31 January 2013

Carter Lake Boundary Issue Update

Information has been received that the Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property department is "actively working" the issue regarding the property boundary on the Iowa side of Carter Lake.

A surveyor "has been commissioned" to determine the boundary, which is expected to "take 4 to 6+ weeks to complete," according to a city staffer that works with the Omaha City Council. They had been sent an email asking that this boundary issue be looked into, to ensure that the actual property line would be determined. There had been no reply from the mayor's office or Park's officials, despite emails and a phone call.

So it appears that details on the property boundary will be be available by spring!

Breeding Birds Appreciate Sandhill Refuge Habitat

It took some time for local birds to respond and take advantage of a habitat conditions at Crescent Lake refuge.

A renovation project — involving bulldozer work to create two islands — occurred at Goose Lake ca. in 2005-2006, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency which owns and manages the refuge in Garden County, Nebraska.

Most recently, the site was appreciated by many Double-crested Cormorants.

About 50 pairs nested, and young were raised during the 2012 breeding season, said Marlin French, an refuge biologist. Refuge staff observed fledglings, although there were no particular surveys.

"The original island disappeared below the waters in the early 1990s," he noted, so cormorants "nested in other areas including goose tubs and other loafing structures."

Piping Plover have also taken advantage of the island habitat at Goose Lake. These small shorebirds nested on the island in nested on the Island 2008-2009, and along the road in 2010, according to refuge records.

There are known observation records from 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Previous breeding records from the area are known for the 1990s at nearby Bean Lake.

This is an species of concern for the Great Plains region, and to have them occur at this refuge is significant.

Nesting by this species is "a bonus", French said during a phone interview.

In the first few years following renovation, numerous American Avocets nested at this place in the middle of the lake. There were as many as seventy nests in 2007, French said, and they did successfully raise young.

"During the period of record wet years of 2009-2010," the avocets went elsewhere, French said. The small island was completely inundated by higher water levels in 2010.

The small Island once again appeared above the lowering water in 2012, allowing the cormorants to nest. Currently, in late winter of 2013, the island is obvious amidst the lake, French said.

Hopefully there will be nesting habitat this season that can be "appreciated by the birds," according to a perspective conveyed by the refuge biologist.

25 January 2013

Master Naturalists Working to Conserve Chimney Used by Swifts

Efforts by the Hi Lonesome Chapter, Master Naturalist group in Cole Camp, Missouri are underway to protect chimney habitat for swifts.

Chimney at city hall. Photograph courtesy of Marge Lumpe.

A small group of active members realized that an autumn gathering of Chimney Swifts was "beautiful and wonderful," said Marge Lumpe, active in the group. A count by a group member indicated more than one thousand Chimney Swifts came to roost during an evening of the Cole Camp Fair, on September 7, 2012, at the city hall.

Members of the Master Naturalist chapter in the Cole Camp community (population 1121) were staging to walk in the town parade and noted the congregation of swifts at the south side of the city building on west Main street.

Soon afterwards, these nature enthusiasts learned that city officials wanted to tear down the chimney at city hall, according to Lumpe. She conveyed her views in some posts on the MoBirds online forum. The top of the chimney was removed, but the effort was changed to simply capping the chimney—both devastating for the swifts.

The reason for the closure was due to the “degradation” of the chimney as a result of water coming into the chimney, Lumpe said.

"We were just beginning to enjoy wonders which would soon be stopped," by a closure of a significant roost for Chimney Swifts, she said. Swifts had been coming to the local roost for over fifty years, according to recollections of longtime residents. However, this information was unknown to the mayor or anyone else at city hall, and the mayor said that he had never seen a bird come into or leave the chimney.

The effort by the group was initially focused upon building an alternative structure. Bricks and mortar would provide a new chimney, and be a suitable and enduring place for swifts to gather.

As plans were being made for obtaining plans and materials to construct the new tower, word came that there was a possibility being entertained by council of re-working the capped chimney to permit the swifts to roost once again.

In January, the City Council members approved a measure appropriate and suitable for continuing the swifts presence at city hall. Particular measures, according to Lumpe, would include: 1) installing an umbrella-type cover to prevent water from getting into the chimney; 2) installing a door for ventilation and clean-out at the exterior base of the chimney; and 3) cleaning out the chimney.

The intended result would be a chimney space for swifts as they arrive this spring to a place of their historic occurrence.

“What seemed initially to be a tragedy for the swifts was turned into a victory for Cole Camp as a whole, the City Council and the Chimney Swifts.

This update on the situation has just been received from Marge Lumpe:

"There has been a reversal of fortune in this matter. A councilman contacted me yesterday to say that they had run into a snag. The chimney has deteriorated to the point that they feel it is dangerous to work on, and they will not allow any of their workers to work further on the chimney. If we want to restore the roost, we (the Master Naturalist chapter) will need to take the old chimney down and construct a new one. Right now everyone is on board to do the work, but it will be a huge amount of work. Stay tuned." - January 25th

23 January 2013

Bald Eagle Eats a Squirrel in the Neighborhood

It was a really cold day in the Carthage neighborhood when a wandering squirrel caught the attention of a mighty eagle soaring in the skies.

The little animal was then caught by a Bald Eagle, which fed upon the carcass at a small open space on the north side of the neighborhood, in the middle of east Omaha.

Nearby, as seen by an attentive watcher, another eagle was perched upon the chain-link fence.

This perspective is based upon comments by a working resident in the neighborhood. at the local convenience store at 49th and Hamilton Street. Someone called the clerk on Monday, to convey that there were some big birds outside the window of their nearby apartment.

Walt, at the store, knows about eagles. During many transitory discussions, several have been in regards to bald eagles and video-cams at nest places, which have been enjoyed by his family members. So, Walt knows what a bald eagle look likes. And there they were, two large eagles with white heads, just a short distance from the back door of the store. It was an especially significant time, as he had never been so close to these birds.

On this particular Monday, Walt expressed the essential details to indicate this surprising occurrence. Though these birds had already been seen a few times in the air-space of the neighborhood., their occurrence on the ground is certainly unusual.

For two to linger amidst the completely urban neighborhood is certainly a dramatic occurrence. Apparently they also got some consideration by residents, and were not disturbed or chased away!

Empty lot habitat used by Bald Eagles.

Tern and Plover Breeding on Lower Platte, 1982

During the 1982 breeding season, the Interior Least Tern (Sterna albifrons athalassos) and Belted Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus circumcintus) were once again found to be nesting along the lower Platte River in eastern Nebraska. Instead of the hiking involved while searching for colonies in 1981, efforts to locate nesting sites were easier this year because of an aerial survey of the river conducted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. This census included the Platte from the Missouri west to the Big Bend area in central Nebraska. During this flight, locations where Tern activity was noted were marked on a county map. Those places where several Terns had been sighted were then visited to verify nesting status. Although a larger area was covered by the aerial census, this report is concerned only with the approximately 100 kilometer stretch of the Platte from the Missouri upstream to the western boundary of Dodge and Saunders counties (Figure 1). Six sites were visited twice to evaluate nesting activity and success. A few other locations where just 1-2 birds had been observed from the air were not checked.

Figure 1. Location of Interior Least Tern colonies on the lower Platte River, Nebraska.

The first area west of the Missouri River where Tern activity was noted was in Sarpy County just north of Cedar Creek in Cass county. Easily accessible, Cedar Creek Colony was first visited on 2 July. Eight adult Terns were counted with 3 nests containing 1 or 3 eggs scattered around the sandbar. About 8 Piping Plover were also present and although through a spotting scope an adult could be seen incubating, no nest could be found when the site was approached directly. During a second visit on 28 July, 11 Terns were observed. This included 8 adults and 3 fledged, flying young that were part of a family group of 5. One nest observed contained a single egg still being incubated by an adult. No Piping Plover were seen.

The sandbar that the Terns were using as a nest site was less than 200 meters (m) north of the housing area along the south bank that comprised the town of Cedar Creek. A gravel road that provides drive access to the cabins also provides easy access to the colony area. A river subchannel with a depth that varied from 1 to 1.5 m separates the sandbar from the south bank. Some recreational use of the nesting area was noted. The sandpit lakes which the housing was built around did provide a foraging spot for the Terns.

Schramm Colony was also visited on 2 July when 10 Least Tern and 2 Piping Plover were observed. Only 2 Tern nests with 2 or 3 eggs were found. On 28 July, only 1 Tern was observe. This bird was foraging along the river and was not associated with the sandbar where nesting had been located on the previous visit.

The river bar used this year was in the same location but was quite different from the sandbar used by Terns and Plovers in the 1981 breeding season (NBR 49(3):45-51). The action of high river flows in the spring had made the sandbar longer and reduced the amount of elevated area. A site suitable for nesting was still present but not to the extent of last year. Both nests found were built on a small elevated area of only a few square meters. Those birds that did attempt to breed were subjected to disturbance by recreation. Empty beer cans and bottles, a salad dressing bottle, and other discarded refuse were evident on the sandbar. Refuse and a partially burned tree snag were present on 28 July right near where nests had been found on the first visit.

So instead of thriving successful 1981 colony of 30 Least Tern and 12 Piping Plover, this year Schramm had fewer birds and they did not appear to have any nesting success. This was probably a result of less available habitat and disturbance of birds and nests that were present.

Two Rivers Colony did, however, have successful Tern nesting this year when compared to 1981 results. Piping Plover did not share in this success. On 1 July, 12 Terns were observed and 4 nests with I to 3 eggs were located on the same area of the sandbar that had been used last year. At least 4 Plover were present but no nests were located. Five Terns and no Plovers were present the second visit on 30 July. Although no young Terns were observed, aggressive defensive behavior and an adult carrying food would suggest that young were still present. Five additional adults and 2 fledged, flying young had been present on the previous day (John Dinan pers. comm.).

This season, less recreational activity was evident on the sandbar. A water depth of around 2 m in some spots meant swimming was necessary to reach the nest site in early July whereas later in the month it could be easily reached by wading.

One factor that could have contributed to the reduction in nesting Piping Plover was that the sandbar was not as large this year. Instead of the water flowing around the nesting area, a river subchannel had cut through the sandbar and reduced its size by at least half.

Access to this colony is through Two Rivers State Recreation Area and an adjacent state wildlife management area to the south. A portion of the nest sandbar is a part of the wildlife lands and since the Game Commission does own the property, it could easily be managed for the benefit of breeding Terns and Plovers. In the years that birds are present, it would be especially appropriate to limit access to the immediate vicinity of the colony. Nesting birds could have an undisturbed breeding cycle, which could improve nesting success. Conservation or birding groups could be encouraged to monitor the colony to limit detrimental activities and to aid in species management. Informative warning signs could also be used to reduce recreational disturbance.

Habitat conditions at Dry Gulch Colony showed an improvement this year. More sand area was available and higher water flows meant water was present in the east river channel instead of it being completely dry. Ten Terns with 5 nests containing 1 or 2 eggs were observed at this site on 1 July. Piping Plover were also present but there were no indications of nesting activity. During the second visit on 30 July, only 3 adult Terns were present. On this date, the nests were not present, no young were observed, and no defensive behavior was displayed by the Terns present. Plovers were foraging on the sandbars. Despite improved habitat conditions, this colony once again did not successfully raise young.

Those nests that had been present on the first visit were on the highest, dryest part of the sandbar, 60 centimeters above the water level of the river. This elevation placed the nests a good distance above river flows and would have reduced the chance of high water levels inundating the nests and disrupting the breeding cycle. The nests were grouped in a very compact, 50 m square area. Such concentrated nesting could easily be affected by intense predation or human disturbance. It is not known what actually did disrupt nesting at this colony.

Ames Pit Colony was located North of the river at a privately owned sand and gravel operation southeast of Ames, Dodge County. Eight Terns were present on 1 July and 3 nests with 2 or 3 eggs were found. On 30 July, 5 adult terns and 2 fledged, flying young were present. The nesting site was a sandy area that was a result of previous years' sand mining. This colony was not isolated by water and was easily accessible by road. Woody growth of willows and cottonwoods as well as remnant riparian woodland occurred on the west and south side of the colony. A lake to the east and the river to the south provided a place to forage for food. Sand removal equipment was in operation to the north. Conditions in the nearby Platte did not appear suitable for nesting birds. Only one small, low level sandbar was present adjacent to the colony area.

A final location where Least Tern were present was another private sand and gravel operation east of Morse Bluff, Saunders County. Rev. Thomas Hoffman of Omaha has been watching Terns and Plovers at this site for the past six years. Nesting birds have been present in recent breeding seasons and this year was no exception. Wolf Pit Colony had the greatest number of breeding birds of any area checked. On 1 July 30 Terns and 14 nests containing 1 to 3 eggs, eggs and young, or 1 to 3 young were found. Several young were mobile and had left the nest scrape but were nearby in the shade of plants. The actual number of Piping Plover present was not determined since they were scattered over a large area but 6 nests with 1 or 4 eggs were located. Only 1 nest contained a single egg.

Figure 2. Sand deposits used by Least Tern and Piping Plover at Wolf Pit Colony. Nests were found on the circular areas at the top of the photograph and the square area on the left. A recently created sand deposit is present on the right.

The Terns and Plovers were nesting on three separate but adjacent sand piles (Figure 2). Two were circular spill piles while the third was two smaller areas that when combined, created a fairly large sand expanse with a road through the middle. During the period of observation each group of Terns at a particular site would respond only to disturbance in the immediate vicinity. This was a help in getting a better visual estimate of the number of birds.

On 30 July, 10 adult Terns and 10 fledged, flying young were observed. Additional birds could have been present but the Terns were spread over a large area and their continual flying about made counting actual numbers difficult. Those counted were observed when they stopped flying and came to rest at two lakeside locations. These congregations on the sand beach were juvenile birds and their parents that would return from foraging to provide food. The young could fly but they were not seen to attempt catching food on their own. Other Terns had probably already left the colony area since sufficient time had elapsed for the fledged young present on the first visit to reach flight stage. No Tern or Plover nests were found during a brief search and an actual count of Piping Plover was not made.

This sand gravel operation, which has been present since 1927, (Jack Edwards pers. comm.), has over 25 circular or semi-circular sand deposits that are evident on recent Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service photographs of this section of land. Most of these deposits are a little less than 100 m in diameter, usually surrounded by water on three sides, and covered by a variety of willows, cottonwood samplings, different grasses, and other less prevalent species. The amount of plant cover varied on each deposit, with the older piles having a greater degree of plant growth. Some areas were nearly completely vegetated but some sand and the characteristic deposit shape were still evident on the aerial photo. A portion of the land with extensive woody vegetation had been developed for housing.

An important part of this colony site was that additional habitat was continually being provided as new sand areas were created by the sand dredging operations. Terns and Plovers through the years could have utilized the different spill piles for breeding activities. As older areas were overgrown by plants, the birds could move to nearby sand that was free of vegetation. Also of importance is that this nest base would provide protection from the higher water flows that flood nest sites in the river channel. Nesting that would get underway earlier in the season would not be disturbed and young could fledge earlier in the summer. However, since these nest sites are not isolated from land, they could be more susceptible to terrestrial predators. This could result in increased mortality of eggs and young.

The current owner of this sand pit showed an intense interest in the breeding Terns. Not only did he enjoy observing the birds but he worked at reducing chances of predation by selectively removing any bullsnakes that were observed near a colony. This interest also helped reduce human disturbance by limiting access during the breeding season. Activities associated with the transportation of sand seemed to have minimal effect, if any, on nesting birds. One Tern nest within 5 m of a road was kept under observation by Mr. Edwards. The incubating adult did not leave the scrape even as large trucks carrying sand would drive by. This nest eventually successfully fledged 3 young.

Overall, Wolf Pit was the most successful colony with a minimum of 10 fledged Terns. This was the highest number of fledged young observed during the late July visits to the colonies under observation (Table 1).

[Table 1. Least Tern survey results.]
Colony Name Cedar Creek Schramm Two Rivers Dry Gulch Ames Pit Wolf Pit Total
Aerial Count 28-29 June 10 3-4 0 12 4+ 15 45
Ground Count
1-2 July Individuals 8 10 12 10 8 30 78
  Nests Located 3 2 4 5 3 14 31
28-30 July Individuals 11 1 5 3 5 20 45
  Nests Located 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
Fledged Young Late July 3 0 2 0 2 10 17
Nesting Success (1) 1981 N.V. yes no no N.V. N.V.  
  1982 yes no yes no yes yes  

(1) Success is defined as the presence of flying young.

N.V. Not visited.

The 1982 breeding season for Least Tern showed an improvement over the results apparent in 1981. This survey did include a larger number of locations so data is not comparable. Those Terns present did however, successfully raise young at more of the nesting colonies checked (Table 1). This does not necessarily mean there was an improvement over last year but there was an increase in the known breeding success.

Those locations where a comparison is possible, show the change in populations that can occur from one year to the next (Table 2). Schramm Colony, as an example, which was the most successful nest site last year, had fewer birds and was a complete failure this season. Two Rivers was a success this year but a failure for Terns in 1981.

Table 2. A comparison of 1981 and 1982 populations of Least Tern and Piping Plover for selected lower Platte locations.
Colony Name Least Tern Piping Plover
  1981 1982 1981 1982
Schramm 30 10 12 2
Two Rivers 6-7 12 20 4
Dry Gulch 18 10 -- --

Available data for Piping Plover showed no increase in the number of breeding birds but a marked decrease in the number of nesting attempts. Even though a larger number of colony locations were checked, populations at these sites were somewhat similar for both years. Schramm and Two Rivers had good numbers of nesting Plovers last year but no indications of breeding activity this year. Wolf Pit was the only exception with the number of nests found indicating a healthy breeding population. A single adult observed incubating at Cedar Creek was the only other activity noted for the six locations that were visited. Nesting was limited this year and the increase in breeding birds that would be expected as additional sites were checked just did not occur. Successful nesting observed at only one of six locations meant a dismal breeding season for Piping Plover.

September 1982. The 1982 least tern and piping plover breeding season on the lower Platte River, Nebraska. Nebraska Bird Review 50(3): 68-72.

Father Hoffman sent in this observation about the Piping Plovers at Morse Bluff: On 25 June and on 6 July I observed pairs of adult Piping Plovers with downy young (three in each case). The time lapse and the fact that the two observations were a considerable distance apart and separated by roads, weedy fields, and woodlands indicate to me two different broods. In both cases the birds were on tailings from sand-pit operations. [Editor]

Tern and Plover Breeding on Lower Platte, 1981

During the 1981 breeding season, nesting of the Interior Least Tern (Sterna albifrons athalassos) and Belted Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus circumcintus) was noted at several locations on the Platte River in eastern Nebraska. The first location was a colony southeast of Shramm Park State Recreation Area (SRA), originally visited on 8 June. This was the only breeding activity noted on a reach of the river from the Interstate 80 bridge down-stream to the railroad trestle near South Bend. Twenty Terns and 6 Piping Plovers were observed on the first visit. They were nesting on a two to three hectare (ha) island north and slightly west of South Bend, in Cass County. Ten Terns nests with 1 to 3 eggs each and 2 Plover nests, each with 3 eggs, were located during a 30 minute visit. On 15 June a 1.25-hour visit was made to this colony. The period of visit included time spent observing behavioral activities from the periphery of the nesting area, thereby reducing disturbance to the breeding birds. Thirty Terns and 14 nests containing 1 to 3 eggs each were located. Two Plover nests, each with 4 eggs were also found. On 1 July about the same number of adult Terns were present and 14 nests with 1 to 4 eggs each and 3 young with adults near the nest were found. The Plover nests, each which still had 4 eggs, were also noted. Courtship activity among the Terns was still occurring on this visit. A 22 July visit recorded only about 15 adult Terns and 2 recently fledged young. Only a single nest with 2 eggs was found. Two groups, each consisting of three young Plovers, were near the nest with adult birds.

Based on the number of nests located, this colony appears to be thriving. A minimum of 30 breeding adults could be expected to have occurred, as nests found on each visit were not always the ones located on earlier visits. Three different Plover nests were located and 12 birds were counted in the area on the first visit. The three pairs nested on the same bar as the Terns.

Since this breeding area is located only 400 meters (m) south of Shramm SRA it is subject to several disturbance factors. Recreational use such as swimming and the building of campfires occurred on or near the sandbar. A large bonfire had been burned within several meters of Tern and Plover nests. People observing the fire would probably have disturbed the incubating birds, although the actual impact on the nesting birds is unknown.

Access to the river is from a gravel road running along the north bank of the river. Terns flying above arid around the colony can easily be observed from parking areas along the road. One factor which may inhibit sandbar access is the main river channel. Water may reach 1.5 m in depth during high flows. During other periods the depth was approximately 1 m. To the south of the colony is an area of lake-side cabins and a sand and gravel mining operation. Access from this direction is limited to business operations and cabin owners. A gate across the road further limits access. Thus, disturbance from the south would be limited and none was noted.

Some vegetative encroachment is occurring but it does not appear to be an immediate threat to the breeding birds.

A second area checked for Terns and Plovers was from the Nebraska Highway 92 bridge downstream to a point 6.4 km (kilometer) down the river. During a 6 June census, 2 small Tern colonies and 2 Plover nesting areas were located. The main nesting area was a sandbar on the downstream end of an island located near the southwest corner of Two Rivers SRA. A second site for nesting terns was 800 m down river. Piping Plovers exhibiting breeding behavior were observed on almost every suitable sandbar. Plovers nested at both locations where the Terns were nesting and in addition a single nest with eggs was found 3 km down the river from the second site. This later site was located in Sarpy County, while the other sites were in Douglas County. About 35 Plovers were noted in the area checked on 6 June.

The Two Rivers North colony had only 6 or 7 adult Terns on the first visit and only 2 nests with 1 or 3 eggs were located. Numerous Piping Plovers were noted, however, with more than 20 adult birds occurring on the 500 m x 150 m sandbar. The Plover nests were scattered around the central portion of the bar. Several incubating adults, five nests, and a group of 3 young out of the nest were noted. On a return visit, 6 July, only 3 adult Terns were observed. These birds gave no indication of nesting activity, as they were not seen incubating nor did they exhibit nest defense behavior when the area, including locations of previously observed nests, was searched. As expected, no nests were located; the Terns apparently deserted their nests. The sandbar area was subject to heavy recreational use from visitors to nearby Two Rivers SRA, including wading in the river, hiking on the sandbars and limited vehicular disturbance. Despite the heavy human use that was apparent, Piping Plovers successfully reared young. Three different groups of 2 or 3 young were noted with adults near the nest on 6 July.

Two Rivers South colony was visited only once, on 6 June. Five adult Terns were observed and 2 nests, each with 3 eggs were found. Six adult Plovers and 3 nests with 1, 2, or 3 eggs were also seen. This sandbar was subject to less disturbance by foot traffic but inner-tubing, canoeing, and air-boating was observed in the river channel. These disturbances had little impact on the nesting birds, as the activity was considerably removed from the area of the nests.

On 10 June an area from the Union Pacific Platte River trestle southwest of Valley to the Highway 92 bridge was checked. Five Least Terns were observed in this 7.5 km stretch of the river. They did not appear to be associated with any particular sandbar and no specific breeding behavior was noted. Only 3 Piping Plovers were observed. Two of these were a pair which exhibited nest defense behavior. An empty nest scrape appeared to have been disrupted, possibly a result of human activity on the bar associated with cabins on the east bank of the river.

The final area checked for breeding activity was 10.5 km of the river from the Highway 77 bridge south of Fremont to the Highway 64 bridge near Leshara. Only one colony, Dry Gulch, was located, slightly west and 2 miles north of Leshara, in Saunders county. Eighteen adult Terns were counted on 30 June, but only 2 nests with 2 or 3 eggs could be located. On 14 July, only the 2 nests found on the first visit were found again. The number of adult Terns had decreased to 12. Although the number of adults should indicate that more nesting activity would be occurring, this is not believed to be the case. The colony was located in an area of the river bed containing many sandbars, but only a limited number of the bars appeared to be suitable breeding habitat. Most of the sandbars were only slightly elevated from the water level of the river and would be subject to flooding with increased river stages. Another higher, dryer sandbar was covered to a large degree by vegetation, making it unsuitable for nesting Terns. The actual area of nesting was less than .25 ha. Since 2 nests were already present, additional nests would have to be placed in vegetated areas or on bars subject to inundation. It appears that the Terns are utilizing an area which historically could have been used but is now undergoing deterioration, resulting in decreased available habitat. In this area the wider, eastern channel was entirely without water and on 10 June it appeared to have been dry for several weeks, since vegetation was fairly well developed. The colony was located on a reach of the river where water again spread across the entire river channel. A reduction in flows in this reach meant the eastern channel was totally dry and was not suitable for nesting birds. This condition extended to about 1.6 km upriver from the colony site. Changes in flow regimes on the Platte have undoubtedly impacted the colony area, perhaps to a degree where the sandbar conditions required for nesting Terns and Plovers has been reduced in size and/or availability.

Additional nesting activity noted on this stretch of the river was a solitary nest situated near the Highway 64 bridge. a pair of Terns had a nest with 1 egg on 30 June. On 14 July the 2 Terns were still present but gave no indications they were still nesting. No nest could be found and the nest previously located was empty. The adult Terns were not observed in the area where the nest had been located but were foraging down river. Also on 14 July, 3 young Plovers were near the nest with adults at the Highway 64 bridge. These birds utilized a sandbar subject to human disturbance, as it was located beneath the bridge and was accessible from a mid-channel island.

Several similarities were noted at each of the Tern colonies. They were all located on river sandbars elevated 50 to 60 centimeters above the water level early in the breeding season, the beginning of June. Each sandbar was also subject to some degree of vegetative encroachment. Vegetative cover was estimated to be from 5 to 10%, with cottonwood (Populus deltoides) saplings the dominant plant. The amount of vegetative cover increased through the season as plants grew larger and as additional plants sprouted. On two occasions, Least Tern young were observed using the cover provided by vegetative growth. Each colony location was surrounded by river subchannels in addition to the main river channel. These subchannels were relatively shallow and from one to three would be present in the colony area. The Terns would feed in these nearby channels which provide forage fish such as minnows. Foraging Terns would also use subchannel areas up and down river from a colony. Observation of these birds away from the colony often indicates that a breeding site could be expected further along on the river.

Piping Plover habitat is very similar to that used by the Terns. The birds would nest in the snow area with nests rater-mixed in the available habitat. In one instance the RV() species nested with within one meter of one another. Aggressive encounters between nesting Plovers and Terns was noted on only one occasion. A Plover ran up to a Tern and pecked it when the Tern landed near its own nest to which it was returning. The Plover had recently fledged young within two to three meters of the nest. Nesting is so interspersed at times that if egg characteristics are not carefully' checked. the nesting species could be misidentified. In addition to the habitat used by both species, Plovers will utilize sandbars entirely free of vegetation and closer in elevation to the water level of the river.

Of the 65 Least Terns observed, only about half were known to be actively breeding. Shramm colony had the best reproductive success with almost all birds involved with nesting. Other sites were subject to human disturbance and habitat degradation which impacted the birds using the area. Piping Plovers were less subject to impacts and successfully raised a larger number of young at different locations.

September 1981. Breeding of the least tern and piping plover on the lower Platte River, Nebraska. Nebraska Bird Review 49(3): 45-51.

22 January 2013

Bird Items Use in Omaha Indian Artifacts

The Omaha Tribe lives in the northeast part of Nebraska on a reservation that is part of their historical lands. This tribe was studied extensively around the turn-of-the-century, and some of its tribal lore and history were recorded, including artifacts that were sent to the Peabody Museum (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972). These artifacts were returned to the Omaha Tribe in 1990, and are now being curated at the University of Nebraska State Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I reviewed the items to determine the species of birds represented in material associated with the artifacts.

More than 50 bird types or species had tribal names (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972: 104-105), but the tribe was familiar with many more species. Some of the birds recognized by the tribe such as the kingbird, blackbird, crane, curlew, dove, ducks, geese, larks, and game birds, were a source of food (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972). Other species, including raptors and the Pileated Woodpecker, adorned ceremonial objects, headdresses, and pipes.

In the following listing and analysis of objects, the numbers were assigned by the Peabody Museum when they first received the artifacts. Once the species could be determined, I reviewed additional references to evaluate the tribal lore and mythology that were associated with the artifact and its bird material. When available, information on the occurrence and distribution of a bird species is summarized, in order to give some perspective on its status before and around the time when the artifacts were collected.

Calumet (Friendship Pipe): 84-75-47809. This pipe includes a Mallard (Pa'hitu; green neck) head and breast, and seven Golden Eagle (Xitha'cka; white eagle) feathers in a fan connected by a leather cord through the feathers' shafts. Eagle down feathers are tied to the ends of this cord and a second cord through the end of the feather quills. Two Red-tailed Hawk (In'beciga; yellow-tail) feathers are attached by red cloth tied near the head of the Mallard; three eagle primary feathers are wrapped around the pipe shaft; about ten Great Horned Owl (Pa'nuhu heton egos; owl having horns) feathers are inserted into the back of the Mallard breast, and tied with leather to the wooden pipe stem; and Mallard feathers are at the base of the downy feathers. A Pileated Woodpecker (Wazhinigapa; bird head) bill is on the end of the pipe opposite the Mallard head. The upper mandible of the woodpecker was turned back over the red crest and painted red (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972: 377).

Calumet (Friendship Pipe): 84-75-47810. This item is similar to the previous item except that Barred Owl (Wapu'gahahada) feathers are wrapped at the end of the Mallard breast.

Both items apparently were used in the Wa'wan ("to sing for someone") ceremony by the Omaha tribe. "The two objects essential to the ceremony were similar to (a) pipestem and ornamented symbolically but they were not attached to bowls and were never used for smoking" (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972: 376-401). These pipe stems were "held in the greatest reverence." Made of ash, one pipe was blue, representing the feminine element, and the other was green, symbolizing the masculine forces. An Indian, "the one who sings," initiated the ceremony by carrying the pipe, along with many gifts, to the lodge or village of a trade partner. During the ceremony, gifts were exchanged. Because of the large quantities of gifts needed to initiate the ceremony, the participants were wealthy men of a high social standing. Although the historic description of the ceremony says the objects should be blue and green, the two items in the collection are both green. They may have been painted the same color since they were being made to sell, rather than for use in a tribal ceremony.

According to Fletcher and LaFlesche (1972: 380), the birds had specific roles. The eagle was a bird of tireless strength: The owl represented night and the woodpecker, the day and sun; these birds also stood for death and life, respectively. "The downy feathers at the end of the thong that bound together the fan-like appendages were sometimes spoken of as symbolizing eggs and again, as the feathers of the young eagle, which fell from the bird when it matured and was able to take its flight." A gourd associated with the Walwan also represented eggs. These friendship pipes are similar to those used in the Pawnee Hako ceremony (Fletcher 190001), but the prominent eagle figure in the Omaha ceremony was represented by corn in the Pawnee version of the same ceremony.

Swallow-tailed Kite: 84-75-47815. The American Swallow-tailed Kite (In'be zhonka; fork-tailed kite) was an ornamental bird of war. The breast cavity is lined with nettle weave cloth and stuffed with bison fur. A scalp is attached to the left leg of the kite. A kite was part of the Sacred War Pack kept in the Tent of War (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972: 412).

Prairie Falcon: 84-75-101/47816. A Prairie Falcon (no tribal name given) wrapped in elk bladder skin was designated as an ornamental bird of war. The two feet are wrapped together using rawhide. A bird with the same museum number as this item was part of the Sacred War Pack (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972: 412). The bird, however, was mistakenly identified as a Swallow-tailed Kite since the specimen had the same number in the collection as a Prairie Falcon.

Birds of War (six in a box): 47817. Each is a carcass of a Purple fey Martin (no tribal name given), and the upper two-thirds of each skin is wrapped in elk bladder skin. These birds, identified as swallows in Fletcher and LaFlesche (1972: 412), were part of the Sacred War Pack kept in the Tent of War. Four of the birds were laid together beneath the flag found in the War Pack. The other two martins were placed beneath the other four birds.

Sacred Wolf Skin. A wolf skin was also part of the Sacred War Pack. This artifact includes several items - an elkskin bladder pouch, which contains the fangs and head of a rattlesnake (48261); a feather roach ornament (T678); a single attached feather, perhaps from an eagle, enclosed by hollow bone at the base; and dyed hair tied to the base of the feather quill. The wolf skin was used in a war-party ceremony to promote a vision in a member of the party and help in discerning the future (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972: 415).

Model Tepee Cover: 82-45-27585. A model of a tepee cover that includes what appears to be graphic representations of feathers.

Ear of Corn: 84-75?-47814. An ear of corn is bound to a wooden stick and a large down feather (the bird species could not be determined) is attached to the stick by the quill portion of the feather.

Pouch: 84-75-48300. An elk bladder pouch with "gealena" and swan (Mi'xacon; white goose) feather down. The artifact in the collection does not include swan down, but the down was listed on the item's description prepared by the Peabody Museum.

Ladle: 82-45-27557. A wooden ladle about six inches in diameter with a duck head-effigy handle. The bill of the effigy serves as a portion of the ladle handle.

Wolf Skin War Robe: 98-12-51841. The robe includes six Golden Eagle feathers tied to the wolf skin with red wool; four feathers are tied to the upper portion of the front of the skin, and two are tied to the lower portion of the robe, on the back side.

Arrows. Four arrows include feathers of the Great Horned Owl. Two arrows have all owl feathers; two have two owl feathers and feathers of another bird which could not be identified.

Species Analysis

There are at least ten different species represented in these few Omaha tribal artifacts. Raptors predominate, with waterfowl, a woodpecker, and the Purple Martin also represented. Most of the species noted were common in the Omaha tribal area in the decades before the artifacts would have been collected (Aughey 1878, Agersborg 1885, Ducey 1988, Ducey, unpublished, and other references). Other species such as the swan, kite, and Pileated Woodpecker, would have been less common.

Birds were of secondary importance to Plains Indians, who largely relied on bison as a source for food (Ubelaker and Wedel 1975). Bird parts, especially those of raptors, were recognized as having greater ceremonial uses. The unusual American Swallow-tailed Kite, used by the Omaha Tribe, was part of a Sacred War Pack, but was apparently separated from the other items that were part of a pack thoroughly described when it was collected (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972:411). An Arikaree bundle contained several hawks and owls (Ubelaker and Wedel 1975).

The swan was an uncommon spring and fall visitor in the Omaha tribal region; the one mentioned under "Pouch" probably was the Trumpeter Swan. It was seen along the Missouri River in May 1834 (Washington County) and in October 1843 (Burt County). It migrated in small numbers in spring and fall along the Missouri River in southeast Dakota Territory (Agersborg 1885), an area north of Cedar, Dixon, and Dakota Counties in present-day northeast Nebraska. "Swans were connected with women. The swan had this association since it provided clothing that gives comfort and it is also a beautiful animal. The left wing of the bird was a symbol of its power" (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972). A swan skin also decorated a staff belonging to the ceremonial director of the hunt.

Other tribes living in the same region used swan material in ceremonies or as part of tribal myths. The Eastern Dakota (Santee), living in northeast Nebraska near the Ponca Tribe on the Missouri River, had the Owl Feather Dance. Each member had a whistle made of a swan's long wing bone (Wissler 1916:110). Swans also played a role in Pawnee tribal myths such as the Eagle and Sun Dance Myth (Dorsey 1906). For the Arikaree, swans were an important source of meat, and their plumage and body parts (heads and wings) were used for decoration and functional objects (Parmalee 1977).

The Mallard was an abundant summer resident and probably was used as food, based on remains excavated from an Omaha village (O'Shea et al. 1982). This duck was noted in the following counties: between 1780 and 1840 in Dakota, based on remains from the Big Omaha Village; 1820 in Washington; May 1834 in Thurston; May 1843 in Nemaha/Otoe and Burt; and October 1843 in Washington. Several specimens were collected in April and June 1865 in Dixon and Dakota Counties. Mallards were also abundant along the Missouri and its tributaries, and in summer in southeast Dakota Territory. Other tribes likely would have also used this species of waterfowl as food. This use was referenced more often than its role in decorating tribal artifacts or in tribal myths.

The American Swallow-tailed Kite was probably more common in the middle 1800s than around 1875, when the species seemed to decline in numbers along the Missouri River. This raptor probably nested in the area in limited numbers. It was noted in May 1833 in Dakota, Dixon, Cedar, and Burt Counties; May 1843 in Knox County; and 1859-60 along the Missouri River. A pair was reported as nesting in Dixon County for the four years prior to 1865 when two birds were collected to see if locusts were eaten (Aughey 1878). In 1893 this kite was still considered an accidental visitor in the Omaha region (White 1893), and was still expected as a breeding bird about 1885 in northeast Nebraska, near southeast Dakota Territory (Agersborg 1885). The only possible Nebraska nesting record was for about 1885 in Dixon County, which was part of the Omaha Indian tribal area.

Among native American tribes in Nebraska, the Omaha tribal record was the only known reference for this kite's use in a tribal medicine bundle. The relatively fewer numbers in comparison to other raptors such as hawks and owls, may have been the reason for its use in Omaha tribal artifacts. The Cheyenne tribe was familiar with this kite, also called the "blue eagle," which was "formerly common along the Canadian and Arkansas Rivers" (Moore 1986). A Swallow-tailed Kite was included in a drawing of birds recognized by these Indians. Prehistoric bird remains from 51 Ankara sites along the Missouri River in South Dakota did not contain remains of any kites (Parmalee 1977).

The Red-tailed Hawk was probably a common, though not abundant, raptor in the Omaha tribal area. It was noted in 1856 on the Niobrara River, and in 1856 at Fort Randall on the Missouri River. A specimen was collected in Dakota County in 1870, but this species was only a rare breeding resident about 1885 in southeast Dakota Territory. Raptors such as this hawk, were used mostly for a variety of ceremonial purposes - for personal adornment, as symbols of strength and courage, and in sacred or ceremonial bundles. Most references to what could have been this species simply said "hawk."

The limited occurrence of the Golden Eagle could have contributed to its importance in Omaha tribal lore. It was probably a rare to uncommon nester in the Omaha tribal area, where a mix of prairie and scattered trees would have provided suitable nesting habitat. It occurred in 1820 in Washington County; still nested in east-central Nebraska in the 1880s; was a transient and nested in the Omaha area about 1894; and was a rare breeding resident about 1885 in southeast Dakota Territory.

The importance of eagles such as the Golden Eagle, is shown by their role for another Plains tribe to the west of the Omaha. For the Arikaree, "probably no other bird played a more important role in the social and ceremonial activities of the Plains Indians than did the eagle. Eagles appear predominantly in the myths held by many tribes. They represented symbols of strength and courage. Feathers and body parts were worn or carried to signify rank or individual standing. The capture of these birds often involved detailed planning, special preparation and ritual, and group organization." (Parmalee 1977.) The tail feathers of the Golden Eagle were especially sought, often being taken through complex rituals, especially for Plains tribes west of the middle Missouri River and in Dakota Territory (Wilson 1928).

The Prairie Falcon was an uncommon visitor. It was noted in October 1856 at Fort Randall on the Missouri, and in 1856 and 18741 along the Missouri, though not abundant. It was rare during spring migrations about 1885 in southeast Dakota Territory.

The Great Horned Owl was a common permanent resident. It was noted in suitable woodland habitat in 1856 throughout the Missouri River region. A specimen was collected in 1865 in Dakota County. This owl species was a common breeding resident about 1885 in southeast Dakota Territory. Feathers of this species also played a role in ceremonies and dances of the Mandan, according to the journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied, who visited the tribe in the winter of 1833-34. In most cases, as with hawks, owls were not identified to a specific species. The Omaha did, however, recognize the difference in species, since they had different names for each group.

The Barred Owl, an uncommon resident, would have been more common downriver from the tribal area along the Missouri. It was noted in May 1834 in Thurston County, and one was seen along the Missouri River in Cedar County in 1867. About 1885, this owl was a common winter resident, with a few birds present in summer. The use of this species would have been more common among the Omaha, and limited with tribes living further west. Extensive forested areas along the Missouri River floodplain that are used as habitat by the Barred Owl, would not have occurred further north and west on the Plains.

The Pileated Woodpecker was noted in burial material excavated from an Omaha Indian village near Homer, Dakota (O'Shea et al. 1982). This species was noted in May 1843 in Nemaha/Otoe Counties, and in October 1843 in Dakota County. It was rare, if not casual, in the Missouri River region of Nebraska, and probably only a winter visitor about 1885 in heavy timber along the Missouri River in southeast Dakota Territory.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was included in the listing for this species for the Omaha tribe (Fletcher and LaFlesche 1972:105). Remains of this woodpecker were discovered among materials excavated at the Big Omaha Village near the present town of Homer (O'Shea et al. 1982). The remains were thought to have been from birds received through trade with tribes in southeast North America, where this woodpecker occurred naturally.

Both of the woodpecker species described above were used to decorate sacred tribal pipes (O'Shea et al. 1982). The use of Pileated Woodpecker bills would have been rare, due to the limited occurrence of this species in the Omaha tribal area. Use of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker would have been very limited, since it was available only as a trade object. In reference to the Mandans, Maximilian wrote:

The Indians cannot obtain such pipes but at considerable expense: many of the necessary ornaments are not to be procured among them, such as the upper bill and the red crown of the pileated woodpecker, a bird which is not found so high up the Missouri [as North Dakota]. For the head of one of these woodpeckers, which was brought from St. Louis, they gave a large handsome buffalo robe, worth six or eight dollars.

The Purple Martin was a common summer resident, nesting in large trees along the Missouri River. It was recorded in May 1834 in Dixon County; May 1843 at Fort Randall on the Missouri; April 1854 at Cedar Island near Fort Randall; and May 1854 near the mouth of the Vermillion River and at Fort Randall. It was most abundant about 1856 along the wooded bottoms of streams, where dead trees were its favorite breeding places. Several specimens were collected in Burt and Dakota Counties in May and June of 1865, 1867, and 1868. Other records are from about 1874 at Cedar Island, and this species was common in summer about 1885 in southeast Dakota Territory. The Purple Martin, "more generally than any of the others [swallows], captures locusts at all stages of their growth," (Aughey 1878:26).

The ceremonial importance of the Purple Martin could be related to the spiritual importance attached to other swallow-like birds. Specifically, the Lewis and Clark narratives refer to a place the Indians called "Mountain of Little People or Spirits," an elevated part of the grassy plains in what is now northern Cedar County. The expedition narrative (Thwaites 1969: 122-123) explained the special recognition of this mound in the following passage:

The surrounding plain is open, void of timber and level to a great extent, hence the wind from whatever quarter it may blow drives with unusual force over the naked Plains and against this hill; the insects of various kinds are thus involuntarily driven to the mound by the force of the wind, or fly to its leeward side for shelter; the small birds whose food they are consequently resort in great numbers to this place in search of them; particularly the small brown martin of which we saw a vast number hovering on the leeward side of the hill, when we approached it in the act of catching those insects; they were so gentle that they did not quit the place until we had arrived within a few feet of them.

One evidence which the Indians give for believing this place to be the residence of some unusual spirits is that they frequently discover a large assemblage of birds about this mound is in my opinion a sufficient proof to produce in the savage mind a confident belief of all the properties which they ascribe [to] it.

Based on the brown coloration of these birds, which the narrative called martins, they were possibly Rough-winged or Bank Swallows. These notes do, however, indicate the spiritual importance of this group of birds to the Omaha Tribe. An interesting speculation is how Purple Martins would have been captured. Were they trapped in a nesting cavity or captured while in flight?


The bird species noted in these artifacts document actual use of bird material by the Omaha Tribe. The use of feathers, other bird parts, or complete skins for important tribal objects indicates that these species were especially prominent and important in tribal lore and mythology. There are probably other ways such as myths or tribal knowledge, in which the Omaha Tribe would have been familiar with these birds and many others.


I would like to thank Dr. Thomas P. Myers for providing access to the collection of stored artifacts, in order to look at them and determine the use of bird material. Tom Labedz was very helpful in identifying bird feathers.

Literature Cited

Agersborg, A. 1885. Birds of Southeast Dakota. Auk 2: 276-289.

Aughey, S. 1878. Notes on the nature of the food of the birds of Nebraska. Appendix II: First annual report of the United States Entomological Commission for the year 1877 relating to the Rocky Mountain Locust. pp. 13-62.

Dorsey, G.A. 1906. The Pawnee: Mythology (Part 1). Carnegie Institute of Washington, Washington D.C. 546 pp.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska Birds: Breeding Status and Distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, NE. 148 pp.

Ducey, J. no date. The history of birds in Nebraska from 1750 to 1875. Unpublished manuscript.

Fletcher, A.C. 1900-01. The Hako: a Pawnee ceremony. Bureau of American Ethnology annual report 1900-01, Number 22, part 2. 372 pp.

Fletcher, A.C. and F. LaFlesche. 1972. The Omaha Tribe. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 660 pp. in two volumes.

Moore, J.H. 1986. The ornithology of Cheyenne religionists. Plains Anthropologist 31: 177-192.

O'Shea, J. M., G. D. Shrimper and J. Ludwickson. 1982. Ivory-billed woodpeckers at the Big Village of the Omaha. Plains Anthropologist 27-97: 245-248.

Parmalee, P. W. 1977. The avifauna from prehistoric Arikara sites in South Dakota. Plains Anthropologist 22-77:189-222.

Thwaites, R.G. 1969. Original journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Arno Press, New York. Vol. 1, pp. 64-141.

Ubelaker, D.H. and W.R. Wedel. 1975. Bird bones, burials, and bundles in Plains archeology. American Antiquity 40:444-452.

White, C.A. 1893. The raptores [sic.] of Omaha and vicinity. Oologist 10:138-140.

Wilson, G.L. 1928. Hidatsa eagle trapping. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 30 (4):101-245.

Wissler, C., ed. 1916. Societies of the Plains Indians. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 11. New York. 1,031 pp.

December 1992. Bird items and their use in some Omaha Indian artifacts. Nebraska Bird Review 60(4): 154-163.

Least Tern Eggs in Nests of Piping Plover

During 1983, in the course of the annual Nebraska Game and Parks Commission survey of breeding activity of the interior Least Tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos) on the Missouri National Recreation River in northeast Nebraska, eggs of the Tern were found in nests of the belted Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus circumcintus). This survey involved weekly visits to colonies to check breeding activity and status of nest contents.

At two different midriver sandbar colony sites eggs of the Least Tern were observed in Piping Plover nests. The most obvious differences first noticed were that the eggs in two separate scrapes had an odd coloration and size and pattern of markings. The odd egg or eggs in each scrape was notably different, with markings more typical of Least Tern eggs rather than the Piping Plover. Familiarity with eggs of both species from previous field work (Nebraska Bird Review 49: 45-51, 50: 68-72) and other nests during this census (NBR 52:36-40) made the differences very apparent. A comparison with the contents of other nests at both colonies, lighter coloration, and markings that were blotched, spotted, and speckled rather than the more uniform, smaller spots and speckles of Piping Plover eggs, led to an identification of the eggs as those of the Least Tern. The marking variations can be noted in the accompanying pictures of the contents within both nests. Differences are most notable in the nest with two odd eggs. Coloration differences at both scrapes are also more apparent in color slides taken to document this occurrence.

Figure 1. Piping Plover nest with Tern egg at Ionia Bend Colony on the Missouri National Recreational River. The Tern egg is on the right side of the scrape.

The first nest was at a colony site known as Ionia Bend, at Missouri River mile 762, 8 kilometers east of Newcastle, in Cedar County, Nebraska. When the nest was located on 16 June it contained 4 Plover eggs and 1 Tern egg (Figure 1). On subsequent visits on 21 June and 29 June the contents were the same. On 6 July the Tern egg was gone but there were still 3 Plover eggs and 1 hatched Plover young. An empty scrape was recorded on the final visit on 13 July and the Plover were considered to have successfully fledged. The nearest active Tern nest during this period was 25 meters.

A second occurrence was at Hourglass Colony, at river mile 774, 1.6 kilometers east and 3.2 kilometers north of Maskell, Dixon County. The Plover nest at this site was first observed on 1 June when it contained 3 eggs. On 8 June, 4 eggs were present. On 16 June the nest had 4 Plover eggs as well as the 2 Tern eggs (Figure 2). The adult Pipling Plover was observed incubating the nest on this visit. On 22 June one of the Tern eggs was gone although the other 5 eggs were still present. The Plover eggs were gone on 29 June and these were considered to have successfully fledged young. The Tern egg was still in the scrape on this date as well as on 6 July. The nearest active tern nest during this period was 6.5 meters.

In both of these cases the odd eggs had a different fate than the other contents of the scrape. In the first nest the egg disappeared and in the second nest one egg was gone and the other remained in the nest after the Plover eggs hatched. This would indicate that these eggs were probably not laid in the scrape at the same time as the greater number of eggs.

Figure 2. Piping Plover nest with 2 Tern eggs at Hourglass Colony on the Missouri National Recreational River. The two lighter—colored eggs on the right side of the scrape are Tern eggs.

The characteristics of the vegetation and debris at both scrapes was not notably different from other Plover scrapes. Based upon the percent cover within a one meter diameter circle around the scrape, the first nest had no vegetation, with 15% debris cover of sticks, while the second site had 2.5% plant cover (a cattail stalk). The debris was dried bulrush stems with a 15% cover value. Of over 140 Piping Plover nests analyzed, 70% (99 of 142) had no vegetation present while 86% (128 of 149) had debris present of which 48 had 15% vegetative cover. Least Tern had values of 69% (80 of 116) with no vegetation and 72% (95 of 132) had debris scattered around the nest (Ducey unpublished data). These values indicate no obvious measured differences in these characteristics that would separate a Tern nest from a Plover nest.

One other feature measured, the cobble in the first scrape and bits of bark, small twigs, and dried bulrush stems in the second scrape were measurably different than the typical Tern nest. In both of these scrapes, a cover value of 37.5% was recorded. Of 133 Piping Plover nests analyzed, 105 or 79% had cobble or woody material present in varying amounts. Only 16 of 109 Least Tern nests or 15% had these fragments. And only 3 of the 16 had had a value of 37.5 percent. No Tern scrape contained fragments in an amount exceeding this value while Plover nests had values that ranged up to 100% cover of material lining the scrape. So when the Tern eggs were laid, the adult bird was placing them in a scrape with a lining not typical for the majority of Least Tern nests where this characteristic was evaluated.

Although the Piping Plover and Least Tern often breed in the same suitable habitat on portions of the Missouri. Platte, Niobrara, and Loup Rivers in Nebraska, with nests intermixed at breeding areas, these two nests were the first Piping Plover nests observed that contained eggs of the Tern. Of over 300 total nests for both species personally observed during 4 years of field research or numerous other nests observed by Game and Parks Commission personnel during their annual survey efforts, none have established a record of this occurrence previously.

The Cornell Nest Record Program also has not received any reports of similar observations (J. Collins and D.A. McCrimmon, personal communication, July 1983). Also, no mention of this occurrence can be located in the ornithological literature.

It would appear that these records are the first known observation of Least Tern eggs being found in nests of the Piping Plover.

December 1984. Least tern eggs in nests of the piping plover. Nebraska Bird Review 52(4): 72-73.

Analysis of Winter Long-eared Owl Pellets

The Long-eared owl (Asio otus) is a permanent resident of Nebraska, but is seldom seen due to its nocturnal habits. Days are spent roosting in dense wooded cover with the Owls venturing out at night to hunt. Typically, for roosting and nesting Long-eared owls select woodlands adjacent to open grassy fields in which they hunt (Getz 1961). Although dispersed during the breeding season, these Owls often form wintering groups which utilize communal roosts.

With a large number of birds using an area continuously for a short period, or with a small number of owls using an area for an extended period, regurgitated pellets containing prey remains are concentrated at one location. The remains in the pellets provide a representative sample of prey consumed by the owls. Pellets were collected at two different sites utilized by wintering Long-eared Owls near Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska.

Site 1 was located on private land southwest of Lincoln. Sixteen Long-eared Owls had been observed at this site during the 1980 Lincoln Christmas Bird Count (Cindy Cochran pers. comm.). On 13 February 1981 site 1 was visited to assess the roost habitat and to collect pellets. Six to 8 Long-eared Owls were flushed when they were approached to within 3 meters (m). The Owls were hesitant to fly when disturbed. This delay in flight provided an opportunity to note that a Short-eared Owl (A. flammeus) was also in the roost area. The group of Owls flew only a short distance to the east and landed back in the shelterbelt.

The roost of these Owls was a shelterbelt planted to Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginianus). The two hectare (ha) shelterbelt is oriented east to west and is 50 m wide and 400 m long. It is comprised of 12 rows of planted cedars with an average diameter at breast height of 25 to 30 centimeters. Vegetation noted around the shelterbelt is deciduous trees such as Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), and a pasture consisting primarily of a cool season grass, Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis), and scattered cedar trees.

Site 2 was located 18 kilometers northwest of Lincoln at Branched Oak Wildlife Management Area. A pair of Long-eared Owls had been recorded as year-round residents in the area (Richard Manning pers. comm.). The apparent nesting and roost site is located within a 1 ha planted cedar grove 10 to 15 rows wide and 20 to 25 trees deep. The branches of the trees within the grove are dead to height of about 1.7 to 2.5 m which makes access and movement within the grove difficult. Immediately surrounding the wooded area is a planting of Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), several Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), poplars (Populus sp.), brushy plants including Wild Plum (Prunus sp.) and Rose (Rosa sp.), and large areas of brome. East of the grove is another brushy area, 75-100 m long, comprised of typical plant species invading a grassland. The grove is located within 150 m of Branched Oak Lake.

Pellet Analysis

Pellets were collected from site 1 on 13 February 1981 and site 2 on 14 March 1981. All pellet material observed, including complete pellets and weathered incomplete pellets and other debris, was collected. The pellets were then carefully picked apart and the contents identified. Mammal remains were identified with the aid of a cranium key (Glass 1951) and by comparison with representative skulls in the mammal collection at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). Bird remains were identified by skull remnants and by complete or partially complete bills. Each individual cranium/skull and pair of dentary bones were considered as one occurrence of the prey animal. The dentary bones were paired with a similar species skull and were not counted twice. Remaining skulls without corresponding dentary bones and paired dentary bones were each considered as an occurrence of the prey animal.

Prey item biomass was determined by utilizing an average body weight for the species recorded. Average body weights from mammals are from Schwartz (1981). Specific avian masses are from Amadon (1943) and other sources. Representative weight for a group of birds, i.e. Fringillidae, is from Marti (1974).

Results and Discussion

A total of 465 pellets and 236 incomplete pellets or debris pieces were collected from the two locations. Pellet contents included at least 10 mammal and 3 bird species (Table 1). Voles, genus Microtus, were the most common prey item that occurred and comprised almost half of the total biomass consumed (Table 2).

Table 1. Vertebrate remains in Long-eared Owl pellets from two sites near Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska
  Prey Items Total Biomass
  Number Percent Grams Percent
Species Site 1 Site 2 Site 1 Site 2 Site 1 Site 2 Site 1 Site 2
Least Shrew (Cryptotis parva) 6 10 2.2 2.5 21 35 T T
Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) - 17 - 4.3 - 357 - 3
White-footed/Deer Mouse (Peromyscus spp.) (a) 83 76 29.9 19.2 1,577 1,444 21 12
Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) 65 167 23.4 42.2 2,730 7,014 36 56
Prairie Vole (Microtus ochrogaster) 43 26 15.5 6.6 1,655 1,001 22 8
Vole spp. (Meadow or Prairie, #2 upper cheek tooth missing, so not determinate) - 11 - 2.8 - 456 - 4
Harvest Mouse (Rethrodontomys spp.) (b) 75 67 27.0 16.9 1,425 737 19 6
House Mouse (Mus musculus) 4 - 1.4 - 84 - 1 -
Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) - 1 - 0.2 - 750* - 1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) - 4 - 1.0 - 100 - T
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) - 5 - 1.3 - 275 - 2
Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 1 - 0.3 - 44 - 1 -
Unidentified Passeriformes (c) 1 4 0.3 1.0 30 120 T 1
Unidentified Fringillidae (c) - 8 - 2.0 - 240 - 2
  278 396 100.0 100.0 7,566 12,529 100 100

(a) Either White-footed (P. leucopus) or Deer (P. maniculatus) Mouse, extreme fragmentation prohibits specific identification.

(b) Probably Western (R. megalotus) as Plains (R. montanus) Harvest Mouse is locally uncommon. Skulls greatly fragmented.

(c) Identified by bill remains only.

* Average mass x .75 = consumed biomass (Grear and Gilstrap 1970).

T Trace amounts of less than 1%.

Pellets collected from site 2, Branched Oak Lake, contained 4 species not recorded at site 1. These were the Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda), Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), and Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Pellets from the cedar shelterbelt/pasture area of site 1 contained the House Mouse (Mus musculus) and Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) which were not recorded from the lake site. The average mass of a prey item was 29.8 grams. This weight most closely approximates the mass of the small rodents which were the most frequently consumed prey items found in the pellets. (Tables 1 through 3 provide a complete analysis of prey composition and frequency).

Table 2. Combined contents of Long-eared Owl pellets from two sites near Lincoln.
Prey Group Prey Items Biomass
  Number Percent Grams Percent
Least Shrew (Cryptotis parva) 16 2.4 56 0.3
Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) 17 2.5 357 1.8
White-footed/Deer Mouse (Peromyscus spp.) 159 23.6 3,021 15.0
Voles (Microtus spp.) 312 46.3 12,856 64.0
Harvest Mouse (Reithrodontomys spp.) 142 21.1 2,162 10.8
House Mouse (Mus musculus) 4 0.6 84 0.4
Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) 1 0.1 750 3.7
Birds 23 3.4 809 4.0
  674 100.0 20,095 100.0

Table 3. Number of prey items (i.e., individual animals) recorded per pellet analyzed, from Long-eared Owls from two sites near Lincoln.
Items per Pellet Number of Pellets Percent
  Site 1 Site 2 Total  
0 0 43 43 9.3
1 156 186 342 73.5
2 37 28 65 14.0
3 5 3 8 1.7
4 2 4 6 1.3
5 0 1 1 0.2
  200 265 465 100.0

A comparison of the pellet contents of Long-eared Owls from several states is given in Table 4. Data from Michigan (Geis 1952), Minnesota (Christenson and Fuller 1975), Indiana (Kirkpatrick and Conway 1947), Illinois (Cahn and Kemp 1930, Birkenholtz 1958) and Ohio (Randle and Austing 1952) are given for comparative purposes. Although results obviously vary from location to location, an interesting difference of the Nebraska data presented is the relatively high , combined percentage of White-footed/Deer Mouse spp. and Harvest Mouse spp. Only Illinois had a higher percent composition of White-footed/Deer Mouse spp. Harvest Mice occurrence in Nebraska was almost 20 percentage points higher, in relation to total prey consumed, than values for the two other sites where they were recorded. The percentage of total avian prey items is notably consistent around 2-3% for all of the studies cited.

Table 4. A comparison of contents of Long-eared Owl pellets from six states, in percentage of prey items.
Prey Group Michigan Minnesota Indiana Illinois* A Illinois* B Ohio* Nebraska*
Least Shrew (Cryptotis parva) - - 7.6 - 20.8 10.4 2.4
Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) 1.4 4.4 1.0 3.5 - 10.2 2.5
White-footed/Deer Mouse (Peromyscus spp.) 10.0 7.7 10.3 40.7 13.1 5.3 23.5
Voles (Microtus spp.) 84.3 81.3 75.9 29.2 47.8 62.9 46.3
Harvest Mouse (Reithrodontomys spp.) - 2.2 - - - 0.5 21.2
House Mouse (Mus musculus) - - - 23.0 11.1 3.2 .6
Birds 2.6 3.3 2.8 2.7 1.5 3.3 3.4
Other 1.7 1.1 2.4 0.9 5.7 4.2 0.1
  100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

* Pellets were collected from wintering birds

A Cahn and Kemp 1930; B Birkenholtz 1958.

Other variations in pellet contents represent many possible environmental differences. This could include differences in individual owl prey selection, prey type occurrence and density, and the physical characteristics of the hunting territory. Additional factors could include the presence of competing predatory birds and mammals which might affect the Owls behavior or possibly affect prey composition in the diet.

The results of this study indicate that Long-eared Owls appear to be indiscriminate feeders that prey on a diverse group of suitably sized animals that are available in the area of the roost.

Literature Cited:

Amadon, D. 1943. Bird weights and egg weights. Auk 60: 221-234.

Birkenholtz , D. 1958. Notes on a wintering flock of long-eared owls. Illinois Academy of Science Transactions 51: 83-86.

Cahn, A.R. and J.R. Kemp, 1930. On the food of certain owls in east-central Illinois. Auk 47: 323-328.

Christenson, G. and M.R. Fuller. 1975. Food habits of two long-eared owl families in east-central Minnesota. Loon 47: 58-61.

Geis, A.D. 1952. Winter food habits of a pair of long-eared owls. Jack-Pine Warbler 30: 93.

Getz, L.L. 1961.Hunting areas of the long-eared owl. Wilson Bulletin 73: 79-82.

Glass, B.P. 1951. A key to the skulls of North American mammals. Oklahoma University. Stillwater, Oklahoma. 53 pp.

Greer, J.K. and R.L. Gilstrap. 1970. Vertebrate remains in barn owl pellets. Bulletin of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society 3: 25-29.

Kirkpatrick, C.M. and C.H. Conaway. 1947. The winter food of some Indiana owls. American Midland Naturalist 38: 755-766.

Marti, C.D. 1974. Feeding ecology of four sympatric owls. Condor 76: 45-61.

Randle, W. and R. Austing. 1952. Ecological notes on long-eared and saw-whet owls in southwestern Ohio. Ecology 33: 422-426.

Schwartz, C.W. and E.R. Schwartz. 1981. The wild mammals of Missouri. University of Missouri Press, Columbia. 356 pp.

Jim Ducey and John Kirby. September 1983. An analysis of winter long-eared owl pellets from Lancaster County, Nebraska. Nebraska Bird Review 51(3): 79-82.