This list of birds of North Dakota includes every wild bird species recorded in the U.S. state of North Dakota and is based on the list published by the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.
Only birds that are considered to have established, self-sustaining, wild populations in North Dakota are included in this list. This means that birds that are considered probable escapees, although they may have been sighted flying free in North Dakota, are not included.
This list is presented in taxonomic order and follows The Check-list of North American Birds (7th edition, 1998) published by the American Ornithologists’ Union. The family accounts at the beginning of each heading reflect this taxonomy, as do the species counts found in each family account.
The following codes are used to designate some species:
Order: Anseriformes Family: Anatidae
The family Anatidae includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These birds are adapted to an aquatic existence with webbed feet, bills which are flattened to a greater or lesser extent, and feathers that are excellent at shedding water due to special oils. There are 36 North Dakota species.
Order: Galliformes Family: Phasianidae
Phasianidae consists of the pheasants and their allies. These are terrestrial species, variable in size but generally plump with broad relatively short wings. Many species are gamebirds or have been domesticated as a food source for humans. There are eight North Dakota species.
Order: Gaviiformes Family: Gaviidae
Loons are aquatic birds the size of a large duck, to which they are unrelated. Their plumage is largely gray or black, and they have spear-shaped bills. Loons swim well and fly adequately, but are almost hopeless on land, because their legs are placed towards the rear of the body. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Podicipediformes Family: Podicipedidae
Grebes are small to medium-large freshwater diving birds. They have lobed toes and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, they have their feet placed far back on the body, making them quite ungainly on land. There are five North Dakota species.
Order: Suliformes Family: Phalacrocoracidae
Cormorants are medium-to-large aquatic birds, usually with mainly dark plumage and areas of colored skin on the face. The bill is long, thin and sharply hooked. Their feet are four-toed and webbed, a distinguishing feature among the Pelecaniformes order. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Pelecaniformes Family: Pelecanidae
Pelicans are very large water birds with a distinctive pouch under their beak. Like other birds in the order Pelecaniformes, they have four webbed toes. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Pelecaniformes Family: Ardeidae
The family Ardeidae contains the herons, egrets and bitterns. Herons and egrets are medium to large wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more secretive. Members of Ardeidae fly with their necks retracted, unlike other long-necked birds such as storks, ibises and spoonbills. There are 11 North Dakota species.
Order: Pelecaniformes Family: Threskiornithidae
The family Threskiornithidae includes the ibises and spoonbills. They have long, broad wings. Their bodies tend to be elongated, the neck more so, with rather long legs. The bill is also long, decurved in the case of the ibises, straight and distinctively flattened in the spoonbills. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Ciconiiformes Family: Ciconiidae
Storks are large, heavy, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long stout bills and wide wingspans. They lack the powder down that other wading birds such as herons, spoonbills and ibises use to clean off fish slime. Storks lack a pharynx and are mute. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Cathartiformes Family: Cathartidae
The New World vultures are not closely related to Old World vultures, but superficially resemble them because of convergent evolution. Like the Old World vultures, they are scavengers, however, unlike Old World vultures, which find carcasses by sight, New World vultures have a good sense of smell with which they locate carcasses. There is one North Dakota species
Order: Accipitriformes Family: Pandionidae
Order: Accipitriformes Family: Accipitridae
Accipitridae is a family of birds of prey, which includes hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and Old World vultures. These birds have very large powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, powerful talons and keen eyesight. There are 13 North Dakota species.
Order: Falconiformes Family: Falconidae
Falconidae is a family of diurnal birds of prey, notably the falcons and caracaras. They differ from hawks, eagles and kites in that they kill with their beaks instead of their talons. There are five North Dakota species.
Order: Gruiformes Family: Rallidae
Rallidae is a large family of small to medium-sized birds which includes the rails, crakes, coots and gallinules. The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps or rivers. In general they are shy and secretive birds, making them difficult to observe. Most species have strong legs and long toes which are well adapted to soft uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and tend to be weak fliers. There are five North Dakota species.
Order: Gruiformes Family: Gruidae
Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds. Unlike the similar-looking but unrelated herons, cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back. Most have elaborate and noisy courting displays or “dances”. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Charadriiformes Family: Charadriidae
The family Charadriidae includes the plovers, dotterels and lapwings. They are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies, short, thick necks and long, usually pointed, wings. They are found in open country worldwide, mostly in habitats near water. There are six North Dakota species.
Order: Charadriiformes Family: Recurvirostridae
Recurvirostridae is a family of large wading birds, which includes the avocets and stilts. The avocets have long legs and long up-curved bills. The stilts have extremely long legs and long, thin, straight bills. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Charadriiformes Family: Scolopacidae
Scolopacidae is a large diverse family of small to medium-sized shorebirds including the sandpipers, curlews, godwits, shanks, tattlers, woodcocks, snipes, dowitchers and phalaropes. The majority of these species eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. Different lengths of legs and bills enable multiple species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food. There are 32 North Dakota species.
Order: Charadriiformes Family: Laridae
Laridae is a family of medium to large seabirds and includes gulls, terns, kittiwakes and skimmers. They are typically gray or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet. There are 16 North Dakota species.
Order: Charadriiformes Family: Stercorariidae
Order: Columbiformes Family: Columbidae
Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks and short slender bills with a fleshy cere. There are four North Dakota species.
Order: Cuculiformes Family: Cuculidae
The family Cuculidae includes cuckoos, roadrunners and anis. These birds are of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Strigiformes Family: Tytonidae
Barn owls are medium to large owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long strong legs with powerful talons. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Strigiformes Family: Strigidae
Typical owls are small to large solitary nocturnal birds of prey. They have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak and a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called a facial disk. There are 11 North Dakota species.
Order: Caprimulgiformes Family: Caprimulgidae
Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds that usually nest on the ground. They have long wings, short legs and very short bills. Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically colored to resemble bark or leaves. There are three North Dakota species.
Order: Apodiformes Family: Apodidae
The swifts are small birds which spend the majority of their lives flying. These birds have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead only on vertical surfaces. Many swifts have very long, swept-back wings which resemble a crescent or boomerang. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Apodiformes Family: Trochilidae
Hummingbirds are small birds capable of hovering in mid-air due to the rapid flapping of their wings. They are the only birds that can fly backwards. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Coraciiformes Family: Alcedinidae
Kingfishers are medium-sized birds with large heads, long, pointed bills, short legs and stubby tails. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Piciformes Family: Picidae
Woodpeckers are small to medium-sized birds with chisel-like beaks, short legs, stiff tails and long tongues used for capturing insects. Some species have feet with two toes pointing forward and two backward, while several species have only three toes. Many woodpeckers have the habit of tapping noisily on tree trunks with their beaks. There are nine North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Tyrannidae
Tyrant flycatchers are Passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They superficially resemble the Old World flycatchers, but are more robust and have stronger bills. They do not have the sophisticated vocal capabilities of the songbirds. Most, but not all, are rather plain. As the name implies, most are insectivorous. There are 13 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Laniidae
Shrikes are passerine birds known for their habit of catching other birds and small animals and impaling the uneaten portions of their bodies on thorns. A typical shrike’s beak is hooked, like a bird of prey. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Vireonidae
The vireos are a group of small to medium-sized passerine birds restricted to the New World. They are typically greenish in color and resemble wood warblers apart from their heavier bills. There are seven North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Corvidae
The family Corvidae includes crows, ravens, jays, choughs, magpies, treepies, nutcrackers and ground jays. Corvids are above average in size among the Passeriformes, and some of the larger species show high levels of intelligence. There are seven North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Alaudidae
Larks are small terrestrial birds with often extravagant songs and display flights. Most larks are fairly dull in appearance. Their food is insects and seeds. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Hirundinidae
The family Hirundinidae is adapted to aerial feeding. They have a slender streamlined body, long pointed wings and a short bill with a wide gape. The feet are adapted to perching rather than walking, and the front toes are partially joined at the base. There are seven North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Paridae
The Paridae are mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Sittidae
Nuthatches are small woodland birds. They have the unusual ability to climb down trees head first, unlike other birds which can only go upwards. Nuthatches have big heads, short tails and powerful bills and feet. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Certhiidae
Treecreepers are small woodland birds, brown above and white below. They have thin pointed down-curved bills, which they use to extricate insects from bark. They have stiff tail feathers, like woodpeckers, which they use to support themselves on vertical trees. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Troglodytidae
Wrens are small and inconspicuous birds, except for their loud songs. They have short wings and thin down-turned bills. Several species often hold their tails upright. All are insectivorous. There are five North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Regulidae
The kinglets are a small family of birds which resemble the titmice. They are very small insectivorous birds in the genus Regulus. The adults have colored crowns, giving rise to their names. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Polioptilidae
Order: Passeriformes Family: Turdidae
The thrushes are a group of passerine birds that occur mainly but not exclusively in the Old World. They are plump, soft plumaged, small to medium-sized insectivores or sometimes omnivores, often feeding on the ground. Many have attractive songs. There are 10 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Mimidae
The mimids are a family of passerine birds which includes thrashers, mockingbirds small reusable water bottles, tremblers and the New World catbirds. These birds are notable for their vocalization, especially their remarkable ability to mimic a wide variety of birds and other sounds heard outdoors. The species tend towards dull grays and browns in their appearance. There are four North Dakota species glass bpa free water bottles.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Sturnidae
Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds. They are medium-sized passerines with strong feet. Their flight is strong and direct and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. Plumage is typically dark with a metallic sheen. There is one North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Motacillidae
Motacillidae is a family of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. They include the wagtails, longclaws and pipits. They are slender, ground feeding insectivores of open country. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Bombycillidae
The waxwings are a group of passerine birds with soft silky plumage and unique red tips to some of the wing feathers. In the Bohemian and cedar waxwings, these tips look like sealing wax and give the group its name. These are arboreal birds of northern forests. They live on insects in summer and berries in winter. There are two North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Calcariidae
Order: Passeriformes Family: Parulidae
The wood warblers are a group of small often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most are arboreal, but some like the ovenbird and the two waterthrushes, are more terrestrial. Most members of this family are insectivores. There are 36 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Emberizidae
Emberizidae is a large family of passerine birds. They are seed-eating birds with distinctively shaped bills. In Europe, most species are called buntings. In North America, most of the species in this family are known as sparrows, but these birds are not closely related to the Old World sparrows which are in the family Passeridae. Many emberizid species have distinctive head patterns. There are 30 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Cardinalidae
The cardinals are a family of robust, seed-eating birds with strong bills. They are typically associated with open woodland. The sexes usually have distinct plumages. There are 10 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Icteridae
The icterids are a group of small to medium-sized, often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World and include the grackles, New World blackbirds and New World orioles. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. There are 11 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Fringillidae
Finches are seed-eating passerine birds, that are small to moderately large and have a strong beak, usually conical and in some species very large. All have twelve tail feathers and nine primaries. These birds have a bouncing flight with alternating bouts of flapping and gliding on closed wings, and most sing well. There are 12 North Dakota species.
Order: Passeriformes Family: Passeridae
Old World sparrows are small passerine birds. In general, sparrows tend to be small plump brownish or grayish birds with short tails and short powerful beaks. Sparrows are seed eaters, but they also consume small insects. There is one North Dakota species.