The Nongame Bird Program carries out research projects and monitoring programs focused on nongame birds. A core responsibility of the Nongame Bird Program is to identify, develop and implement research and monitoring projects, with the broad goal of improving current understanding with respect to the status, temporal occurrence and spatial distribution of nongame birds in Nebraska. Information is then provided in usable formats and is accessible to any interested party including decision-makers, collaborators, the public and partners. Improving the state of information about Nebraska’s nongame birds will then improve decision-making and advance the conservation and management of species and ecosystems.
CWD Todd Valley wetlands: the newest migratory hotspot for migratory birds?
By Joel Jorgensen
The Rainwater Basin and Sandhills are relatively well-known landscapes that contain complexes of wetlands that famously attract large numbers of migrating waterbirds. However, other wetland complexes sprinkled across the state often go unnoticed. Frankly, you could possibly find yourself in the middle of one of these landscapes and not even know it. One such landscape is the Todd Valley, an abandoned ancient river valley in Saunders County composed of sand and gravel soils with a surface covered by loess (fine dirt particles). If you have ever traveled to the towns of Colon or Mead, you have traversed the Todd Valley.
Within the Todd Valley are numerous, albeit small, embedded playa wetlands. Nearly all of these wetlands in this relatively flat landscape have been altered or destroyed. Nonetheless, the wetlands do pond water when moisture is abundant, and wetlands of any size can attract birds. Waterbird use of Todd Valley wetlands had never been formally studied, but following exceptional run-off from melting snow and rain in March 2019, the Nongame Bird Program concluded it was an excellent opportunity to evaluate migratory bird use in this region’s wetlands. A research design was formulated and nine surveys were conducted from late March through mid-May.
The project recorded 53 wetland bird species and 10,514 individual birds. More shorebird species (22) were recorded than waterfowl (20) and other waterbird species (11), but the majority (8,126) of birds observed were waterfowl followed by shorebirds (2,086) and other waterbirds (276). The project recorded eight species (Tundra Swan, Common Goldeneye, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora and Piping Plover) that had not been previously reported from Todd Valley wetlands.
Todd Valley wetlands have ponded water more frequently during recent wet years. If the changing climate trends toward wetter years, it is plausible that these wetlands may regularly provide habitat for migratory birds. While the number of birds using this region will pale in comparison to the Rainwater Basin or central Platte, landscapes such as the Todd Valley still support migratory bird populations.
Evolving mining practices means an uncertain future for Least Terns and Piping Plovers
By Joel Jorgensen
Piping Plovers and Least Terns have nested and raised young at sand and gravel mines along the Platte River ever since dredges began churning out aggregate that is essential to modern society. Piping Plovers are state and federally listed as threatened and Least Terns are state and federally listed as endangered. The birds nest on expanses of bare or sparsely vegetated sand and gravel adjacent to water. The presence of listed species on what are essentially industrial sites creates situations rife for conflict. Fortunately, the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership (TPCP) has successfully protected and managed these birds at these areas for two decades.
Sand and gravel mines, as well as their derivative the lakeshore housing development, were traditionally considered sub-standard habitat and even biological sinks. However, research by the TPCP and Nongame Bird Program (NBP) of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission using color-banded Piping Plovers showed that these off-river habitats actually contribute to local and regional populations and even augment numbers on the Missouri River. The problem, though, is that these are artificial habitats reliant on humans to not only create, but also maintain, because mechanical disturbance is necessary to keep sandy areas un-vegetated.
Mining practices are evolving because companies must always find ways to be more efficient in order to stay profitable. A question that arises, then, is how changing mining practices will affect nesting terns and plovers. A recent research project by the NBP and TPCP examined that very question. The study showed that modern mines provide less habitat, as the footprint of unused waste sand suitable for nesting is reduced. As these newer mines continue to replace older ones, recent trends suggest that there will be no traditional mine sites along the lower Platte River by 2032. This will reduce tern and plover habitat in the region and almost certainly result in fewer birds, which will have implications not only locally, but regionally as well. More information can be found at the link below.