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Wetland Biology

Biological Inventories


One of the largest migratory flyways in the North American and South American continents passes through Nebraska. It is an essential corridor linking the breeding grounds and wintering residences for millions of birds. Preserving the habitats along the flyway is crucial to the sustainability of the species dependent upon the resources found throughout the corridor. Fragmentation of the habitat not only reduces the suitability of the area for migratory birds, but may also have a negative impact on the native resident bird populations competing for food, shelter, and reproductive fitness. The result in both cases may be an observed decline in the populations of all birds even remotely associated with the migratory corridor.

So, what does any of this have to do with a study in Wetland Biology?

Many species of birds frequent wetlands as a place to find shelter, food, and to nest. While many of them have lifestyle requirements that associate them tightly to wetlands, others are occasional visitors residing within a wetland for an overnight stay or perhaps as a seasonal resident seeking refuge between wintering and breeding grounds. As the seasons change in Nebraska, the observant birder may see a multitude of changes occurring in the avian community composition in a wetland. Whether a bird's preferred habitat is a wetland, or it is an infrequent visitor to the wetland, both requirements may be critical to that species' ability to survive.

Following this brief introduction to the importance of wetlands for avian populations, you will be presented with a list of bird species commonly seen in wetlands. Do not limit yourself to this list. Consult some of the links included in the list of resources. These will provide you with extensive checklists and additional places to look for detailed descriptions AND PICTURES! There are hundreds of birds with exciting and unusual lifestyles that reside within or are dependent upon a wetland habitat. Enjoy the exploration!

Here's the introductory list and a brief description of each species:

Agelaius phoeniceus, Red-Winged Blackbird

  • Size: Length approximately 9 ½ inches
  • Characteristics:
    • Male: black with red and yellow wing patches
    • Female: dark brown with lighter stripes throughout
    • Immature: mottled brown much like the female. The young males will have red wing patches.
  • Feeding preference: insects, small fish, crustaceans

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus, Yellow-Headed Blackbird

  • Size: Length 9 inches
  • Characteristics:
    • Male: black with a bright yellow head and neck, and a white wing patch.
    • Female: brownish black body with a slightly muted yellow head.
  • Feeding preference: insects, small fish, crustaceans

Melospiza georgiana, Swamp Sparrow

  • Size: Length approximately 6 inches wingspan to 8 inches
  • Characteristics: Male and Female look similar with a rusty head, gray to white face and a medium brown back.
  • Feeding preference: insects and seeds

Cistothorus palustris, Marsh Wren

  • Size: Length 4 to 5 inches wingspan 7 inches
  • Characteristics: Brown head with a black cap. Slender beak. The back is black with white striping
  • Feeding preference: insects and berries

Anas platyrhynchos, Mallard

  • Size: Length 23 inches
  • Characteristics:
    • Male: sports a bright green head, yellow bill, white collar, chestnut chest and light colored body with a blue patch under the wing and close to the rump.
    • Female: Mottled brown and beige with the same blue patch near the tail. She has a dark bill.
  • Feeding preference: submerged vegetation

Aix sponsa, Wood Duck

  • Size: Length 20-22 inches long. Wingspan 29 inches
  • Characteristics:
    • Male: multi-colored with a white chin patch and a long tail.
    • Female: Dark brown throughout with a light colored ring around the eye.
  • Feeding preference: submerged vegetation

Anas acuta, Northern Pintail

  • Size: Length approximately 30 inches.
  • Characteristics:
    • Male: Dark black head with a long white stripe on the neck. He has is white underneath and sports a long pointed tail.
    • Female: mottled brown with a white chest and stomach. Her tail is shorter than the male's.
  • Feeding preference: submerged vegetation

Gallinago gallinago, Common Snipe

  • Size: Length approximately 11 inches.
  • Characteristics: Brown and beige striped body; long, thin bill. The male and female have similar markings.
  • Feeding preference: shoreline insects and crustaceans

Circus cyaneus, March Hawk

  • Size: Length approximately 24 inches with a wingspan to 44 inches.
  • Characteristics:
    • Male: light gray body with brown striping. He has a white rump and black wing tips.
    • Female: brown striped on the underside, solid brown above.
  • Feeding preference: small mammals, frogs

Ardea herodias, Great Blue Heron

  • Size: Height to 53 inches and a wingspan to 70 inches.
  • Characteristics: Slender gray body, black plume on the top of the head, long legs, long thin neck, yellow bill.
  • Feeding preference: fish

Grus canadensis, Sandhill Crane

  • Size: Height 42 inches and a wingspan of 74 inches.
  • Characteristics: Adults are gray with a red blaze on the top of the head. They have long, black legs and a white chin.
  • Feeding preference: corn

Strix varia, Barred Owl

  • Size: Length approximately 24 inches with a wingspan to 46 inches.
  • Characteristics: Round head, chunky brown striated body, large brown eyes.
  • Feeding preference: small rodents