Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Copyright © 1979 by the University of Nebraska Press. Revised edition and electronic version copyright © 2009 Paul A. Johnsgard.


This book is the first to describe systematically all of the species of birds known to have bred or to breed at present in the Great Plains, a major ecological unit that encompasses all or part of part of eleven states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Although the original Great Plains ecosystem—the grassland biome—has been greatly altered by modem agriculture, remnants still exist in national and state parks, grasslands, and refuges, as well as in rural cemeteries, railroad rights-of-way, and small nature reserves. These areas support populations of nearly all the original and introduced birdlife—approximately 320 species—of the Great Plains.

Emphasizing breeding status, or abundance, and distribution, the book is intended to serve as a predictive guide to birds that are likely to breed in a given locality; to aid in the location and identification of nests; to provide a nucleus of information on the species’ ecology and behavior, particularly as it relates to breeding; and to furnish detailed information about the distribution of each species. The individual species accounts discuss breeding status by states or regions of the Great Plains; typical breeding habitat; nest location and description; clutch size and incubation period; time of breeding; and breeding biology (for example, displays and calls, territoriality, division of labor, and fledging period). Range maps are included for all of the non-extinct species (more than 300), and an appendix lists public-access bird-finding areas (primarily state and federal sanctuaries) where most of the species can be observed. In addition, for most of those areas, a list of all the species known to breed within their boundaries is presented as an aid to readers in determining where to go to see particular species.

The text is supplemented by an introduction providing contextual information on Great Plains geology, geography, climate, and ecology as they relate to the birdlife, and by an extensive bibliography and guide to further reading. There are thirty color photographs as well as drawings of representative species of each of the 53 families included in the book.

This “Revised Edition” (2009) contains new range maps for many species, a new essay “Three Decades of Change in Great Plains Birds,” and an updated bibliography of breeding bird surveys and state, regional, national, and species references.

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