Northern Great Plains: Spring 2016

1 Mar–31 May

Ron Martin

Recommended citation:

Martin, R. 2020. Spring 2016: Northern Great Plains. <> North American Birds.

Warm weather made an early appearance in the spring season with open water in early March in North Dakota. Good numbers of waterfowl were in South Dakota in late February and into North Dakota in early March. Some shorebirds and swallows also made early showings.

Shorebirds of interest included a Ruff in North Dakota and Snowy Plovers in both Dakotas. A Black-legged Kittiwake was unusual for spring, and North Dakota had another Great Black-backed Gull. Other North Dakota notables were Plumbeous Vireo, Boreal Chickadee, and Great-tailed Grackle.  The 2nd and 3rd records for Eurasian Tree Sparrow occurred in North Dakota.

South Dakota recorded a Mississippi Kite, and Montana had a Golden-winged Warbler and Summer Tanager.

Contributors (state editors in boldface)

MONTANA: Diane Borgreen, Chuck Carlson, Dan Casey, Scott Heidebrink, Beth Hill, Russ Hill, Tony Leukering, Ron Martin, Don and Holly Minnerath, Ted Nordhagen, Fritz Prellwitz, Mike Schwitters. NORTH DAKOTA: Adrian F. Azar, Sandy J. Aubol, Alice Beauchman, Keith R. Corliss, Corey D. Ellingson, Peggy S. Fenster, Lugene Gerber, Larry D. Igl, Marie M. Jamison, Terry and Joanne Johnson, Dave O. Lambeth, Ron E. Martin, Dan Mason, Jonathan Oehlert, E. Scott Ray, Dean W. Riemer, Paulette R. Scherr, Ryan Worstall, Jill Zahn. SOUTH DAKOTA: Chris Anderson, Doug Backlund, Jocelyn L. Baker, Joe Coppock, Nancy Drilling, Richard S. Latuchie, Ran Mabie, Ernest E. Miller, Kenny Miller, Gary Olson, Ricky D. Olson, Mark Otnes, Jeffrey S. Palmer, Barry Parkin, Kelly Preheim, D. George Prisbe, Gary and Jan Small, Scott Stoltz, Eileen Dowd Stukel, Dave Swanson.


Trumpeter Swans continue their push into eastern North Dakota from Minnesota. Six reports totaling 20 individuals were received from the Red River Valley 8 Mar to the end of the season.

Accidental in western South Dakota, an American Black Duck was in Fall River 23 Apr (p. a., RDO), and North Dakota reports of the species included a single at Tewaukon NWR 5 Mar (ESR, CDE), and a pair 22 May at Jamestown (LDI). An American Wigeon × Eurasian Wigeon was photographed in Billings, MT 16 Apr (DC). Early teal reports included a Cinnamon Teal 22 Mar in Hanson, SD (BP), and a Blue-winged Teal 19 Mar in McLean, ND (REM). Accidental in spring, 2 Black Scoters were on Mission Lake, Glacier, MT 29–30 Apr (p. a., TL).

The earliest for North Dakota, three Horned Grebes were at Williston 7 Mar (AFA).

The 14th record for South Dakota, a White-winged Dove was in Brown 24 Apr (p .a., BP). The earliest record for South Dakota, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen 1 May in Charles Mix (p.a., RM). Early White-throated Swifts were in Pennington, SD 9 Apr (KM).

A Black-necked Stilt was early 12 Apr at Arrowwood NWR, ND (PRS, MMJ). Two Black-necked Stilts were exhibiting nesting behavior 28 May in Watford City, ND (CDE, REM). This species appears to be establishing a foothold in the state. Casual in North Dakota, a Snowy Plover was in Grand Forks 6 May (SJA, DOL). A Snowy Plover 29 Apr in Gregory, SD provided the 10th record for the state (p. a., CA, JC).

Rare in Montana, 2 Ruddy Turnstones were at Medicine Lake NWR 31 May (DB). Rare across the region, Red Knots were at Freezout Lake, MT 6 May (MS) and in Hughes, SD 13–16 May (RDO, DB). Accidental in North Dakota, a Ruff was photographed and seen by many in Burleigh 14–15 Apr (p. a., LG, PSF). This provided the first record in the state west of the Red River Valley.


Accidental in spring, a Black-legged Kittiwake was documented in Stutsman, ND 15 Apr (p. a., MMJ). Now expanding rapidly in Montana, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was at Fort Peck 22 Mar (p.a., CC). The 8th report for North Dakota, a Great Black-backed Gull was in Grand Forks 18–19 May (p. a., DOL). In South Dakota, a Great Black-backed Gull was at Pierre 6–21 Apr (RDO).

Accidental in North Dakota away from the Missouri River, a Least Tern was a treat at Fargo 16 May (p. a., KRC). An early Caspian Tern was noted 8 Apr in Stanley, SD (RDO).

Continuing the trend of early water bird dates, an American White Pelican was in Meade, SD 3 Mar (EEM). Now seemingly regular in South Dakota, a Neotropic Cormorant was in Codington 27 May (p. a., BP).

Casual in Montana, a Green Heron was in Great Falls 1 May (p. a., BH, RH). Glossy Ibis were reported from three South Dakota counties 11–13 May and from three North Dakota counties 1–15 May. An early White-faced Ibis was in Day, SD 8 Apr (BP).

An early Turkey Vulture was at Theodore Roosevelt NP, North Unit, North Dakota 6 Mar (AFA). Also early, an Osprey was in Pennington, SD 27 Mar (RSL). The 8th record for South Dakota, a Mississippi Kite was in Union 11 May (p. a., DS). A rare migrant in North Dakota, a Red-shouldered Hawk was in Grand Forks 16–18 Apr (SJA). An early Broad-winged Hawk was tallied in Union, SD 3 Apr (GJS). A notable movement of Broad-winged Hawks occurred in Malta, MT 28 Apr (FP). Movements of more than a few individuals of this species in Montana are rare. A late Rough-legged Hawk was in Pennington, SD 8 May (JLB).

Very rare in eastern North Dakota, a Burrowing Owl was in Grand Forks 16 Apr (RW). A Barred Owl pair with 2 young were noted frequently 27 Apr through the season in Fargo, ND. This provided the first nesting record for Cass (DM, KRC, DWR).


Unusually far west in North Dakota, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was in Beach 24 Apr (CDE). The Black-backed woodpecker reported at Denbigh Experimental Forest, ND in the winter season remained to 2 Apr (REM).

Rare in western North Dakota, 3 Eastern Phoebes were tallied in Williams 19 Apr–2 May (AFA). The 7th report for North Dakota, a Plumbeous Vireo was seen in Fargo 23 May (p.a., KRC). Casual in South Dakota, a White-eyed Vireo was noted 26 May in Minnehaha (p. a., CA).

Common Ravens continued to move south in North Dakota. Notable this season were three reports from Fargo 4 Mar-23 Apr. Unusually far sw. in North Dakota, a Purple Martin was seen in Beach 24 Apr (CDE).

A Boreal Chickadee wintering in Benson, ND was photographed 21 Mar (p. a., REM, CDE). This furnished the 14th report for the state and the first since 2004. Pacific Wrens were reported again this year in Lawrence, SD 6 and 17 May (p. a., DGP, RDO). There seems to be a small breeding population in the higher portion of the Black Hills.

The 2nd and 3rd records for North Dakota, Eurasian Tree Sparrows included a single photographed in Stanley 12–14 May (p.a., DJR, ESR) and two in Valley City 19 May (p. a., AB).

Now rare in North Dakota, an Evening Grosbeak remained at Fargo until 9 May (DWR).

A large number for mid-May, 600 Lapland Longspurs were still in Renville, ND 14 May (REM). McCown’s Longspurs were noted again this spring in South Dakota with birds seen 6 Apr in Harding (p. a., ND).


A few sparrows made early showings in South Dakota. These included a Vesper Sparrow 27 Mar in Charles Mix (ND), a Lark Sparrow 15 Apr in Charles Mix (KP), and a Lark Bunting 21 Apr in Hankon (EDS). Not often reported in April in recent years, a Baird’s Sparrow was in Williams, ND 24 Apr (AFA). Rare in eastern Montana, a Fox Sparrow was at Fort Peck 9 Apr (CC).

An Eastern Meadowlark was northeast of their usual range in South Dakota 15 May in Aurora (p. a., KP). The 9th report for North Dakota, a Great-tailed Grackle was at Drayton 19 May (p. a., JO). The only South Dakota report was from Brown 24 Apr (GO). An Orchard Oriole was early 22 Apr in Charles Mix, SD (RM).

Casual in South Dakota, a Worm-eating Warbler was in Marshall 24 May (MO). Establishing a new early date by four days, a Black-and-white Warbler was at Westby, MT 27 Apr (TN). The 5th record for Montana, a Golden-winged Warbler was at Saco 20 May (p. a., DHM). The earliest record for South Dakota, a Tennessee Warbler was in Gregory 26 Apr (RM).

Two Northern Parulas in North Dakota were both earlier than the previous early date, singles noted in McIntosh 16 Apr (CDE) and in McHenry 23 Apr (ESR). Casual in North Dakota, a Pine Warbler was at Denbigh Exp. Forest, McHenry 20 May (AFA). A rare migrant in North Dakota, an Audubon’s Warbler was in Mountrail 3 May (ESR). Casual in South Dakota, a Hooded Warbler was in Hughes 10 May (DB, RDO, SS), and a Kentucky Warbler was in Roberts 22–24 May (p. a., MO). Very rare in spring, a Black-throated Blue Warbler was in Grand Forks, ND 21–22 May (TJJ).

Accidental in Montana, a Summer Tanager in Phillips 29 May provided the 8th record for the state (SH). Annual in North Dakota, a Summer Tanager was in Cass 4 May (JZ). Also rare but annual in North Dakota, Western Tanagers were in Fargo 6 May (KR) and in Wahpeton 20 May (CDE).

Report processed by Amy Davis, 28 December 2020.