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Breeding Birds of North Dakota

Environmental Relationships of Breeding Birds


Faunistic Composition of Breeding Birds

The breeding birds of North Dakota are composed of four distinct faunistic elements. Each of these elements represents a group of species that show similar biogeographical relationships. One primary group, referred to as the North-central Avifauna, includes typical species of the northern prairie region on the central plains that are of paramount importance throughout the state. The other groups, of secondary importance, are restricted to somewhat limited populations that are of local occurrence wherever appropriate habitat conditions are found. These, referred to as the Eastern, Western, and Northern Avifaunas, include species that are best represented in major biotic regions, or biomes, outside of the state boundaries.

North-central Avifauna

The typical species occupy various upland and wetland habitats that represent natural successional stages leading to and including the climax mixed-grass prairie associations. A total of 56 species of birds are representative. These include seven species largely endemic within the northern mixed-grass prairie regions--the Marbled Godwit, Sprague's Pipit, Lark Bunting, Baird's Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Chestnut-collared Longspur--and 49 pandemic species. The species in the latter group also are of regular occurrence in other major biotic regions.

Characteristic Species

Eared Grebe                     Marbled Godwit                                          
Western Grebe                   American Avocet         
Pied-billed Grebe               Wilson's Phalarope      
White Pelican                   Franklin's Gull         
Double-crested Cormorant        Forster's Tern          
American Bittern                Black Tern              
Black-crowned Night             Burrowing Owl           
 Heron                          Short-eared Owl         
Trumpeter Swan                  Common Nighthawk        
Canada Goose                    Horned Lark             
Gadwall                         Bank Swallow            
Mallard                         Long-billed Marsh Wren  
Pintail                         Sprague's Pipit         
Blue-winged Teal                Common Yellowthroat     
Northern Shoveler               Bobolink                
Canvasback                      Western Meadowlark      
Redhead                         Red-winged Blackbird    
Ruddy Duck                      Yellow-headed Blackbird 
Ferruginous Hawk                Brown-headed Cowbird    
Marsh Hawk                      Lark Bunting            
Sharp-tailed Grouse             Savannah Sparrow        
Whooping Crane                  Baird's Sparrow         
Sandhill Crane                  Grasshopper Sparrow                            
Sora                            Le Conte's Sparrow                             
American Coot                   Sharp-tailed Sparrow                           
Piping Plover                   Vesper Sparrow                                 
Killdeer                        Clay-colored Sparrow                           
Upland Plover                   Chestnut-collared                              
Willet                           Longspur

Eastern Avifauna

Species that typify this group are represented by considerable populations in various habitats within the eastern half of the state but occur more sparingly in the western half. Many of these 71 species are especially conspicuous in woodland biotic communities located on floodplains and bluffs along major streams, on prominent hills and escarpments, and as concentric bands that adjoin the shores of permanent lakes. Man-created woodland habitats including tree-claims, shelterbelts, and residential areas of towns and farmsteads are commonly utilized as well. Some of these species are also characteristic of other avifaunas.

Characteristic Species

Least Bittern                            Blue Jay               
Green Heron                              Common Crow            
Great Blue Heron                         Black-capped Chickadee 
Wood Duck                                White-breasted Nuthatch
Cooper's Hawk                            House Wren             
Red-tailed Hawk                          Short-billed Marsh Wren
Bald Eagle                               Brown Thrasher         
American Kestrel1                        Gray Catbird           
Greater Prairie Chicken                  American Robin         
Virginia Rail                            Veery                  
Least Tern                               Eastern Bluebird       
Mourning Dove1                           Cedar Waxwing          
Passenger Pigeon                         Loggerhead Shrike1      
Black-billed Cuckoo                      Yellow-throated Vireo  
Screech Owl                              Red-eyed Vireo         
Great Horned Owl                         Warbling Vireo         
Barred Owl                               Black-and-white Warbler
Long-eared Owl                           Yellow Warbler         
Whip-poor-will                           Chestnut-sided Warbler 
Chimney Swift                            American Redstart      
Ruby-throated                            Ovenbird               
 Hummingbird                             Common Grackle         
Belted Kingfisher                        Baltimore Oriole       
Downy Woodpecker                         Orchard Oriole         
Hairy Woodpecker                         Scarlet Tanager        
Red-headed Woodpecker                    American Goldfinch     
Yellow-shafted Flicker                   Dickcissel             
Pileated Woodpecker                      Cardinal               
Eastern Kingbird                         Rose-breasted Grosbeak 
Great Crested Flycatcher                 Indigo Bunting         
Eastern Phoebe                           Eastern Rufous-sided   
Willow Flycatcher                         Towhee                 
Least Flycatcher                         Lark Sparrow1           
Eastern Wood Pewee                       Chipping Sparrow1                  
Purple Martin                            Field Sparrow1                     
Rough-winged Swallow                     Song Sparrow           
Barn Swallow

1Species also characteristic of Western Avifauna.


Western Avifauna

This group involves 37 species that are quite prominent in the southwestern quarter of North Dakota and are represented by fairly large, local populations in the northwestern quarter. The breeding ranges of a few species also extend into the eastern half of the state. Most species occupy the habitat complexes of the western badlands but also occur in various types of woodland communities and in xerophytic tracts of the northern shrub desert.

Characteristic Species

Turkey Vulture                                          Rock Wren      
Sharp-shinned Hawk                                      Common Raven
Swainson's Hawk						Mountain Bluebird            
Golden Eagle                                            Loggerhead Shrike2         
Prairie Falcon						Audubon's Warbler    
Peregrine Falcon                                        Yellow-breasted Chat 
Merlin                                                  Brewer's Blackbird   
American Kestrel2                                       Bullock's Oriole     
Sage Grouse                                             Black-headed Grosbeak
Mountain Plover                                         Lazuli Bunting       
Long-billed Curlew                                      Spotted Rufous-sided 
California Gull                                          Towhee               
Mourning Dove2                                          Lark Sparrow2         
Poor-will                                               Chipping Sparrow2     
Red-shafted Flicker                                     Brewer's Sparrow     
Western Kingbird                                        Field Sparrow2        
Say's Phoebe                                            McCown's Longspur    
Western Wood Pewee					Bell's Vireo
Cliff Swallow						Black-billed Magpie

2Species also characteristic of Eastern Avifauna.


Northern Avifauna

Thirty-one breeding species are considered to belong to this group. These species are characteristic of habitats within the trans-continental taiga forest belt of Canada. Populations of most of these species within North Dakota are best represented in the northeastern quarter, particularly in areas along the Canadian border. A few species also occur locally in the southeastern and northwestern quarters of the state. Many are associated with boreal types of forest that are dominated by quaking aspen, balsam poplar, and paper birch. Others are largely restricted to scattered fens or to certain types of large lakes. In addition, planted groves of conifers, especially spruce, are occupied by a few species.

Characteristic Species

Common Loon                    Ruffed Grouse           
Red-necked Grebe               Yellow Rail             
Horned Grebe                   Common Snipe            
American Wigeon                Spotted Sandpiper       
American Green-winged          Ring-billed Gull        
 Teal                          Common Tern             
Black Duck                     Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Ring-necked Duck               Tree Swallow            
Lesser Scaup                   Red-breasted Nuthatch   
White-winged Scoter            Philadelphia Vireo      
Bufflehead                     Northern Waterthrush    
Common Goldeneye               Mourning Warbler        
Hooded Merganser               Purple Finch            
Common Merganser               Red Crossbill           
Broad-winged Hawk              Pine Siskin             
Swamp Sparrow                  White-throated Sparrow

Proportional Populations of the Breeding Avifaunas

The population proportions of the four faunistic groups that comprise the state breeding avifauna were determined from field data obtained during a state-wide study of breeding bird populations in 1967 (Stewart and Kantrud 1972). Excluding exotic introduced species, a total of 11,824 breeding pairs were recorded on randomly selected sample units throughout the state. Of this total, about 80 percent were represented by the 56 species that are characteristic of the primary North-central faunistic group, and about 20 percent of the breeding pairs were represented by the 139 species that are typical of the secondary faunistic groups. Proportions of the three secondary groups varied as follows: Eastern, 13 percent; Western, 6 percent; and Northern, 1 percent.
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