The coordinates shown is for a point near where the main Pembina Gorge and Little Pembina Gorge come together.
The Pembina Gorge is a spectacular valley created after the last glaciation as the Pembina River and the Little Pembina River eroded through glacial till and underlying beds of shale. The Pembina Escarpment continues southward into Walsh County. The area is mostly forested and its primary use is recreational.

Ornithological Summary

The Pembina Valley Hawk Watch at Windygates, Manitoba  (98° 16' 42") has been conducted in Spring for several years. This count, located about two miles north of the North Dakota/Manitoba border has documented the heavy use of the Pembina Gorge area by northbound hawks. Year 2014 is the 10th year this count has been conducted and 17 species have been recorded. The watch is conducted from mid-Feb thru mid-May.  There can be no doubt that the raptors seen on this count are coming from North Dakota.

Data for this count can be accessed at 

The average spring total for each species is as follows:

Turkey Vulture 126

Osprey 46

Bald Eagle 1046

Northern Harrier 108

Sharp-shinned Hawk 561

Cooper's Hawk 57

Northern Goshawk 28

Broad-winged Hawk 230

Red-tailed Hawk 6487

Rough-legged Hawk 43

Swainson's Hawk 25

Ferruginous Hawk 1

Golden Eagle 70

American Kestrel 17

Merlin 32

Peregrine Falcon 38

Gyrfalcon -- seen occasionally

Several nesting woodland birds that otherwise are generally rare within North Dakota are found regularly in Pembina Gorge. These include American Woodcock, Alder Flycatcher, and Orange-crowned Warbler. In 1981, Faanes and Andrews (see below) found the first North Record for nesting Golden-winged Warbler.

Stewart (Breeding Birds of North Dakota, 1975, p. 33) lists 14 species as Primary intraneous species: Red-tailed Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Common Crow, Veery, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, and Clay-colored Sparrow.

In addition to the primary breeding species listed above, Stewart (page 33) lists 33 additional species as Secondary intraneous species. These are: Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Mourning Dove, Black-billed Cuckoo, Great Horned Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-shafted Flicker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Breown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-throated Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Mourning Warbler, Brown-headed Cowbird, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow.

I (Dave Lambeth) would modify Stewart's list by replacing Willow Flycatcher with Alder Flycatcher, and adding American Woodcock. Philadelphia Vireo is at best very rare. Otherwise I believe the list is still valid today. 

Approximately a dozen species of warblers nest in the gorge. The only other places with this kind of warbler diversity are the Turtle Mountains and the Pembina Sandhills.

In a month-long census of nesting season birds in 1981, Faanes and Andrews found evidence for nesting by 57 species with observations of 22 species that probably nest. Because the habitat of the Gorge has changed little since 1981, there findings remain relevant. Their work is the definitive study of species present in the nesting season:

Faanes, Craig A. and Jonathan M. Andrew.  1983.  Avian use of forest habitats in the Pembina Hills of northeastern North Dakota.   Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.   Resource Publication 151. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. (Version 01SEP1998).

In their work, Faanes included a study of which bird species were associated with each of the five woodland habitats. An annotated checklist of species that includes relevant observations by others is included in their report.

Conservation Issues

Most of the two gorges are in a natural state although there is an increase in trails for snowmobiles, ATVs, and mountain bikes. The State Recreation Area with the backing of local economic interests is seeking to expand the trail system for motorized vehicles in all seasons of the year. The concerns are that the gorges are highly erodible and motorized vehicles are particularly disturbing to nesting birds.

There once was a proposal to install a dam, on the Pembina River that would have flooded the gorge. The threat is that this proposal could resurface. There has been extensive invasion of the gorge by leafy spurge.

A potential threat is the location of wind towers along the Pembina Escarpment.


Considerable portions of Pembina Gorge and Little North Pembina Gorge are owned and managed by North Dakota Game and Fish. Some privately owned tracts are enrolled in the PLOTS program. The Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area is managed by North Dakota Parks, and includes a 12-mile looped trail. 


The Pembina Gorge consists of approximately 12,500 acres of relatively unbroken woodland. The most common habitat is bur oak (<em>Quercus macrocarpa</em>) forest. Four additional habitats are&nbsp;quaking aspen (<em>Populus tremuloides</em>) forest, lowland forest, willow (<em>Salix</em> sp.) shrub, and serviceberry (<em>Amelanchier alnifolia</em>) thickets.&nbsp;&nbsp;Oak habitat&nbsp;predominates&nbsp;on west and south facing slopes whereas&nbsp;east facing slopes have more aspen and birch. The gorge was created by the erosion of soft marine shales by the Pembina River.The Pembina Escarpment forms the boundary between the drift prairie to the west and the Red River Valley to the east.Stewart (Breeding Birds of North Dakota, 1975) describes "Northeastern Upland Deciduous Forest" as follows:"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. 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."Brushy wet draws and the shoreline of the permanent streams (Pembina River, etc.) are&nbsp;an important component and hosts such species as Alder Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush, and Mourning Warbler.

Land Use

Land within the gorge has been primarily recreational in nature: ATVs, snowmobiles, mountain biking, hunting, birding, and canoeing. Grazing by domestic animals has been minimal. Removal of trees has also been minimal, perhaps due to inaccessibility by heavy equipment.

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