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Persons living in Nebraska often feel that they are living in a cultural wasteland; its citizenry preoccupied with violent sports such as hunting and football. Yet many are unaware that they are actually residing in one of the prime locations in the entire world for observing and enjoying some of the most aesthetically appealing of all the world's biological attractions. The area around Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy, for example, is known to have attracted more than 300 bird species, including 104 breeders (plus 17 probable breeders) making it the third-most species-rich bird location in the entire U.S.A. (after Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in southern Texas and Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Management Area in central Kansas). More impressively, the spring congregations of cranes and waterfowl along the Platte Valley have recently been ranked by Roger Pasquier (writing in Forbes Magazine, 1997) as the greatest bird spectacle on earth.
It has been estimated that bird-watching activities in the U.S.A. have increased 155 percent during the past decade, or at a more rapid rate than all other outdoor sports including walking, skiing and hiking, whereas fishing, hunting and tennis have all actually declined in popularity. Throughout America some 24.7 million people reported in 1991 that they had traveled to watch birds, spending an estimated 5.2 billion dollars annually in their activities. About 63 million people in the U.S.A. feed or watch birds at home. In Nebraska alone an estimated 23.1 million dollars per year are spent by the public on non-consumptive bird-related activities, and about 800 people are employed in jobs supported by non-consumptive bird-related areas (Bird Conservation, spring, 1997, pp 6-8).
This summary of the birds of Nebraska grew out of the research associated with the writing of my Birds of the Great Plains: Breeding Species and Their Distribution (University of Nebraska Press, 1979). Inasmuch as the only previous comprehensive summary of Nebraska's birds, the "Revised Check-list of Nebraska Birds" (Occasional Papers of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union, 1958) was about 40 years old, and has since received only a minimal revision that covered the period to 1970, it seemed apparent to me that a completely new list of birds of the state should be prepared. In my view, this would include a fairly detailed statement of the ranges of the breeding species insofar as they are now understood, a more objective separation of abundance categories for the relatively rarer species, a summary of migration data for all migratory species, and a brief statement of habitats used by each species while it is in Nebraska.
With that in mind, I prepared a list that attempted to provide this information, not only for Nebraska but also the adjoining Plains States from North Dakota south though Oklahoma (Johnsgard, 1980). For my present purposes this list has been restricted to those species that have been convincingly reported at least once in Nebraska from historic times to the present. It has also been modified in its current revision to conform very closely in that regard to the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union's "Official" list of the birds of Nebraska (NOU Records Committee, 2004; Brogie, 2006). Like mine, that list (of 448 species) is based on actual specimen evidence or some other convincing basis of each species' proven occurrence in the state. My list also totals about 448 species. Some of the newer records (especially since 1980) of relatively rare species have not been individually listed in this present revision; these have been fully summarized by Sharpe et al. (2001) and Bray et al. (1986) as well as in the periodic additions to the "Official" list. One of the species accepted by Bray et al. (the mottled duck) is regarded by me as a probable hybrid, and some recent sightings of obvious escapes from captivity such as the mute swan (Cygnus olor) and swan goose (Anser cygnoides) and ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) are ignored. Range maps are shown for those species known to breed in Nebraska, South Dakota or Kansas. The latest American Ornithologists' Union taxonomy (AOU Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition and later supplements) is followed here.