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Birds and Mammals Observed by
Lewis & Clark in North Dakota

List of Birds Observed


For the convenience of students of the journals of Lewis and Clark the birds have been listed showing the names used by the explorers printed in italics. These are followed by common and scientific names now in use together with explanatory notes (click highlighted links to view included photos and illustrations). The birds have been arranged according to the American Ornithologists Check List of 1910. It will be remembered that the expedition arrived in North Dakota late in the year and departed in the spring quite early so that they missed seeing many of the summer resident birds.

"Large White Gulls"

There is nothing in the journals to determine what species was referred to. The gulls most common in the section of North Dakota where the entry was made and which could answer this description is the Ring-billed Gull (Lance delawarensis). However it is also possible these may have been the California Gull (Larus californicus) or the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus).
"Pelican"
White Pelican. Pelecanus erythrorhynchos.

This is the only pelican found within the limits of North Dakota therefore it is referrable to this species. A minute description is given on August 8, 1804 before the expedition reached North Dakota. (Thwaites Vol. 6, page 126.) A flock was observed on April 18, 1805 (Coues, page 1288).
"Mallard"
Mallard. Anas platyrhynchos.

Referred to on April 16,1805. While the Mallard is only specifically mentioned once the journal many times refers to the loose term "ducks" which included several of the common species.
"Blue-winged Teal"
Blue-winged Teal. Querquedula discors.

Referred to April 16, 1805. This is the only mention made of this species. At the present time, however, this species is quite common in North Dakota and there is every reason to believe it was more common at the time of the expedition.
"Gray Brant"
White-fronted Goose. Anser albifrons gambeli.

While it is not certain what species Lewis and Clark referred to, it is quite probable that it was the White-fronted Goose, which is about the size of the Lesser Snow Goose referred to as white brant.
"White Brant"
Lesser Snow Goose. Chen hyperboreus hyperboreus.

Lewis and Clark mention white brant with black wing tips which undoubtedly were of this species. Observed on April 9, 1805.
"Canada Goose"
Canada Goose. Branta canadensis canadensis.

This species was found in abundance and it nested in the tall cottonwoods along the river. While the term "geese" is usually employed it is quite evident they referred to canadensis canadensis as it is the only species that nested in North Dakota. The smaller geese they referred to as brants.
"Large Cranes"
Whooping Crane. Grus americana.

In Coues, page 267, on April 11, 1805 Lewis and Clark mention large cranes perfectly white except for the feathers on the first joint of the wing which were black. They state this is the largest bird on the Missouri. This was correct in fact this is the largest bird in America. Now nearly extinct. No reference is made to Sandhill Cranes (Grus mexicana).
"Swans"

There is nothing by which to determine whether these were Trumpeter (Olor buccinator) or Whistling Swans (Olor columbianus). Only the former species nested in North Dakota but both were found here during migration.
"Curlue, " "Curlou, " "Brown Curlew"
Long-billed Curlew. Numenius americanus.

A curlew was seen on April 17, 1805. (Coues, page 276.) While this was formerly a common shorebird in this region it is now extremely rare.
"Large Plover"
Black-bellied Plover. Squatarola squatarola.

Coues on page 1287 in Remarks and Reflections identifies this as the Black-bellied Plover.
"Killdeer"
Killdeer. Oxyechus vociferus.

The only reference is in Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287) in which it is stated that the killdeer has returned, on April 8, 1805.
"Grouse," "Prairie Hen," "Sharpe-tailed Grouse," "Sharp Tail Prairie Fowl"
Prairie Sharp-tailed Grouse. Pedioecetes phasianellus campestris.

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287) Lewis and Clark mention the prairie hen or grouse as one of the few birds wintering in the vicinity of Fort Mandan. On February 9, 1805 (Recorded in Thwaites, Vol. 1, Page 261, under Feb.13, 1805) it is stated that the hunters who went down the river from Fort Mandan saw great numbers of grouse feeding on the young willows on the sandbars.

(April 12, 1805, Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 300): "I saw . . . . flocks of grouse."

(April 15, 1805, Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 312) Lewis states: "I also met with great numbers of Grouse or prarie hens as they are called by the English traders of the N. W. these birds appeared to be mating . . . ."

"Large Hawk"

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287) it is stated on April 8th: "A large hawk has returned." It is doubtful just which hawk is meant, Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni), Ferruginous Rough-leg (Archibuteo ferrugineus) and the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo borealis borealis) are the large hawks of this region and the reference is probably to one of these.
"Calumet Bird," "Beautiful Eagle"
Golden Eagle. Aquila chrysaetos.

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287 for April 8, 1805), this is included as one of the birds wintering in the vicinity of Fort Mandan. Lewis and Clark found that the feathers of this bird were much prized by the Indians and was used in ceremonies and decorations.
"Bald Eagle"
Bald Eagle. Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus.

(Coues, page 265, April 10, 1805): "We shot a prairie hen and a bald eagle of which latter there were many nests in the tall cottonwood trees." The bald eagle was found to be quite common especially along the upper part of the Missouri in North Dakota.
"Sparrow Hawk"
Sparrow Hawk. Falco sparverius sparverius.

On April 13, 1805 while in the vicinity of the Little Missouri River it was recorded that the sparrow hawk, common in most parts of the United States, is also found here.
"Hooting Owl"
Western Horned Owl. Bubo virginianus pallescens.

(Coues, page 272, April 14, 1805): "We also killed a large hooting owl resembling that of U. S., except that it is more booted and clad with feathers."
"Lark Woodpecker"
Northern Flicker. Colaptes auratus luteus.

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287, April 11, 1805) it is mentioned as having returned. Sufficient description is given to identify this as the Northern Flicker.
"Black and White-speckled Woodpecker,"*
"Small Woodpecker or Sapsucker. "

Hairy Woodpecker. Dryobates villosus villosus.

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287, April 8, 1805) this is listed as a winter resident at Fort Mandan. It is possible that this reference is to the Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens medianus) but the Hairy Woodpecker is more common in winter and Coues refers it to this species.


* See Editor's Note
"Whip-poor-will"*
Poor-will. Phalaenoptilus nuttalli nuttalli.

(Thwaites, Vol. 6, page 132, Oct. 16, 1804): "This day took a small bird alive of the order of the (blank space in MS) or goat suckers. It appeared to be passing into the dormant stage on the morning of the 18th the murcury was at 30 a. o. the bird could scarcely move. I run my penknife into its body under the wing and completely destroyed its lungs and heart yet it lived upwards of two hours this fanominon I could not account for unless it proceeded from the want of circulation. of the blo(o)d the recarees call this bird to'-na. its note is at tah-to'-na, at-tah-to'-na, to-nah, a nocturnal bird, sings only in the night as dose the whipperwill. its weight (is) 1 oz. 17 Grains Troy."

* See Editor's Note
"Lark"

Recorded as having returned on April 10, 1805 (Coues, 1287). There are several sub-species of the horned lark found in North Dakota. This reference was probably to the Desert Horned Lark (Otocoris alpestris leucolaema) or the Saskatchewan Horned Lark (Otocoris alpestris enthymia).
Blue Jay. Cyanocitta cristata cristata.

While not mentioned in North Dakota by Lewis and Clark the information received by Wilson from a member of the expedition, as indicated in the quotation above, establishes the fact that they found the blue jay as far as the big bend of the Missouri which is in North Dakota.
"Magpie"
Magpie. Pica pica hudsonia.

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1287, April 8, 1805) it is recorded as a winter resident at Fort Mandan. A very minute description is given of the magpie on September 17, 1804 (Thwaites, Vol. 6, page 130). Alexander Wilson, the ornithologist, in his American Ornithology, Volume 2, facing page 73, has a drawing of the magpie and in the description has the following to say (page 77): "The drawing was taken from a very beautiful specimen, sent from the Mandan nation, on the Missouri, to Mr. Jefferson, and by that gentleman presented to Mr. Peale of this city, in whose museum it lived for several months, and where I had an opportunity of examining it. On carefully comparing it with the European magpie in the same collection, no material difference could be perceived. The figure on the plate is reduced to exactly half the size of life." And again on page 79: "In 1804, an exploring party under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark, on their route to the Pacific ocean across the continent, first met with the magpie somewhere near the great bend of the Missouri, and found that the number of these birds increased as they advanced. Here also the blue jay disappeared; as if the territorial boundaries and jurisdiction of these two noisy and voracious families of the same tribe had been mutually agreed on, and distinctly settled. But the magpie was found to be far more daring than the jay, dashing into their very tents, and carrying off the meat from the dishes. One of the hunters who accompanied the expedition informed me, that they frequently attended him while he was engaged in skinning and cleaning the carcass of the deer, bear or buffalo he had killed, often seizing the meat that hung within a foot or two of his head."
"Raven"
Northern Raven. Corvus corvax principalis.

In Remarks and Reflections for April 8th, 1805 (Coues, page 1287) Lewis and Clark state the raven wintered in the vicinity of Fort Mandan in immense numbers. Other early travelers recorded their presence, however, if now found at all is extremely rare.
"Crow"
Crows. Corvus brachyrhynchos brachyrhynchos.

In Remarks and Reflections for April 9, 1805 (Coues, page 1287) it is recorded that the crows have returned.
"Crested Cherry Birds, " "Cherry or Cedar Birds"
Cedar Waxwing. Bombycilla cedrorum.

In Remarks and Reflections (Coues, page 1285) it is recorded as passing south on November 10, 1804, and on April 6, 1805 (Coues, page 1287) the journal contains the following: "This day a flock of cherry or cedar birds were seen. One of the men killed several of them." This is followed by a description of the range, coloration and habits. It is possible that some or all of these birds were Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrula).
Western Tanager.
(Louisiana Tanager.) Piranga ludoviciana.

This bird is not mentioned by the journals of Lewis and Clark in North Dakota but Alexander Wilson, the ornithologist, obtained the following information from them concerning this species: (American Ornithology, Vol. 1, page 319) "I can only learn that they inhabit the extensive plains or prairies of the Missouri, between the Osage and Mandan nations; building their nests in low bushes, and often among the grass. With us, the tanagers usually build on the branches of a hickory or white oak sapling. These birds delight in various kinds of berries, with which those rich prairies are said to abound."
"Old Field Lark"
Western Meadowlark. Sturnella neglecta.

Lewis and Clark's name would indicate that this was the common meadow lark. (Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 300): "I saw . . . the old field larks."
"Robin"
Robin. Planesticus migratorius migratorius.

In Remarks and Reflections for April 22, 1805 (Coues, page 1288) the following is recorded: "Saw the first robin."


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