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The Rare Ones

JPG-Common merganser.


North Dakota's prairie potholes host an incredible abundance of plants and animals duplicated nowhere else in the nation. Some areas of the state contain as many as 100 wetland basins per square mile. Waterfowl, shorebirds, mammals, salamanders, frogs, and countless invertebrates abound in and around these prairie jewels.

Wetland variety includes the more common "pothole" or slough, sponge peat wetlands fed by springs, and wetlands saltier than the oceans. Each wetland type has its own complement of plants and animals.

North Dakota's wetlands should not be lost. Hundreds of thousands of acres are gone and many more are in grave danger. Draining, filling, damming, and plowing wetlands is a too common occurrence. We have already lost one-half the acreage we once had.

As wetlands are lost, so are their associated plants and animals. A list of the species that are declining as a result of wetland habitat loss, degradation, and disturbance follows.

Wetland Animals:


    Trumpeter Swan, Whooping Crane


    White-winged Scoter: This bird has not nested in North Dakota since the 1950s. Like the peregrine falcon, white-winged scoter eggs were prized by early egg collectors. During dry years, birds were especially vulnerabel to collecters and predators as their nesting islands were connected to the mainland in the large lakes in the Devils Lake region, the main breeding areas of the species. Because these birds like to nest on the ground on islands, an entire colony could have been eliminated in a short time. Perhaps in future years this scoter can be restored to some of its former breeding islands.

    Common Merganser: This species has not been known to nest in North Dakota since the early 1920s. This merganser nests in timber around large lakes where it feeds on minnows and young fish; it suffered greatly as water levels fell in Devils Lake and other areas during the drought of the 1930s. Like the white-winged scoter, the common merganser would make a good candidate for reintroduction into the state, now that water levels in former breeding areas have recovered.

    Sandhill Crane: Hunting by early settlers, habitat destruction, and egg collecting caused this species to be absent from the state as a breeding bird for nearly 60 years. The sandhill crane may return, however, because a pair nested at the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in Bottineau County in 1973, and areas in nearby Manitoba are being reoccupied. This bird likely could be successfully reintroduced as a nesting bird to North Dakota.

    JPG-Sandhill crane.

    It is confusing that some species we commonly hunt are listed as endangered in North Dakota. It is important to understand that we are concerned only with those birds that have nested in North Dakota and call them endangered if none or very few now breed here, even though they may be abundant at times as migrants. Hunting these migratory birds is an important management technique to regulate their populations.


    Piping Plover: This petite, sandy-colored shorebird nests on sand and pebble beaches of alkali lakes and on bare sandbars of the Missouri River. Its quaint peep-lo call and rapid movements are endearing to all who have an opportunity to see this threatened bird. Piping plovers are scarce in North Dakota, but the population here is probably the largest in the nation. Its nesting behavior makes it especially vulnerable to disturbance and habitat degradation.

    JPG-Piping plover.

    Yellow Rail: This small, shy bird is seldom seen. It lives a secretive existence in spring-fed boggy swales that are uncommon in the state. Many of these areas have been greatly degraded by siltation from agricultural fields. Habitat that the yellow rail prefers often lies near the bottom of large coulees. These coulees are often used as outlets for large drainage ditches.


    Common Loon, Cattle Egret, Cinnamon Teal, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Northern Waterthrush, Swamp Sparrow.


    Red-necked Grebe, Forster's Tern, Common Tern, Le Conte's Sparrow, Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Wetland Plants:



    Aster Family:

    Riddell's Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii): This species is known only from Richland County. It occurs in wet prairies, swamps, and ditches ranging from Ontario, Canada south to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri west to North Dakota.

    St. John's-wort Family:

    St. John's-wort (Hypericum boreale): This species was collected once in Richland County in a wet meadow with sandy soil, and represents the western limit of its range. It is known to occur from Ontario, Canada, south to northeastern United States.

    Sedge Family:

    Sedge (Carex capillaris var. elongata): This species is known from Bottineau and McHenry counties. It was collected in a boggy meadow in the Turtle Mountains and from a bog southwest of Towner. It is known to grow in boggy ground along lake shores and in wet rock crevices. It is found across Canada and extends south to New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Dakota.

    Sedge (Carex chordorrhiza): This species is known only from Bottineau County, found growing along the boundary of a bog. Sphagnum moss was common in the bog. The species is usually found growing in sphagnum bogs throughout its range. It is found across Canada and extends south to Maine, New York, Indiana, Iowa, and North Dakota.

    Sedge (Carex garberi): This species is known from Burke and McHenry counties, where it grows in seepage areas along bogs. It is usually associated with wet limey soils. The range of this sedge is from north-central Alaska, northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick south to British Columbia, North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Maine.

    Sedge (Carex gynocrates): This species is known from only McHenry County. It was found growing in a bog southwest of Towner. It grows in peaty soils and sphagnum bogs. Its range includes Siberia and northern North America and extends south to North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and British Columbia.

    Sedge (Carex limosa): Bogs and sedge meadows in Bottineau and McHenry counties are home to this species. It usually grows in bogs throughout its range. This plant is found in Canada and northeast United States.

    Sedge (Cared simulata): This species is known only from McHenry County. It is found in a thicket below a spring. The usual habitat for the species throughout its range is swampy ground. Its range is from Washington to southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to California, New Mexico, Colorado and North Dakota.

    Sedge (Carex muricata var. sterilis): This species is known from only McHenry County. It was found growing in a fen southwest of Towner. Habitat ranges from swampy woods, wet meadows, shores to bogs. It ranges from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan south to North Dakota, IIlinois, and New Jersey.

    Cyperus (Cyperus engelmannii): This species is only known from Stutsman County. It was collected near Jamestown in 1898 and has not been collected since that time. Habitat is damp or wet soil along streams, ponds or lakes. Its distribution is Massachusetts to North Dakota, south to Missouri and Virginia.

    Beak-rush (Rhynchospora capillacea): This species is known from Bottineau and McHenry counties. It is found in peatlands fed by nutrient rich groundwater. Usual habitats are swamps, bogs, and shorelines. It is distributed from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan, south to Missouri, Virginia, and Tennessee.

    Rush Family:

    Rush (Juncus brachycephalus): This species is only known from a fen in McHenry County. Usual habitats are calcium rich marshes, meadows, and shores. It ranges from Ontario to Quebec south to North Dakota, Illinois, Ohio, and New Jersey. Rush (Juncus brevicaudatus): This plant is known from Bottineau and McHenry counties. It grows along Lake Metigoshe and in peatlands near Towner. Usual habitats are marshes, wet meadows, and shorelines. The distribution is from Quebec and Nova Scotia to western Ontario and North Dakota, south to Massachusetts, New York, and West Virginia.

    Orchid Family:

    Prairie Fringed Orchis (Habenaria leucophaea): This species is known to occur in Cass, Ransom, and Richland counties, where it is found in low prairie meadows. It has been considered for national endangered species status. Populations in North Dakota are probably the largest of any known. It is distributed from North Dakota, Minnesota, southern Ontario and Quebec south to Kansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio, central New York, and Maine.

    Cottonwood or Willow Family:

    Willow (Salix rnaccalliana): This species is only known from a bog in Bottineau County. It occurs from Quebec to Alberta south to North Dakota and southern British Columbia in swamps and bogs.

    Grass Family:

    Pull-up Muhly (Muhlenbergia filiformis): This species is known only from Burke County, where it grows in peatland along the east and west shores of Smishek Lake. It is known from open woods and meadows from British Columbia south to Kansas, New Mexico ant California.

    Scheuchzeria Family:

    Scheuchzeria (Scheuchzeria palustris): This species grows along a bog margin in Bottineau County. The plant is found in Canada and extends south to New Jersey, Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, and California.


    Sweet Flag (Acorus americanus), Wild Calla (Calla palustris), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Tarweed (Madia glomerata), Petasites (Petasitesfrigidus), Marsh Bellflower (Campanula aparinoides), Sedge (Carex athrostachya), Sedge (Carex buxbaumii), Sedge (Carex diandra), Sedge (Carex disperma), Sedge (Carex haydenii), Sedge (Carex nebraskensis), Sedge (Carex pseudocyperus), Low Flatsedge (Cyperus diandrus), Brook Flatsedge (Cyperus rivularis), Spikesedge (Eleocharis parvula), Spikesedge (Eleocharis pauciflora), Spikesedge (Eleocharis wolfii), Cottongrass (Eriophorum chamissonis), Cottongrass (Eriophorum viridicarinatum), Drummond Hernicarpha (Hemicarpha drummondii), Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), Waterwort (Elatine triandra), Horsetail (Equisetum palustre), Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinata), Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), Rush (Juncus vaseyi), Astragalus (Astragalus neglectus), Purple-leaved Willow Herb (Epilobium coloratum), Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae), Hooded Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), Mild Water Pepper (Polygonurn hydropiperoides), Water Smartweed (Polygonum punctatum), Polygonum (Polygonum sagittatum), Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris), Primrose (Primula incana), Mousetail (Myosurus aristatus), Buttercup (Rananculus flammula), Purple Avens (Geum rivale), Cinquefoil (Potentilla diversifolia), Cinquefoil (Potenalla palustris), Bedstraw (Galium labradoricum), Willow (Salix pedicellaris), Bishop's Cap (Mitella nuda), Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia parviflora), Viola (Viola incognita).

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