Posted: Sunday, June 14, 2015 3:00 am
By David Hendee World-Herald News Service
KIMBALL — They’re nicknamed the prairie ghost.
They’re mountain plovers, but they aren’t birds of the mountains. They prefer the arid, shortgrass prairie.
They’re shorebirds, but they live nowhere near the shore.
A mystery bird few Nebraskans have heard of and fewer have seen, migratory mountain plovers are gaining a foothold in a corner of western Nebraska where dozens of farmers and ranchers have taken them under wing.
The bird has been a threatened species in Nebraska since 1976 and once was considered for a nationally threatened or endangered listing.
This is tillage time in the high Plains, when farmers churn up weeds and other vegetation in fields lying idle this season to preserve precious moisture in the ground for a future crop. This also is nesting season for mountain plovers in those same fallow fields. Across thousands of acres of cropland, farmers steer tons of tractor and implement steel around fragile plover nests scratched into the dirt.
How a ground-nesting bird that almost no local landowner could have named a decade ago can divert a tractor and gain recognition as one of the region’s natural treasures reflects the success of an initiative that is a model of whole-landscape conservation in the Great Plains, said Joel Jorgensen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s nongame bird program manager in Lincoln.
The challenge for conservation on private land is to find ways to protect habitat without inhibiting farming operations, especially on farmland used in ways not always perfectly compatible with conserving a species, Jorgensen said.