Sullys Hill is located on the south shore of Devils Lake near Fort Totten and the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. It is situated on glacial hills formed by ice thrusting during the last glacial period. Habitats within include forest, high prairie, and various wetlands. The refuge overlooks a major portion of Devils Lake to the north.
The species listed with specific numbers and dates of observation were provided by Bethany Walters, a graduate student in the Department of Biology at the University of North Dakota. She made systematic point surveys of the Preserve during the breeding seasons in 2012 and 2013, from about May 20 to July 7.
The data (species, dates, numbers) supporting this nomination is narrowly focused on a part of the nesting season. Of the species listed, the following 21 best reveal the quality of the forest at Sully's Hill as these are species not generally found in planted landscapes (such as shelterbelts, urban settings): Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Broad-winged Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker (arrived about 1981), Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown Creeper, Veery, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Towhee, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
This relatively short list is not to discount the diversity of breeding species using other habitats within the reserve, or the number that use the Preserve during migration. The USFWS in their various publications state that between 250 and 275 species of birds use the Preserve annually.
In addition to the 20 species with strong woodland affinities list above, the following species likely breed within the Preserve when the South Unit is included: Wood Duck, Wild Turkey, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Common Nighthawk, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch
It is interesting to look at the following groupings of species:
Warbler species that definitely breed on the refuge are Black-and-White, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow Warbler. Vireo species that breed here include Red-eyed, Warbling, and Yellow-throated.
The Preserve has a diverse group of Emberizine species in summer that includes Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and Song Sparrow. There is at least the occasional record for Nelson's Sparrow.
Based on habitat, occasional breeding season occurrence, and/or nearby breeding range, several species could breed within the Preserve including Bufflehead (Beth Walters knew of a nest in a tree cavity that was later abandoned), Green Heron (several summertime observations), Osprey (someday this species will discover ND as a breeding area), Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk (bird on territory for weeks in 1998, Dave Lambeth and Peder Svingen), American Kestrel, Merlin, American Woodcock, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (heard several times by Beth Walters in Summer 2013), Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker (heard more than once in 2012), Swainson's Thrush, Sprague's Pipit, Alder Flycatcher, and Chestnut-sided Warbler.
On page 58 of their Comprehensive Conservation Plan, USFWS lists red-eyed vireo, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, eastern wood pewee, ovenbird and least flycatcher as the most frequently detected woodland species recorded during baseline surveys. The most frequently detected grassland birds are bobolink, grasshopper sparrow, and clay-colored sparrow.
As long as the Preserve is under management of the USFWS, and is adequately funded, it will be protected from some of the usual threats such as deforestation, grassland conversion, and degradation of wetlands.
The main threats will be from invasion by exotic species and climate change. On the immediate horizon is the expected, widespread, loss of green ash as the emerald ash borer spreads westward.
There inherently is some tension between optimal management of the Preserve for large game animals and its use by resident, migrant, and breeding birds. Grazing animals prevent forest regeneration. Fortunately some of the woodland is outside of the fenced area that contains elk and bison within, however, the exclosure is still vulnerable to white-tailed deer.
Natural Events is listed as a threat because of ongoing climate change. Flooding by rising waters of Devils Lake is encroaching on some of the refuge, but in the future, drought could become an issue.
The Preserve is part of the Devils Lake Wetland Management District Complex that is headquartered in the City of Devils Lake.
The longterm mission has been to provide habitat and protection to large, native, grazing animals. Conservation of birds has been a secondary outcome. Increasingly the mission is to provide environmental education and awareness in various ways.