Pine Ridge Specialties
In the panhandle of Nebraska, the Ponderosa Pine-covered hills and rocky escarpments attract unique birds that occur nowhere else in the state. The Pine Ridge in the northwest corner is a narrow escarpment that spans from Sioux County, across Dawes to Sheridan County. The Wildcat Hills are about 90 minutes south of the Pine Ridge, but offer opportunities to view similar birds that inhabit pine forests.
The tiny energetic Pygmy Nuthatches are common throughout this region. Although they can be easily missed flitting quickly among the pine branches, they can be readily heard with their continuous high-pitched peep calls.
Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins are other regularly occurring species in this region especially near bird feeders. Binoculars are not necessary to enjoy the striking plumage, long tails, and bold behavior of Black-billed Magpies. Like a sentinel of the Pine Ridge, the large Golden Eagles are often seen perched on exposed rocky ledges looking out on the vast areas below.
The nomadic Pinyon Jay flocks are a sight to see and hear in the Pine Ridge, but can be difficult to find as they are constantly on the move in search of seeds to eat and store for later. These bright blue birds form permanent flocks with the younger birds helping to care for the nestlings of older adults. This behavior known as cooperative breeding only occurs in a few species of birds. With this complex social structure, bright blue plumage, and noisy crow-like calls, this interesting bird is a favorite for many birders to the pine ridge.
Beginning in late May, a variety of neotropic migrants arrive to the Pine Ridge including White-throated Swift, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Cassin’s Kingbird, and Western Tanager. Many of these species occur only in this area of the state, making it an essential stop for any birder wanting to add these species to their Nebraska list.