Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Becker County, Minnesota

About Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge includes 42,274 acres in the glacial lake country of northwestern Minnesota. Lakes, rivers, and wetlands mix with rolling terrain in a diverse vegetative transition zone where northern hardwood forest, coniferous forest, and tall grass prairie intersect.

More than 250 bird and 40 mammalian species have been spotted on Tamarac NWR. Trumpeter swans, bald eagles, ducks, geese, woodcock, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, and numerous songbirds live there. Mammals include white-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, muskrat, river otter, and gray wolf.

Congress created the refuge in 1938 as a breeding ground and sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife. Humans use the refuge for watching wildlife, hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, and hunting.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Managers have worked to keep young forest on the landscape at Tamarac NWR for many years, and today much of the land is being used by woodcock. Refuge personnel plan to perpetually keep 3,200 to 3,500 acres in early successional habitat, including regrowing forest and shrubland; in years to come, these acreages will rotate through the landscape in suitable locations.


Young forest occupies rolling terrain at Tamarac NWR. The habitat is used by woodcock, golden-winged warblers, and many other wildlife species.

Most prior logging has been done in patches rather than in strips. On some sites, managers use prescribed burning (periodic light fires) to keep vegetation in a young, regrowing state. The planned use of fire also helps to maintain open fields and sandy, thinly vegetated areas that woodcock use for nighttime roosting.

Male woodcock find singing grounds on hiking trails, edges of forest roads, old log landings, grassy and herbaceous openings between brushy pockets, and newly harvested woodlands. Managers estimate that about 500 acres are currently available as singing and displaying habitat.

Since 2009, about 300 acres of upland brush have been enhanced by letting the vegetation grow and become more structurally diverse. (Some of these areas had formerly been managed as prairie, but their soils and rolling topography were more suitable for woodland.) Another 700 acres, including field edges, will be allowed to transition into brushy habitat.

A Habitat Management Plan (HMP), under development in 2010, will likely include timber harvests of 100 to 200 acres per year in older aspen stands and on basswood/maple forest that should regenerate as aspen. Many of the forested tracts exist on deeper, more productive soils; following logging, they should provide good feeding and brood-rearing habitat for woodcock. The refuge has about 7,000 acres of aspen, all of which will be placed in a timber-cutting rotation.


Many acres of excellent woodcock feeding and brood-rearing habitat are being rotated through the landscape on Tamarac NWR.

Biologists estimate that Tamarac NWR has around 2,000 breeding pairs of golden-winged warblers, which some authorities believe may constitute 1 to 2 percent of the entire North American population. During logging operations, managers leave scattered individual trees as song perches for male golden-winged warblers. Both woodcock and golden-winged warblers use the logged-over, regrowing forest.

Many other kinds of wildlife depend on upland brush and young-forest habitats on Tamarac NWR. Birds that need this type of habitat include field sparrow, least flycatcher, black-billed cuckoo, brown thrasher, common nighthawk, and whip-poor-will (all listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Minnesota and the Upper Great Lakes region).


A pilot study at Tamarac NWR is focusing on woodcock brood survival.


Tamarac NWR manager Wayne Brininger points out an area where a woodcock hen nested during the previous spring.

In 2009 and 2010, during the spring breeding season biologists used pointing dogs to find newly hatched woodcock, then attached miniature radiotransmitters to 23 chicks. Preliminary results indicate that broods hatched earlier in the season experienced heavier mortality from predation and the effects of spring snowstorms. As the breeding season progressed, later broods showed better survival rates.

The biologists are looking at brood dispersal: when and how fledged chicks leave the brood and go off on their own. In some of the broods studied so far, chicks dispersed as early as 19 to 20 days after hatching.

The researchers are also studying nest site selection and habitat use by sampling vegetation around nests and at sites where woodcock have been captured or radiolocated.

Other Factors

Much county forest land lies near Tamarac NWR. These lands are logged commercially on a regular basis, giving rise to rapidly regrowing stands of hardwoods, mainly aspen. Woodcock use these areas for breeding, nesting, rearing broods, and feeding.

Additional woodcock habitat exists on Hubbell Pond Wildlife Management Area, bordering Tamarac NWR to the south. This 3,342-acre tract is managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Funding and Partners

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Woodcock Minnesota, Wildlife Management Institute

How to Visit

The refuge office and visitors center is 18 miles northeast of Detroit Lakes, MN, at the junction of County Roads 26 and 29. For more information, see the refuge website at www.fws.gov/midwest/tamarac or contact staff at 218-847-2641.

The northern two-thirds of Tamarac NWR is a Sanctuary Area open to visitors from September to February and closed during the rest of the year. A Visitor Use Area in the southern part of the refuge is open year-round. The refuge has an active interpretive program: www.tamaracfriends.org.