Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



"Some Birds of the Pony Lake Area of the Eastern Sandhills, Nebraska," in Nebraska Bird Review (September 1991) 59(3): 55-58. Copyright 1991 James E. Ducey and Jerry Schoenenberger. All rights reserved. Article included here with author's written permission.


A partial survey was made of the bird life in the vicinity of Pony Lake, located about 15 miles south of Newport, in portions of sections 17-20, T28N, RI7W, Rock County.

Pony Lake was reportedly named according to a legend from "early days" when a native American was thrown and killed on its banks by a wild pony (Perkey, 1982). Originally Pony Lake was reported to be 20 feet deep (lake history based on conversations and observations of Jerry Schoenenberger). In the late 1800s, possibly 1900-1910, a town site was platted on the southwest corner of the lake. Construction included a lumberyard and dance pavilion. There was also a dock for a sail boat on which rides were given.

About 1910, Orley Peterson purchased the lots and surrounding land from the various owners and developed a ranch headquarters at the site of Lake City. The post office was established 8 June 1910. In the early teens, Oscar Peterson and his sons would annually plow a fire break from Pony Lake northeast toward Otter Lake. Then one spring day they shoveled out a short way between the lake and the end of the fire break, draining Pony Lake to its present level. It was said that the water ran out for two years. The post office was discontinued 15 August 1929.

In 1934 Pony Lake went totally dry from the drought. Corn was planted in the lake bottom in 1936. When Chester Schoenenberger moved to Pony Lake from Newport in 1947, he wore four-buckle overshoes while hunting pheasants all over the lake. Pony Lake refilled in the late 1940s and early 1950s, then in 1956 was nearly dry. Ducks were more plentiful then than I have ever seen since.

Fish have been in the lake in varying amounts and species through the years. Since the lake is ditched to the northeast, it eventually connects with the Elkhorn River. Fish make their way up the ditch during high water periods. Pony Lake was almost all covered with vegetation after it refilled in the late 1950s. Then carp came up from the Elkhorn, and today there is such a large population of carp, that the only vegetation is cattails and bulrushes around the perimeter. The water is very muddy and there is almost no food, i.e. duckweed, for waterfowl.

The maximum water depth currently is about five feet. The lake bottom which was originally white sand has become silted in to a depth of 18 to 24 inches in some places. Pony Lake is about 330 acres in size with a mean recorded depth of about 24 inches and a maximum depth of about 36 inches (McCarraher, 1977).