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A Review of Wildlife Management Practices in North Dakota


Effects on Nongame Bird Populations and Habitats


Species of Special Concern

Wildlife managers who wish to consider these species in their management programs should seek additional information supplemental to the brief accounts provided here.

These species identified as being of special concern are selected for the following reasons. Not all will apply to each species listed.

  1. The species has a limited geographical range and North Dakota has a substantial share of the breeding population.
  2. The species has shown a significant decline at the state or continent level. Not all species in this category have been included. Many North Dakota species which suffered temporary declines during 1988-1991 due to drought have been omitted.
  3. The species is an important indicator of habitats which are rare, unique, or threatened.
The following population trends are based on information from US Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) reports. The state trends are for the 25-year period from 1967-1991, and the North American trends are for the 26-year period 1966-1991. BBS trends are particularly meaningful for widespread species which can be counted efficiently from roadsides but are of limited use for uncommon species and those with restricted habitat requirements.

Statistical changes in BBS trends are provided for each species. The first value listed for each species is the state trend (1967-1991) and the second value is the continental trend (1966-1991). Significance levels are indicated by asterisks: * = P<0.10, ** = P<0.05, and *** = P<0.01. If no asterisks appear, then the trend is not statistically significant.


American Bittern (-4.28***, -1.60*) -- North Dakota BBS data shows a 4.28 percent annual rate of decline for 1967-1991. It is an important indicator for wetlands and should be included in management plans. Breeding season extends from late May through mid-August. It nests in both wetlands and uplands. It would benefit by delayed haying but July 15 might not be late enough.

Ferruginous Hawk (+1.50, *0.40) -- This species was a recent unsuccessful candidate for federal listing. North Dakota populations are stable to increasing. Most breeders are found on short grass prairie or grazed mid-grass prairie and are dependent upon large rodents such as prairie dogs or Richardson's ground squirrels for food. Control of rodents by poisoning has a detrimental effect. In areas with sandy soil, such as Kidder County, it may be benefitted by the CRP program as vegetation on idled land tends to be less dense in those situations. This species was hit severely by egg collectors in the early part of the century. It seems to prefer areas with sparse human population and may have increased somewhat in North Dakota in recent decades due to the cessation of oology (egg collecting) and decreased rural population. It may also have adapted by moving from traditional ground nest to using more protected higher sites such as trees and power line transmission towers. In the west nests are often located on cliffs. Some counties with particularly good populations are Kidder, McHenry and Bowman. The first two have extensive areas of sandy soils, and consequently have a higher than normal acreage of grassland remaining. The last is in the extreme south-west part of the state and also has a high proportion of grassland remaining.

Yellow Rail (not included in BBS) -- North Dakota is on the western and southern edge of the range of this rare species. It has been found on only four BBS routes in the state so the data are not helpful in determining a population trend. It prefers fens, which are a rare habitat, but also breeds in wet meadows with groundwater seepage or residual pockets of water. It does not use typical marsh habitat. Significant numbers are known only in Benson, Kidder, and McHenry Counties. The North Dakota population, which may number no more than 100-200 pairs, probably varies depending on precipitation.

Piping Plover (not included in BBS) -- This species breeds on exposed sandy or rocky areas on the edge of saline lakes, other lakes and reservoirs when water levels are low, and sandbars in the Missouri River. It has been actively monitored by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and US Fish and Wildlife Service since 1985.

Willet (-1.10, -0.34) -- The BBS trend is a statistically insignificant annual decline of 1 percent per year. They breed on both prairie and cropland. The preferred habitat is native grassland with wetlands. It is most numerous in light to moderately grazed areas. It is not normally found in decadent stands of idle grasslands. It usually nests in the vicinity of wetlands but on occasion may be found a considerable distance from water. Willets seem to have adapted relatively well to agriculture but is a characteristic prairie shorebird which should be monitored.

Marbled Godwit (+2.11, +0.94) -- The BBS trend is a statistically insignificant 2 percent annual rate of increase. Habitat requirements are similar to the willet, but it may not reproduce quite as well in cropland as that species. Godwits are another characteristic grassland species which should be monitored.

Wilson's Phalarope (-7.14***, +0.85) -- The BBS trend is an annual rate of decline of 7.14 percent. Phalaropes are more dependent on wetlands than the two previous shorebird species so a portion of the decline may be drought related. They usually breed on shallow wetlands with emergents, open shoreline, and open water for feeding. Nests are placed on land at the edge of the water, so excessive trampling by cattle is detrimental. Populations of this species should be watched closely.

Black Tern (-7.92*, -3.75**) -- The BBS trend shows severe declines. While some of the decline is due to drainage of wetlands, that alone would not account for all of the loss. This species should be closely monitored. It uses wetlands with a mix of emergent vegetation and open water. In 1970, 77 percent used semipermanent ponds and lakes, 18 percent seasonal ponds and lakes, 3 percent permanent ponds and lakes, and 1 percent fen ponds. Nests are located on floating mats of vegetation in sites ranging from fairly dense emergents to open water. The breeding season runs from late May to early August.

Short-eared Owl (+1.75, -0.70) -- This irruptive species is not recorded in sufficient numbers on BBS to draw a conclusion. Very few have bred in the state since the mid 1980s. While it is possible that prey species have been down for that entire period there is cause for concern for this species. Short-eared owls use a variety of open habitats, including native prairie, wet meadow zones of wetlands, hayfields, and retired cropland. They are very dependent on high mouse and vole populations. As a ground nester they should be aided by the CRP program but have apparently not moved onto CRP acreage in any numbers. The breeding season runs from early April to late August. The species might be aided by delayed haying.

Burrowing Owl (-0.37, -0.23) -- Like the preceding species, burrowing owls are not recorded in sufficient numbers on BBS for a trend to be evident. They have gotten increasingly difficult to find in the central part of the state and seem to have declined in the west also. Their preferred habitat is similar to the ferruginous hawk, but that species will use areas with considerably more vegetation than burrowing owls will accept. Poisoning of ground squirrels is detrimental to both burrowing owls and ferruginous hawks.

Sedge Wren (-0.74, +1.98*) -- While this species has declined in the northeastern U.S., the North Dakota BBS show a stable population. Numbers vary considerably from year to year. They reach the highest densities in fens but utilize a variety of both moist and drier situations including margins of lakes and sloughs, alfalfa hayfields, and retired croplands. The common denominator is the presence of coarse vegetation. Sedge Wrens are very late breeders, sometimes not fledging young until well into August.

Sprague's Pipit (-2.31, -3.07*) -- This characteristic species of mid-grass prairies has declined greatly with the coming of agriculture. It is one of a handful of species whose range is restricted to the northern great plains. The BBS trend is a statistically significant decline of 3 percent per year. North Dakota is very important to this species. It prefers breaks along drainages, uplands, and alkaline meadows. It is restricted almost entirely to native grasses. It will not use heavily grazed areas, but also avoids sites with matted dead vegetation which accumulate on moister areas which have been idled for extended periods of time. It responds well to controlled burns, light to moderate grazing, and occasional haying. The breeding season extends from late April through early September. This species has two distinct periods of breeding activity, with a low point reached in mid-June. Haying in mid-July would be too early for birds raising a second brood.

Loggerhead Shrike (-1.76, -3.52***) -- This species is common in the southwestern portion of the state and fairly common central and northwest. Smaller numbers are found in the east. The BBS trend shows a statistically significant 3.52 percent rate of decline in North America. In the Minot area shrikes show a strong preference for dying shelterbelts of Chinese elms as nesting sites, and the population is quite variable from year to year. In the southwest the species is present wherever suitable sites for nest location exist, including shelterbelts and native brush.

Dickcissel (-4.34*, -1.70***) -- The North Dakota BBS trend for 1967-1991 shows a significant decline of about 4 percent annually. The North American BBS trend through 1987 shows a statistically significant decline of 1.7 percent per year. Populations in North Dakota are quite variable as we are on the northern edge of the range. There was a major incursion in 1988, a very hot and dry year. The species is much more frequent the farther south in the state one goes. They are found in sites with a rank growth of forbs preferring alfalfa but also using sweet clover and weedy retired cropland fields. The breeding season is from early June to mid-August. They are not likely to successfully reproduce in alfalfa which is hayed, even if cutting is delayed until July 15.

Clay-colored Sparrow (-3.20***, -1.48**) -- This is another mid-continent specialty whose range extends farther east than Sprague's pipit and Baird's sparrow. The BBS trend is an annual decline of 3.2 percent. Clay-colored sparrows use open prairie, woodland edge, and open woodland with an abundance of brush. They also take readily to weedy retired cropland. They have increased greatly since settlement as fire suppression has greatly increased the quantity of brush on the prairie and along drainages. While brush control on the prairie may impact them locally there is no shortage of similar habitat on private land. The species is still quite common but should be monitored because of the current decline.

Lark Bunting (-5.51***, -3.29**) -- The North Dakota BBS trend is an annual decline of 5.5 percent. The North American trend is a decline of 3.29 percent. Lark buntings are abundant every year in the south and west of the Missouri River but are irruptive farther east and north. Their optimum habitat is shrub prairie but they take readily to disturbance habitats such as retired cropland, weedy stubble fields, and alfalfa and sweet clover. While this species is still abundant the population should be monitored.

Baird's Sparrow (-1.82, -1.59) -- Baird's sparrow and Sprague's pipit are two of the most characteristic songbirds of the Northern Great Plains mid-grass prairies in pristine condition. Baird's was one of the commonest breeding birds in the area before the coming of agriculture, but has greatly declined. North Dakota is very important to this species. The BBS trend for the state shows a 1.8 percent annual rate of decline but does not accurately reflect the magnitude of the decline from presettlement levels. It is found in native grassland under the same conditions as pipits, but also uses a variety of man-created habitats, such as alfalfa, sweet clover, bromegrass, and stubble fields with scattered weeds. It uses no-till grain fields to some extent. It is more likely to be found on upland sites in wetter years and in depressions or low meadows in dry years. Like pipits it will not use heavily grazed areas and avoids sites with matted dead vegetation as accumulate on moister areas which have been idled for extended periods of time. It responds well to controlled burns, light to moderate grazing, and occasional haying. Both species are sensitive to the size of area available, and avoid sites where trees or tall shrubs are nearby. The breeding season runs from late May to mid-August. Birds using alfalfa fields and other tame hay crops would be unlikely to have fledged young before July 15.

Grasshopper Sparrow (-6.53***, -4.61***) -- The North Dakota BBS trend is an annual decline of 6.53 percent. The annual continental rate of decline is 4.61 percent. Grasshopper sparrows use idle or light to moderately grazed native prairie, retired cropland, and tame hayland. As for several other common species the rate of decline is cause for concern.

LeConte's Sparrow (-3.87, +2.73) -- Although more widely distributed than Baird's Sparrow, this is another mid-continent specialty. North Dakota is at the western limit of its range. The BBS trend is a decline of 3.87 percent annually. It prefers fens, wet meadows, and margins of sloughs, but also uses domestic hayfields and retired cropland to a lesser extent. It likes sites with considerable residue of old vegetation. Populations are quite variable, peaking during wet periods but becoming scarce (except in fens) during drought. It is often common at J. Clark Salyer and Lake Alice NWRs. The breeding season runs from late May to early September. Fledging of young often does not occur until late July.

Sharp-tailed Sparrow (+1.61, +0.71) -- The inland, or Nelson's, race of this species is another regional specialty. The BBS show an annual rate of increase of 1.6 percent. It is fairly common local-ly throughout the Prairie Pothole area. Populations increase during dry periods. It is most common in fens but uses both shallow and deep zones of marshes and, in wet years, low meadows. It seems to prefer sites with a variety of vegetation. If phragmites, bulrush, sedge, and cattail are all present then it is likely to be found. It is probably commoner in dry years when more dried up marsh habitat is available. It is one of our last breeding species to arrive on territory, and the breeding season runs from early June to late August. Young are not often fledged until at least the latter half of July.

Swamp Sparrow (-0.97, +0.42) -- While extremely local, this species is common in the bogs of McHenry and Kidder Counties. It is a good indicator species for fens, but is not entirely restricted to them. It prefers areas with at least some shrub growth, in addition to typical marsh zone vegetation.

Chestnut-collared Longspur (-1.06, +0.55) -- The BBS trend is a slight annual decline of 1.06 percent. It is most common on moderate to heavily grazed native prairie, but also uses tame grasses, alfalfa, and cropland. It avoids areas with tall dense vegetation and decadent stands with accumulations of dead plant litter. Chestnut-collared longspur is perhaps the most charac-teristic mixed-grass prairie songbird. While there is no current cause for concern it should be monitored as an essential component of the mixed-grass prairie community.


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