Landbird Monitoring in Niobrara National Scenic River

black songbird with vivid orange patches on its wing, sides and under its tail.
The male American redstart is a very striking and active insectivore. This is just one of the 81 species recorded during 2016 surveys at Niobrara National Scenic River.

© Terry Sohl


The Niobrara National Scenic River is a crossroads where many animal and plant species coexist. Six major ecosystems converge here including northern boreal forest, western forest, eastern deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, and shortgrass prairie. The central reach of the Niobrara River serves as an east-west avian corridor, and as a result, the Niobrara Valley supports an exceptional diversity of birds.

The Northern Great Plains Inventory and Monitoring Network developed a long-term bird monitoring protocol jointly with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (formerly Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory) and three other Inventory and Monitoring Networks: Sonoran Desert, Chihuahuan Desert, and Southern Plains. The basic sampling unit is a 1 square km grid that contains evenly-spaced sample points, separated by 250 m. Observers stand at pre-determined fixed points and record birds observed or heard over a 6-minute period. After completing the survey, observers navigate to the next point using GPS units.

Landbird monitoring surveys have been conducted at Niobrara National Scenic River since 2014. This research is the beginning of a long-term effort to monitor species trends and densities. In 2016, a total of 1,878 birds representing 81 species were recorded during surveys.

map showing the park boundary and the 14 square grids that were monitored in 2016
Locations of the 14 grids surveyed at Niobrara National Scenic River during the 2016 field season (solid purple squares).

NPS Photo

Monitoring Highlights (2016)

  • Mourning doves were the most common species (8% of birds detected).
  • Other common birds included the grasshopper sparrow (7%), field sparrow (6%), and American crow (6%).
  • Species detected for the first time since monitoring began included the black-billed magpie, mallard, merlin, purple martin, vesper sparrow, yellow-throated vireo, and the non-native house finch.
brown mottled bird of prey sitting on a fence post with small bird in its talons
Merlins (Falco columbarius) are small compact falcons. They have been recorded at Niobrara National Scenic River during landbird surveys.

© Terry Sohl

Interesting Fact

The merlin (Falco columbarius) is a small falcon known to be a fierce and skillful bird hunter that will typically catch small birds in midair during high speed attacks. Merlin pairs have been documented teaming up to hunt waxwings—one flushes the flock while the other takes advantage of the confusion. Common prey for merlins include the horned lark, house sparrow, waxwings and the dickcissel. Merlins were detected for the frst time at the Niobrara National Scenic River in 2016.

For More Information

Protocol Contact, Northern Great Plains Inventory and Monitoring Network

Angela Jarding


Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center

Summary by Angela Jarding March 2017
View the list of birds detected at this park by downloading the 2016 PDF from the NPS Data Store

Last updated: October 24, 2018