Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
|Description: Big Stone NWR is located along the Minnesota River near the South Dakota border. Straddling the headwaters of the Minnesota River in extreme west-central Minnesota, Big Stone NWR is within the heart of the tallgrass prairie's historic range.|
Today, less than one-percent of tallgrass prairie remains. Big Stone Refuge is a prairie oasis by working to maintain and restore native prairie habitat while providing optimum nesting cover for waterfowl and other grassland nesting birds. The refuge has been designated as a Globally Important Bird Area, supporting Eastern Prairie Population Canada geese, high waterfowl numbers, and large numbers of least sandpipers, pectoral sandpipers, and stilt sandpipers. The refuge is a key stopover for migrating shorebirds.
The reservoir and surrounding land offer a variety of habitats, including native prairie, floodplain forest, wetlands and granite rock outcrops. A six-mile auto tour route traverses through upland and wetland habitat offering visitors panoramic views of the Minnesota River Valley and northern tallgrass prairie habitats. It also winds through a system of granite outcrops located near the Minnesota River that may be one of the most interesting habitats on the refuge. Unique features include the lichen-covered granite outcrops for which the refuge was named and nearly 2,000 acres of native tallgrass prairie. Many people are surprised to encounter cactus in Minnesota, but prickly pear and ball cactus occur on the refuge.
Wildlife to Watch: Wildlife viewing and photography opportunities abound at the refuge. During spring and fall migration, 17 species of ducks and 23 species of shorebirds can be seen in and around the refuge. Some of the most common waterfowl species to be seen include mallard, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, and Canada geese. Abundant shorebirds include least and semipalmated sandpipers and lesser yellowlegs. Many birds breed and nest on the refuge throughout the summer. Snowy plovers nested on the refuge in 2007; a first for Minnesota.
From the auto tour route, you get a good view of colonial waterbirds such as herons, egrets, pelicans and grebes. You might see bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, bobolinks, yellow warblers, dicksissels, and common nighthawks. Secretive birds like the American bittern establish breeding territories within the refuge's wetland habitats. The hiking trail features several species of songbirds, small mammals, and skinks. Other animals to look for include white-tailed deer, butterflies, muskrats, beaver, and the playful river otter.
Special Tips: Wildlife viewing opportunities are better during the morning or evening hours, when animals are most active. A bird list is available at the refuge's headquarters. The high outcrops provide excellent views of large portions of the refuge and its wildlife residents. Walking conditions can be difficult and rocky areas may be slippery in the early morning or after a rain shower. Stay on established trails. Some hiking trails may be temporarily closed for management and safety purposes. Contact the Refuge for details.
Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Size: 11,586 acres
Closest Town: Odessa
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: