The Pembina Sandhills is a deltaic sand area in western Pembina County. It includes extensive sand dunes that are now vegetated. Today the prime example of this habitat is found in the Jay Wessels Wildlife Management Areas (3382 acres) that are administered by North Dakota Game and Fish. Private lands include both parcels of native woodland and others that have been converted to cropland.

Ornithological Summary

Notable species that prefer the habitat of the Pembina Sandhills include Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Duck, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Saw-whet Owl (may nest), American Woodcock, Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Common Raven, Veery, Purple Finch, Eastern Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Mourning Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Baltimore Oriole.

The only state record for nesting Nashville Warbler occurred here.

Stewart (Breeding Birds of North Dakota, 1975) lists "Characteristic Breeding Birds" of the "Northeastern Upland Forest" as follows: 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 (Rufous-sided) Towhee, and Clay-colored Sparrow. SECONDARY INTRANEOUS SPECIES: 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. 

Conservation Issues

For the most part this area has been stable in terms of land use and agricultural practices. Growing of corn is now being tried on some ag fields. The number of homesteads is stable or decreasing. Several large tracts (10 acres or more) have been planted in conifers and some of these are reaching maturity. Areas in grass are being invaded by conifers and deciduous trees in several instances. Grazing of forest by cattle has decreased over time, and the amount of browsing by deer varies with their overall numbers.


The Jay Wessels WMA covers 3,382 acres.


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."There are areas where the aspen or poplar forest is flooded for weeks at a time. Brushy wet draws are also an important component and hosts such species as Alder Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush, and Mourning Warbler.A number of plantations of pine and spruce are reaching maturity as of 2013. This has surely provided and opportunity for additional species to become established, but this has not been studied in any systematic way.

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