Native Birds of the Nebraska Sandhills

Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on Native Birds of the Nebraska Sandhills

The Sandhills of north-central Nebraska are a sprawling division of prairie and grass-supported sand dunes that cover one-fourth of the state’s comprehensive land area. This strip of scenic countryside is also a popular pit-stop of the Central Flyway, a bird migration route that cuts through the Great Plains of the United States. For various species of migratory birds, the Sandhills provide a rich region full of natural bodies of water—places to rest during long seasonal trips both north and south. Popular native birds of Nebraska are also commonly spotted in the prairie dunes of the Sandhills, a prime location for bird watching.

However, there are a handful of native bird species that can be found year-round in the Nebraska Sandhills, such as the Western Meadowlark. Also the state bird of Nebraska, the Western Meadowlark makes its home is these prairies, because grasslands and open fields are its first choice for a breeding habitat.

Spotting a Western Meadowlark is quite simple when the bird watcher knows what he/she is looking—or listening—for. First of all, behavioral traits include foraging the ground for insects, seeds, and berries, while the warbled flute sound of their bird call signals their presence to the discerning ear. Once close enough to take in the details of the birds shape, size, color, and patterns, you’ll notice a yellow underbelly and white sides that are striped with black.

The Sharp-tailed Grouse is yet another native bird of the Nebraska Sandhills that takes to the short and mid-length grasslands of the Great Plains to fulfill its very specific habitat needs. In fact, this species of grouse was originally referred to as a “fire bird” due to the necessity of grass fires for preserving their ideal habitat.

Behaviorally, the Sharp-tailed Grouse is most easily spotted during mating season due to the very theatrical nature of its courtship dance ritual—a “must-see” in the world of bird watching. To learn more about this fascinating mating dance, click here.

Like the Western Meadowlark, the males of this grouse species are easily identified by a splash of yellow color on a body of mostly brown and white feather patterns. However, this bird’s yellow feathers are found on the top of its head—instead of the underbelly—and accompanied by violet plumage on the side of its head and neck. Females have less distinctive coloration, but tend to mimic their male counterpart’s appearance in most other aspects.

The third common bird species to keep an eye out for on the Nebraska Sandhills prairie is the Greater Prairie Chicken, a territorial bird that forgoes migration in order to stick around and protect its stomping grounds. Greater Prairie Chickens are stocky birds with round wings—males have a yellow comb and orange neck patch, while females lack this distinctive coloration.

All three of the Nebraska Sandhills native birds described above are a sight to behold. However, the Greater Prairie Chicken is the only one that has spent that last century or so toeing the line between thriving populations and the endangered species list. The biggest threat to the Greater Prairie Chicken? The loss of their natural grassland habitats due to the spread of cropland.

Special bird watching locations, like the Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rental, work to preserve the natural habitats of these extraordinary native birds of the Nebraska Sandhills. Our prairie grasslands and sprawling sand hills allow these birds to feed, mate, and reproduce in an ecosystem fit for their special needs. The native birds of the Nebraska Sandhills are unique and worth a special trip for avid bird watching beginners and experts across the nation.