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.
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.
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 NetworkAngela Jarding
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