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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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all migration starts early at Sand Lake in South Dakota as post-nesting birds assemble. Birders can see concentrations of Franklin's Gulls building to one-half million, a quarter-million Mallards, 12,000 American White Pelicans, and many grebes, coots and ducks. By October, Arctic-nesting Snow Geese amass to one million strong, and Tundra Swans may number 5,000 by the end of the month. Eagles follow the waterfowl, and may number as many as 100 during peak concentration periods from mid-October to freezeup -- usually about the second week in November.

Although waterfowl are the dominant birds that attract people to Sand Lake, the grasslands abound with species, including the state bird, Ring-necked Pheasant.

Birders can enjoy good views of Ring-necked Pheasants, the state bird, plus a variety of sparrows, buntings, Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks. Ferruginous and Swainson's Hawks can be seen hunting grassland rodents throughout the summer and early fall, along with more common Redtails, Northern Harriers and American Kestrels. Shorebirds assemble when dry water conditions in the surrounding prairie potholes provide mudflats and open shorelines.

The sights and sounds of millions of birds on the move will provide a memorable fall birding experience for anyone. Access is not convenient, but it is worth the extra effort of flying to Aberdeen from Minneapolis and renting a car to explore the rural landscape of northeast South Dakota. Contact Sand Lake NWR (605) 885-6320.

View a Bird Checklist for this region:

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