Date of this Version
Mollhoff, "The 2001 Nebraska Nesting Report," from Nebraska Bird Review (September 2004) 72(3).
The spring of 2001 will likely be remembered as the winter that wouldn't end, especially in central and western Nebraska. The last remnants of roadside snowbanks remained in the east until 10 April, but the last blizzard closed down the Panhandle on 21-22 April, and the last appreciable snowfall there was on 19 May. None of these dates represent late records, but are remarkably later than average for the past 10-15 years, and seemed especially burdensome following the long cold winter and the remarkably early spring the previous year.
While I recognize the danger inherent in making generalizations when working with such a small sample size, I feel it worthwhile to comment on differences and similarities between the timing of the 2000 and 2001 nesting seasons. While only a few species allowed direct comparison by being found nesting again in the same location as last year, the following information is offered for what it's worth. It would have been interesting to compare data on more of the cavity nesters, but unfortunately, I did not locate any active nuthatch nests this year, nor take the time to search out more of the other cavity nesters.
In the southern Panhandle, Cassin's, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Bluegray Gnatcatcher, Bullock's Oriole (and Red-winged Blackbird in the east), all appeared to be 2-3 weeks later in their breeding cycle than last year. By contrast, also in the Panhandle, Great Blue Heron, Great Homed Owl, Lewis's Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Lark Sparrow, and McCown's Longspur seemed to be on the same schedule as last year, as were American Crow, Common Grackle, and House Finch in the east.
While it seems intuitive that some species would respond to the late spring by nesting later, why didn't some other species? How much of the difference in timing was actually due to the weather, and how much was due to the randomness of the small sample size or other variables? Obviously, it will take more years of data collection and a much larger sample size, one that includes all species, before generalizations can be made. Witnessing a blizzard disrupt breeding by Pinyon Jays and Canada Geese makes the reason for those delays pretty apparent. But what about kingbirds and gnatcatchers that were not even present yet? Were they later because of delayed plant growth and insect development? More study and many more records are needed before we can speak with certainty.