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Breeding Birds of North Dakota


Objectives and Plan

The chief purpose of this book is to document available information concerning the status, past and present, of the breeding birds in North Dakota. Subjects that are treated in considerable detail include the geographical, ecological, and seasonal distribution of breeding populations. An attempt is made to show where populations of each species may be expected to occur within major biotic regions and to indicate some of the more important environmental factors. A summarization of related information concerning numerical status, dates of breeding records, nest sites, and clutch size is also included for most species.

The information in this book is based entirely on data obtained within the boundaries of North Dakota. However, the subject matter is organized by major biotic regions that extend into and cover large areas of adjoining states and Canadian provinces. Thus, the book actually serves as a cross-sectional study of the northern prairie regions of the Interior Plains. These regions cover portions of the Agassiz Lake Plain and Drift Plain on the Central Lowlands, and portions of the Missouri Coteau and Missouri River watershed on the Great Plains. Much of the information applies in a general way wherever the appropriate regions are found.

This report is based primarily on systematic field work from 1961 to 1970, inclusive. During this period, a thorough coverage of every county in the state was attempted during the height of several breeding seasons in order to record the geographical distribution, habitat, and relative abundance of each nesting species. A special effort was made to cover as many townships as possible within each county. Numerous, extensive surveys of breeding birds in all portions of the state were conducted by the author, often with the assistance of other biologists. These trips involved innumerable man-hours in the field and a great many miles of travel. Much of the time and travel allotted to these surveys were expended in conjunction with various intensive investigations of waterfowl and their habitat and special ecological studies of populations of other birds.

Supplemental data also were utilized from local, independent investigations of breeding birds by many professional and amateur ornithologists in the state. In addition, the ornithological literature was critically examined for all North Dakota records that were obtained during the breeding season. These include records from the bird-distribution files of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that had been conveniently tabulated by William B. Bell, former chief of the Branch of Wildlife Research. Copies of these detailed tabulations were obtained through the courtesy of J. Frank Cassel of North Dakota State University.


Two of my colleagues at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center head the list of persons to whom special thanks are due. Harold A. Kantrud has accompanied me throughout North Dakota on numerous field trips, particularly on trips that were made in conjunction with detailed investigations of breeding bird populations on randomly distributed sample units. He assisted in the recording of observations during many of the breeding bird surveys and also independently contributed a considerable number of useful records. Paul F. Springer has been very helpful in encouraging and coordinating field investigations of birds by amateur and professional ornithologists throughout the state in connection with the Breeding Bird Survey program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and with the seasonal reports of birds for American Birds (formerly Audubon Field Notes). In addition, he has engaged in local surveys of birds which have resulted in a considerable number of unusual and interesting records; he also reviewed the entire manuscript.

I am indebted to those active field observers who contributed extensive data concerning the distribution of breeding birds within major regions of the state. Philip B. Aus supplied many hundreds of records, chiefly on duck broods, from the northeastern quarter of North Dakota. Calvin L. Cink furnished notes on an unusually large number of species, including an exceptional number of nest records, from the Turtle Mountains, in the Sheyenne River valley of Barnes County and in the James River valley of Stutsman County. Harold F. Duebbert provided many detailed breeding records, chiefly on waterfowl and other water birds, from scattered localities throughout the Prairie Pothole Region. Ann M. Gammell, in association with Robert T. Gammell, contributed many records of interest from the vicinity of Kenmare and Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge and from the Little Missouri badlands. Merrill C. Hammond donated a large number of records, mainly from the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge and other areas within the Souris Lake Plain. Edmund A. Hibbard permitted the use of his extensive notes on birds, including observations of unusual or rare species that occur in the Missouri River valley below Garrison Dam, on the Missouri Coteau in western Stutsman County, and in scattered areas elsewhere. Roger L. Kroodsma furnished useful summaries based on a wealth of information pertaining to breeding birds along the Sheyenne, Mouse, Missouri, and Little Missouri River valleys and from other scattered localities. Harry C. Oberholser conducted a comprehensive survey of breeding birds throughout the Prairie Pothole Region of the state during the late spring and summer of 1917; many of his records (unpublished) are referred to in this report.

My gratitude is further extended to a considerable number of competent field observers and biologists who have contributed substantial numbers of local records that were utilized in the mapping of breeding ranges or in the accounts describing breeding habitat and nesting activities. The names of these people and the nature of their contributions are as follows: Daniel W. Anderson - compilation of records of eggs of several uncommon species that were collected in North Dakota and are located in various museums throughout the country; Elizabeth G. Anderson - breeding records from eastern North Dakota, especially in the vicinity of Fargo; Ed Bry - notes on breeding birds in western North Dakota including a number of nest records of the Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon; William A. Buresh - breeding records from western North Dakota and from a few scattered areas elsewhere; J. Frank Cassel - breeding records, chiefly from Slope, Barnes, and Cass Counties; George W. Enyeart - records of nesting colonies of Double-crested Cormorant and Great Blue Heron on Lake Sakakawea and a few records of other species; Vernon W. Erickson - records from Billings, Burleigh, Pierce, and Benson Counties; Adrian C. Fox- records of breeding birds, chiefly from Benson, Rolette, and Bottineau Counties; Victor M. Hall - records of duck broods from the northeastern quarter of the state; Lois C. Haynes - detailed notes on breeding birds in the vicinity of Montpelier in Stutsman County; Frank F. Kelley - breeding records from northeastern North Dakota; Leo M. Kirsch - nest records of waterfowl and other ground-nesting birds from the Woodworth Wildlife Research Substation in Stutsman County; Gary L. Krapu - breeding records from Dickey County and several from Barnes County; Larry L. Kruckenberg - breeding records from Mercer and Oliver Counties; John T. Lokemoen - breeding records from Billings County and a few from other localities; David C. McGlauchlin - breeding records from McLean County; James A. Oberfoell- nest records from Slope County; Robert N. Randall - breeding records, chiefly from Burleigh, Morton, and Dunn Counties; B. J. Rose - breeding records, chiefly from Burleigh County; Russell L. Rytter - breeding records, chiefly from Grand Forks and Pembina Counties; and Robert E. Stewart, Jr. - breeding records of waterfowl and other water birds from the Turtle Mountains.

There are numerous other dedicated, contemporary observers who have contributed useful information that was utilized in this report, but it would not be practical to list all of them. Many of these people will find their names used as authority for some of the observations. It is difficult indeed to select additional names for special mention, but the following seem to stand out above the others: Ernest A. Alfstad, Michael L. Avery, David M. Baker, Keith D. Bayha, Leslie M. Baylor, Homer L. Bradley, Bruce E. Burkett, David R. Cline, Myrna L. Coyne, Harold A. Doty, Thomas J. Dwyer, Robert C. Fields, Myron L. Freeman, David S. Gilmer, David E. Goeke, Raymond J. Greenwood, Lee Grim, Karl L. Hansen, Bruce A. Hanson, Bruce K. Harris, Eleanor Hart, Mrs. John B. Hart, Kenneth F. Higgins, Marshall A. Howe, Gail James, Harry A. Jensen, Douglas H. Johnson, George M. Johnson, Kenneth J. Johnson, Albert T. Klett, Paul D. Kline, Gerald D. Kobriger, S. O. Kolstoe, Arnold D. Kruse, Donald L. Kubischta, Douglas W. Larson, Forrest B. Lee, Seth H. Low, Carl R. Madsen, James Marinaccio, Tim L. McCabe, Harvey W. Miller, Archie Moore, James L. Nelson, Nelius B. Nelson, David J. Nilson, Robert B. Oetting, Lewis W. Oring, Marvin L. Plenert, Robert G. Rollings, Willard Rosine, Irven O. Rostad, Barnet W. Schranck, Charles H. Schroeder, Jerome R. Serie, Ronald A. Sonstegard, Carol A. Spurbeck, Orin A. Stevens, David L. Strohmeyer, Esther A. Swensen, David L. Trauger, Herbert G. Troester, Elsie M. Welter, and Donald G. Young.

The species distribution maps that are included in this report (Figures 4-185) were prepared from my original rough work maps by Beth J. Kantrud. My sincere thanks are tendered to Mrs. Kantrud for the cooperative spirit she has shown and for her meticulous attention to details. Grateful acknowledgment is also made to James R. Weight for his help in preparing the finished copies of the maps that depict the physical features, biotic areas, and political units of North Dakota (Figures 1-3).

It was my good fortune that two well-known American artists agreed to contribute paintings of some of the more characteristic birds in the state. Thirteen paintings were completed by Walter A. Weber who was able to persevere in this task in spite of delays caused by recurring health problems. Permission to use five paintings by Roger Tory Peterson and Mill Pond Press, Inc. is also gratefully acknowledged.

It is a pleasure to thank Ed Bry for permission to use many of his high-quality photographs of breeding birds in the state. My sincere thanks are also extended to John T. Lokemoen for his cooperation and expertise in photographing most of the major habitat types that are described in this book. Several excellent photographs of birds were donated by Luther Goldman, and a few were taken by other cooperators including Ernest A. Alfstad, Vernon W. Erickson, Robert C. Fields, Kenneth F. Higgins, Leo M. Kirsch, Shin Koyama, John T. Lokemoen, and James Smorada.

Prof. Leo Hertel has kindly served as editor of this book. In this capacity, he has provided useful advice concerning the format and organizational details. Considerable credit in this regard is also due other members of the editorial committee, including Prof. J. Frank Cassel, Prof. Harold Goetz, and Mrs. Leslie Welter Jr. Other editorial matters involved the courteous cooperation by Roxie C. Laybourne in reviewing certain problems of avian nomenclature.

I am especially indebted to Mrs. Leslie Welter Jr. Except for her help, it is doubtful if this book could have been published without prolonged delays. Through dedication and hard work she successfully promoted the necessary financing to cover costs of printing and advertisement, and she has also developed practical plans concerning distribution and sales.

It has been particularly gratifying to me to have received constructive backing and encouragement from several administrative biologists including J. Frank Cassel, Harold Goetz, W. Reid Goforth, Harvey K. Nelson, Chandler S. Robbins, James O. Stevenson, and last but not least my eldest son, Robert E. Stewart, Jr. Without question, their efforts have helped to expedite the completion of these long-term investigations.

Robert E. Stewart
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Jamestown, North Dakota
September First, 1975

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