Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



Poague, "Birds of Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center - 1999-2004," from Nebraska Bird Review (September 2004) 72(3).


Copyright 2004, Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. Used by permission.


In the summer of 1998, Audubon Nebraska, a state office of the National Audubon Society, purchased the 610-acre O'Brien Ranch located three miles south of Denton, Nebraska. The site, now called Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center (SCPAC), will be devoted to prairie education and restoration. The Center's size expanded to 626 acres in 2000 when the Wachiska Audubon Society bought an adjacent 16-acre property on the northwest comer of the section.

Historically, most of the ranch was never farmed, probably because of its hills and the large number of glacial boulders present in the soil. It is one of the largest native grasslands remaining in Lancaster County, containing nearly 500 acres of unplowed tall grass prairie. Other natural features include Spring Creek and its associated riparian zones, several wetlands, springs, ravines, and a mature bur oak woodland. Six cattle ponds have been constructed on site, two along Spring Creek. There is a 52-acre crop field in the southeast comer, two small ( < 5 acres) abandoned alfalfa fields, and disturbed areas north and south of the ranch house.

A century of cattle ranching has impacted the floristic composition of the prairie. Overgrazing on portions of several pastures has encouraged the spread of woody and exotic plant species. Large, resilient stands of excellent prairie, though, remain. A three-year research project catalogued more than 340 plant species (Kottas 2000). Current land management targets the removal of invasive and exotic plants - honey locust, Siberian elms, leafy spurge, and musk thistles being priorities - and the establishment of native flora. Because prairie developed naturally under periodic grazing of bison, elk, and other animals, grazing will continue with cattle, but with lower stocking rates than the previous owner's and a rotation system. All pastures are periodically rested and burned to revitalize vegetation.