buffalo in the field
big horn sheep
Wild horses

View North Dakota's Wondrous Wildlife

With more wildlife refuges than any other state, North Dakota is the place for animal lovers.

In North Dakota, you really can see where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope (and the elk and the moose) play - and the eagles soar. North Dakota is a dream come true for wildlife enthusiasts. Get up close (well not too close) and personal with the wildlife in North Dakota.

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Watchable Wildlife


North American Bison

The North American Bison is commonly known as a Buffalo, or an American Buffalo (buffalo is merely a nickname, there are not two different species, buffalo are bison). Bison are an important part of the history of the great plains of the United States. Long before the first settlers arrived in the area, Native Americans hunted bison. Fundamental to tribal culture and survival, they used every part of the bison for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. The bison was named the national mammal in 2016 for their historical, cultural and economic importance to the country.

Viewing Tips

Bison are most active in the early morning near sunrise. Look for them in or near prairie dog towns where they find a continual supply of new grass shoots and can wallow in the loose soil. Bison are wild animals and can be dangerous if provoked. They can run up to 35 miles per hour and spin around faster than a horse. Always view them at a distance and give them the right-of-way if encountered on a trail or the road.

Best Places to See


Moose are the largest member of the deer family. Sometimes appearing ungainly due to their large size, they have been clocked at speeds of up to 33 mph. The population of moose in North Dakota has been expanding since the 1950’s when the animals reappeared on the landscape. There are likely more moose in North Dakota today than when Lewis and Clark traveled through the state in 1804-06.

Viewing Tips

Most active at dawn and dusk. Moose can be found in the prairie where forested river bottoms and tree rows provide cover. Cows typically are accompanied by calves, and outside of the breeding season, males are alone or in small bachelor groups. Remember that moose are wild animal and should only be observed from a distance. Never approach a moose in an urban or rural setting. Do not feed moose, either by putting out food for them, or trying to feed them directly.

Best Places to See
  • In the wild: River Bottom and wooded landscapes along the Canadian Border, State Forests (Turtle Mountain, Mouse River, Tetrault Woods)


Elk are large mammals averaging 700 pounds for bulls and 500 pounds for cows. Elk are the second largest member of the deer family, with Moose being the largest. Males have antlers which are shed and are re-grown each year. Elk were deeply imbedded in Native American culture. The Lakota gave an Elk tooth to newborn male children to promote longevity.

Viewing Tips

Most active at dawn and dusk. The cows are usually in groups of 10 or more, and outside the breeding season males are alone or in small bachelor groups. They can be found in numbers across the Little Missouri National Grasslands, Killdeer Mountain area, and in Cavalier County in northeastern North Dakota.

Best Places to See

Pronghorn Antelope

Reaching speeds of more than 40 miles per hour, pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in North America. Pronghorns migrate 44 miles on average from summer to winter range and have been documented to travel as far as 157 miles.

Viewing Tips

Most active at dawn and dusk, but can frequently be seen out in the open throughout the day. Female does are typically in groups of 10 or more, and outside of the breeding season, males are usually in small bachelor groups. Primary range is in the extreme southwestern part of the state (Bowman and Slope counties), they are uncommon with diminishing numbers north and east of the Missouri River.

Best Places to See

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep are the rarest big game species in North Dakota. The total population in North Dakota is around 500 animals, which represents the largest population in the area in at least 150 years. Bighorn sheep were first recorded for science by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 along the Yellowstone River in what is now North Dakota. The head of a mature ram accounts for 12 percent of its total body weight. Rams can exert a force three times their body weight while clashing and flexing their dominance.

Viewing Tips

Bighorn sheep are found only in steep badlands terrain along the Little Missouri River and are mostly found around the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Sheep are most active during the day while foraging, and bed near exposed escape terrain. Ewes (females) and lambs (young) are usually in groups of 10 or more and outside of the breeding season, rams (males) are typically in bachelor groups and form no permanent bonds to ewes. Rams typically migrate to home ranges of ewes in mid-October, with the rut (breeding season) peaking during November through early December.

Best Places to See

Wild Horses

A large group of feral horses live in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Although the animals are not native to the prairie ecosystem, they represent the ranching industry which brought Theodore Roosevelt to the Dakota Badlands. The presence of the horse on the northern plains greatly changed the social landscape of the plains Indians. The acquisition of the horse changed their culture from pedestrian hunter-gatherers to mounted buffalo hunters and warriors.

A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals and a few small bands of horses eluded capture and went unclaimed. These horses continued to live free-range in the park and are the ancestors of the horses that roam freely in the park today. The unowned, untamed bands of horses on the Great Plains were (and are) commonly referred to as wild; the correct designation of these animals is "feral," as they are descended from domesticated animals.

Viewing Tips

Bands of horses may be seen grazing on the upland plateaus in the southeast section of the park, where they can enjoy the cooling winds and lush grasses. They are often seen along the southeastern park boundary along Interstate 94. Herds can also be spotted from the Painted Canyon Overlook or from the top of Buck Hill and along the eastern loop road between mile marker 16 and Buck Hill.

Best Places to See

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles have become more abundant in North Dakota over the past 15-20 years. Adult Bald Eagles have white heads and tails with dark brown bodies and wings. They are migratory birds best viewed in the summer months. Eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Viewing Tips

Always view eagles and their nesting sites from a distance. Human activity such as research activities, noise, agricultural or construction activities, or the mere presence of humans may agitate nesting eagles if the disturbance is close (less than 330 ft.) Bald Eagles are found in key nesting areas along the Missouri River system including Lake Sakakawea, the Heart River, Cannonball River, Sheyenne River, Red River, Souris River, and the Devils Lake basin.

Best Places to See

Wildlife Viewing Links

National Wildlife Refuges 

North Dakota has 63 wildlife refuges – more than any other state in the nation  – and most offer visitors services. Following are just a sampling of some of North Dakota's site to enjoy nature at its finest. Find them all online here.

  • Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge: Rolling hills mantled in short-grass and mixed grass prairie interspersed with numerous wetlands in the highly productive prairie pothole region that produces more ducks than any other region in the lower 48 states.
  • Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge: Made up of lakes, marshes, prairie grasslands, wooded coulees and cultivated fields. Managed primarily to attract waterfowl during migration periods, but also contains excellent habitat for ducks, geese, grebes and shore birds, along with many other forms of wildlife.
  • Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Established as one of the country's first wildlife refuges in 1908 by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt. An important habitat for the native American White Pelican.
  • Audubon National Wildlife Refuge: Thousands of waterfowl, sandhill cranes and shorebirds pass through the refuge during spring and fall migration. The refuge is home to 243 bird, mammal, five reptile, four amphibian and 37 fish species.
  • Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge: Offers many recreational opportunities for people who love the outdoors. Activities to enjoy include hunting, fishing, bird watching and wildlife photography.