Joseph A. Grzybowski and W. Ross Silcock, Regional Editors
The three U. S. states of the Southern Great Plains region—Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma—house prominent state institutions that have provided the foundations and frontiers for ornithology in multiple dimensions. Leading historical figures include Paul Johnsgard, Robert Mengel and George M. Sutton. The region’s ornithological history underpins and accents our understanding of bird migrations, taxonomy, hybrid zones, transformed landscapes, and dynamic distributional patterns of birds.
The Southern Great Plains region occupies a midcontinental location that transitions eastern and western avifaunas in its own splendor of prairies. The decreasing rainfall and increasing elevational patterns westward capture a continental level of habitat diversity from the eastern deciduous and southern pine–oak forests to mesquite and pine–juniper forests of the Southwest and Mountain West. Paralleling the Rocky Mountains also fosters major migration corridors for waterfowl and shorebirds in the region.
The area contains some of the continent’s finest prairies, home to prairie grouse, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and Henslow’s Sparrows. A high diversity of open-country raptors, sparrows, and longspurs, including Smith’s, occurs during migration and winter. The penetration of differing habitats from opposite sides also captures inclusion of species from Brown-headed Nuthatches, Bachman’s Sparrows, and Black-capped Vireos in the south to Cordilleran Flycatchers, Pinyon Jays, and rosy-finches in the northwest.
The region observes significant migrations of waterfowl, Sandhill and Whooping cranes, and shorebirds. More than 35 species of shorebirds can be seen annually in the region, a major corridor for Buff-breasted and White-rumped sandpipers and Hudsonian Godwits. Its mid-continental climate produces extremes with consequences for the population dynamics of regional populations, as well as influences on population shifts and irruptions at a continental level. All three states in the region boast lists approaching 500 species.