Turtle River State Park is located on the Turtle River in central Grand Forks County. Habitats include a variety of native woodlands, native prairie, and an oxbow lake.

Ornithological Summary

Turtle River State Park provides native woodland habitat for birds. Such habitat is rare in North Dakota, making up less than one percent of the total. In central eastern North Dakota, Turtle River State Park is the go-to place to find a number nesting woodland species. Several eastern North American species are near the western limit of their range.

Nesting species with woodland affinities that are local in distribution in North Dakota include Broad-winged Hawk, American Woodcock, Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Screech-Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Black-and-White Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Veery, and Northern Waterthrush are examples of species that may nest at least occasionally.

Stewart (Breeding Birds of North Dakota, 1975) lists primary intraneous species of "Eastern River Floodplain Forest" as Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Great Horned Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-shafted Flicker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Blue Jay, Common Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting.

Secondary intraneous species are Sharp-shinned Hawk, Mourning Dove, Screech Owl, Barred Owl, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, House Wren, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Veery, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Song Sparrow.

Of these species listed by Stewart, there are no records for Barred Owl for the park, and Sharp-shinned Hawk is not known to be present in the nesting season. The nesting status of Chimney Swift is uncertain.

Clay-colored Sparrow is particularly abundant within the park.

Nest boxes are provided for Purple Martin, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Duck, and Eastern Screech-Owl.

The oxbow marsh provides habitat for nesting Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, and Ruddy Duck. Pied-billed Grebe and Yellow-headed Blackbird also nest there.

The only Grand Forks County record for Kentucky Warbler was heard singing May 23, 2010, by Ron Martin and was subsequently observed by many birders.

The park is a regular stopover for Whip-poor-will.

Conservation Issues

As is usually the case, park management strives to balance human uses against goals of preserving our natural heritage.

There needs to be a willingness of the state government to provide adequate funding devoted to preserving the natural heritage of the park. This includes combatting invasive species, and using controlled burns to maintain the prairies.


Native woodlands are composed of both upland and bottomland forest, with mixed stands of bur oak, green ash, American elm, cottonwood, box elder, basswood, and aspen. A large wetland with open water ringed by cattail is oxbow located near the entrance to the park. There is considerable native prairie that contains several tallgrass species and a variety of forbs.

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