correspond with viewing areas listed throughout the brochure. The following map will aid in locating these areas and should increase your chances of viewing marshbirds and shorebirds.

Return to Contents
Next Section -- Herons and Bitterns (Family Ardeidae)

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Webmaster
Page Last Modified: Friday, 01-Feb-2013 19:35:36 EST
Sioux Falls, SD [sdww55]