Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



“Observation of Hailstorm-Caused Mortality of Least Terns and Piping Plovers on the Niobrara River, Nebraska” from Nebraska Bird Review (September 2008) 76(3).


Copyright 2008 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


Hail has been documented to be a cause of mortality to adult Least Terns and Piping Plovers as well as to eggs and young (Boyd 1992, Lingle 1993, Schweitzer and Davis 2000, SD Dept. of Game, Fish and Parks 2005). While on an airboat survey to document Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) and Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) use of a portion of the Niobrara River (from Highway 137 to the Spencer Dam, approximately 40 river miles), the authors observed the remnants of a Least Tern and Piping Plover colony that had been hit by an overnight rainstorm accompanied with large hail. The colony was found on the morning of June 18, 2008, in the southwest comer of Boyd County, Nebraska (UTM 14 northing 480112.1, easting 4739856.9 in Section 30, T33N, Rl6W). A number of terns and plovers were observed flying over a riverine sandbar and displaying courtship activities. Further investigation of the area to count adults and investigate the possibility of nesting resulted in the discovery of several dead adults. These dead birds showed obvious signs of trauma, including broken wings and legs. The site was surveyed on foot for approximately 20 minutes by the survey team. Dead birds were collected from an area approximately 150 feet in diameter. No evidence of nests, eggs, or chicks was observed. It is believed that most, if not all, dead birds on the sandbar were discovered and collected. We observed 7 live adult Least Terns using the area and four dead adults and 8 live adult Piping Plovers and two dead adults.