Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Lured by the gold and other valuable resources farther west, explorers moved rapidly through the valley. A series of trails soon developed as additional travelers pushed westward. From the modest beginnings of wagon trains, cattle grazing, and army forts, the Platte River Valley developed rapidly into a major agricultural and livestock-producing region. Communities were established to provide support services for farming and ranching activities.
A transportation network was essential to development of the area. Until the Union Pacific Railroad was completed through central Nebraska in 1866, there was no effective way to transport agricultural goods to market. The federal government encouraged development of the Union Pacific and other railroads by granting lands along the rights-of-way to the railroad companies. The railroads then generated money by selling these lands to homesteaders. Railroads subsidized the immigration of European settlers to the region with low fares and low land prices. The effort, along with the offer of free land through various amendments of the Homestead Act, promoted settlement of central Nebraska.
Concomitant with the great influx of settlers and resultant development of the agricultural community, extensive and mostly permanent changes occurred in the character of the Platte River Valley landscape. The once-vast areas of tall grass prairie were reduced to odd corners that would not accommodate a plow. Agricultural irrigation development facilitated the drastic reduction in peak and annual flows in the Platte River, ultimately and permanently changing the habitat from sandbar and wet meadow to riparian forest. Shelterbelts, established to reduce the impact of the ever-present prairie wind on tilled lands, provided a new habitat for breeding birds to exploit. The end result of the advance of man across the Platte River system was the unavoidable and irreparable alteration of the habitats and wildlife that once flourished here.
Because man's activities continue to influence the status of many breeding bird species, it is important to summarize the current body of knowledge about those birds. With the accumulation of more data in the future, informed decisions can be made about species populations and distribution. Our objective in this book are to provide an in-depth description of the breeding bird community that occurs in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska. We describe the effects of prior development on the status and distribution of 141 bird species, and provide maps of their breeding distributions.