We recently traveled through the prairie pothole region of North America. This region stretches from central Iowa, southern and western Minnesota, eastern North and South Dakotas and northern Montana northward into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The potholes themselves are remnants of glacial depressions created over 10,000 years ago and are now filled with water, or are wetlands with surrounding grasslands that provide, food, water and shelter for nesting and migratory ducks and other birds. Many natural potholes have been drained to create agricultural land. The prairie potholes that remain are critical habitat for nesting and migratory birds. This is very productive breeding habitat that creates over one half of the waterfowl, such as blue-winged teals, found in North America.
Migratory birds use this critical habitat as “rest stops”. Think about it, you wouldn’t drive from coastal Texas to northern Canada without stopping for fuel, to stretch your legs and have a good nights sleep! Neither do birds such as whooping cranes. They need places to rest and refuel just like we do!
National wildlife refuges help to preserve what is left of some of the region’s potholes. Working with landowners, US Fish and Wildlife strives to maintain some semblance of “natural” habitat for nesting and migrating waterfowl and other bird species, as well as the plants and mammals that thrive in this region.
Budget cuts have minimized visitor services within the National Wildlife Refuge System. We visited a beautiful visitor’s center at Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, complete with vast indoor and outdoor classroom space, with no staff to run programming! We were able to leave the 5th wheel at the parking lot and enjoy the auto tour. We also enjoyed a nice walk on the nature trail, where we found this magical shelter for the kids to play in.