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Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Site Facts

Country, State, Province/Region:

United States, North Dakota

Relative Location:

Grand Forks County


97°18’W; 48°0’N



Basis for Designation:

Supports an average of more than 36,300 shorebirds annually.


3,834 acres (1,551.56 hectares)


July 2003

Site Owner/Steward:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Site Partners:

Grand Cites Birding Club
University of North Dakota
Audubon Dakota
North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Grand Forks County Prairie Partners

Human Population within 100 km:

60,000 people


Kurt Tompkins
Refuge Manager
Kellys Slough NWR
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

About Us

Photo from USFWS

Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex is located in Grand Forks County, North Dakota, approximately 11 miles west of the city of Grand Forks. The refuge is situated within the Red River Valley of the Prairie Pothole Region of the U.S. Central Flyway, part of the historic tall-grass prairie region of the Northern Great Plains. It is located in the northeastern part of North Dakota and lies in an area formed by old glacial Lake Agassiz and has a smooth, nearly level topography.

Franklin D. Roosevelt established this refuge in 1936 for use as a haven and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge was designated a WHSRN Site of Regional Importance, as it hosts more than 35,000 shorebirds between April and August. Up to 22 species have been spotted on the refuge during the month of July, which is the start of the fall migration period. Breeding species include American Avocet, Killdeer, Wilson's Phalarope, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, and Spotted Sandpiper.

Several secondary shorebird and waterfowl sites are within a few miles of the refuge. These include the Lake Ardoch NWR, Stewart Lake Waterfowl Production Area, and Turtle River State Park. The refuge and these secondary sites provide critical habitat for countless bird species. Kellys Slough NWR also provides “keystone” habitat for surrounding grassland bird conservation areas.

A series of water-control structures within Kellys Slough NWR allow water levels in some areas to be manipulated to enhance wetland conditions. Total wetlands by class include: 1,813 acres of managed permanent wetland habitat, 8 acres of riverine habitat, 794 acres of semi-permanently flooded habitat, 95 acres of seasonally flooded habitat, and 39 acres of temporarily flooded habitat, embedded in a matrix of 1,085 acres of managed upland grassland habitat. 

The Kellys Slough NWR Complex and surrounding area was the first project area in North Dakota by the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture (PPJV) through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). Through cooperative efforts among countless agencies, it has become well established as a site for waterfowl production, as a critical stopover site for migratory shorebirds, and as important habitat for other wildlife.

Two other Regional WHSRN sites also lie within the Prairie Pothole conservation area: J. Clark Salyer NWR and Long Lake NWR.

For more information about visiting the site, the Grand Cities Bird Club has a nice guide.

Ecology & Conservation

From the Prairies Conservation Campaign by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

"The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) is arguably one of the most important wetland regions in the world. The PPR portions of North and South Dakota alone contain more than 19 million acres of grassland, including millions of temporary, seasonal and permanent wetlands. More than 50% of North American migratory waterfowl depend on its mix of wetlands and grasslands. This area is called the “duck factory” because it is the most productive area for nesting waterfowl on the continent.

Functional grassland and wetland ecosystems not only protect the watersheds in which they occur, but also protect downstream waterways and communities. Together, prairie grasslands interspersed with wetlands provide numerous societal benefits, including filtering water, reducing erosion and sedimentation, and absorbing flood waters. When these grasslands and wetlands are lost, serious impacts are felt further downstream in the Mississippi River Basin. Such habitat losses in the PPR have been linked to creation of the hypoxic area, or “dead zone”, which currently exists in the northern Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the Mississippi River."

Special Information 

When President Theodore Roosevelt set aside tiny Pelican Island on Florida's East Coast as a refuge for birds nearly a century ago, he began a conservation legacy that now spans over 94 million acres across the United States and its territories.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is America's only network of lands dedicated specifically to wildlife conservation, representing a steadfast commitment to protecting our wildlife heritage. This system is a vast network of strategically located habitats that protect hundreds of endangered species and serve as stepping stones for millions of migratory birds. Wildlife of virtually every variety find a home on the National Wildlife Refuge System lands.

North Dakota and the Devils Lake Wetland Management Complex have been a part of the Refuge System since its inception. Stump Lake National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota's first Refuge, was established in 1903 and Sullys Hill National Game Preserve was established in 1904. Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936, and has been providing quality habitat since that date. Only recently have we been able to  convey how important the area is to spring and fall migrating shorebirds. 



Kurt Tompkins
Refuge Manager, Kellys Slough NWR Complex
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
701.662.8611, ext. 329

Site Partners

Grand Cites Birding Club
University of North Dakota
Audubon Dakota
North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Grand Forks County Prairie Partners