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Species at Risk - A guide to Canada's species at risk in the Prairie Provinces – March 2014

Birds

Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia

Photo of Burrowing Owl
Photo: © Environment Canada, Geoff Holroyd
Long description for Burrowing Owl photo

This is a photo of a Burrowing Owl standing behind a brown mound in a green field. It is a small bird, dark brown on its upper side with large flecks of lighter cream. Its breast and belly are lighter in colour with similar flecks. It has large, round yellow eyes, and a short stubby tail.

Length:
23 - 28 cm (9-11 inches)

Endangered

Larger than a robin and smaller than a pigeon, the long-legged burrowing owls are named for their curious habit of nesting in abandoned gopher (ground squirrel) or badger burrows, on grazed grasslands.

Did you know?

  • They can co-exist with cattle – they even line their nests with cow dung!
  • A female burrowing owl that nested in Arizona flew 1,860 km to Saskatchewan, where she then raised seven young – all within one summer! This is the longest breeding dispersal event within a single breeding season ever recorded for any raptor.
Burrowing Owl map
Burrowing Owl map
Long description for Burrowing Owl map

This is a distribution map of the Burrowing Owl in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Burrowing Owl is found in a continuous area starting south of Lethbridge, Alberta, extending north to about 100 km east of Calgary, east over to Outlook, Saskatchewan, down to Regina then southeast to Estevan.

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Chestnut-Collared Longspur

Calcarius ornatus

Photo of Chestnut-Collared Longspur
Photo: © Nick Saunders
Long description for Chestnut-Collared Longspur photo

This is a photo of a singing male Chestnut-Collared Longspur, perched on a brown bolder, against a green background. He has a black crown and breast, yellow-buff cheeks and white upper throat, and a deep chestnut (rufous) collar or hind-neck. His wing and side are various shades of brown.

Length:
13–16.5 cm (5 - 6.5 inches)

Threatened

A small, sparrow-sized songbird found in native pastures from southwestern Manitoba to southeastern Alberta. Males, commonly heard singing flying in fanciful aerial display, often reach heights of 15 m descending to rocky terrain, fences and isolated shrubs.

Did you know?

  • The nest, constructed by the female, is commonly situated beside a clump of grass, rose, sage or snowberry bush, or a cow pie.
  • The longspur is often found on square or rectangular parcels of native mixed-grass pastures, 32 ha or larger, in flatter areas devoid of woody vegetation, with sparse residual vegetation, and areas of shorter grass and bare areas.
Chestnut–Collared Longspur map
Chestnut –Collared Longspur map
Long description for Chestnut–Collared Longspur map

This is a map of the distribution of Chestnut-Collared Longspur in the three Prairie Provinces. The bird is found throughout the southern prairies, from around Brandon, Manitoba west to Regina, Saskatchewan and up and across to Calgary, Alberta.

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Common Nighthawk

Chordeiles minor

Photo of Common Nighthawk
Photo: © Nick Saunders
Long description for Common Nighthawk photo

This is a photo of a Common Nighthawk sitting on a thick dead tree branch against a green background. The head is large and flattened, the eyes are large, and the bill is small.  The plumage is dark brown with black, white, and buff specks.

Length:
41 - 51 cm (16 - 20 inches)

Threatened

The common nighthawk is a medium sized bird, dark brown plumage mottled with black, white and buff, often recognized in flight with a white patch across the outer edge of its wing. They are often seen at sunset, flying over areas such as sand dunes, beaches, logged areas/forest clearings, burned areas, rocky barrens, prairies, peatbogs and pastures.

Did you know?

  • Generally, two eggs are laid directly on the ground from the 3rd week of May to mid-August.
  • Incubation is carried out by the female and lasts 16-20 days, depending on the region. Nestlings become fully developed between 45 and 52 days.
  • Once relatively common in cities where they nested on flat, gravel-covered rooftops, common nighthawk populations have declined in the past few decades because of reductions in flying insects, which they rely on for food.
Common Nighthawk map
Common Nighthawk map
Long description for Common Nighthawk map

This is the distribution map of the Common Nighthawk in the prairie provinces. It is found in all but a tiny portion of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and northern 20% of Manitoba.

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Eastern Whip-poor-will

Antrostomus vociferous

Photo of Eastern-Whip-poor-will
Photo: © Kevin T. Karlson
Long description for Eastern Whip-poor-will photo

This image is of an adult Eastern-Whip-poor-will asleep on a tree branch against a greenish background. Its plumage is grey and brown with light speckles, which serves to blend individuals with elements of the forest ground where they nest. It has a large and flattened head with a small bill and big gape, bordered by long sensory bristles.

Length:
22-26 cm (8.6 - 10.2 inches)

Threatened

Eastern whip-poor-wills are medium-sized, insect-eating birds that are active from dusk until dawn. They have a large, flattened head, large eyes, and their cryptic grey and brown plumage acts as camouflage during the day while they roost in leaf litter on the ground. They live in semi-open forests or patchy forests with clearings.

Did you know?

  • With a small bill and a large mouth ringed with long, fine feathers that serve as sensory bristles, this species is adapted to capturing flying insects while in flight.
  • Like other aerial insectivores, this species has recently experienced rapid population declines, possibly caused by habitat loss or by declines in their insect food supply which may be caused by pesticides or climate change.
Eastern-Whip-poor-will map
Eastern-Whip-poor-will map
Long description for Eastern-Whip-poor-will map

This is the distribution map of Eastern-Whip-poor-will in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is found in the forests north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, within approximately a 200 km wide band that sweeps downward and east to the interlake region of Manitoba, and then  down to the south east corner of Manitoba.

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Ferruginous Hawk

Buteo regalis

Photo of Ferruginous Hawk
Photo: © Nick Saunders
Long description for Ferruginous Hawk photo

An image of a flying hawk with wings in a downward swoop.  The hawk has a dark back and upper wing surface and a white tail, breast and wing undersurface.

Length:
56 - 69 cm (22-7 inches)

Threatened

The ferruginous hawk has broad, long wings with rounded tips and a fan-shaped tail. Their name is derived from the Latin term for iron, ferrum, due to their rust coloured plumage. They have a characterisitc "V" on their underside which is formed by their dark reddish legs when flying. Ferruginous hawks are strongly dependant on native grassland habitats. They require a raised area, surrounded by Prairies for nesting so they can chase its preferred prey, the Richardson's ground squirrel.

Did you know?

  • Before settlement, ground nesting prevailed and nests were partially constructed of bison bones and wool.
  • There are two color versions of the ferruginous hawk. The pale type (described above), or the less commonly seen dark variety with its signature dark brown plumage with either a white or grey tail.
Ferruginous Hawk map
Ferruginous Hawk map
Long description for Ferruginous Hawk map

This is the distribution map of the Ferruginous Hawk in the three prairie provinces. They are found in a small area in the extreme south west of Manitoba, in southern Saskatchewan nearly reaching Saskatoon, and in the south east corner of Alberta, reaching just past Lethbridge.

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Greater Sage-Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus

Photo of Greater Sage-Grouse
Photo: © Parks Canada, W. Lynch
Long description for Greater Sage-Grouse photo

A photograph of a male and female Greater Sage-Grouse in native grassland. The Sage-Grouse is a large, round-winged, ground-dwelling grouse.  The male is standing on the left, in profile, with his dark tail-feathers raised in a fan-like display, his brown wing drooped and the white feathers around his neck raised. Males have an arched yellow comb above the eye, a black throat, a large white patch on the breast and long feathers behind the head at the back of the neck. The female to the right has her head low, and has finely marked dark brown, black, buff sides and back, and dull white upper parts.Her long tail feathers taper to an acute point.

Length of males:
65 - 75 cm (25-30 inches)
Length of females:
56-58 cm (22-23 inches)

Endangered

Greater Sage-Grouse, the largest grouse in Canada, are found on the southernmost Prairies where sagebrush grows. Their long pointed tail and black belly differentiate them from other grouse. Their numbers have drastically declined because of habitat loss and degradation, disturbance, weather conditions, predation and disease.

Did you know?

  • In the spring, males strut a flirtatious ritual dance with puffed chests and fanned tails in an attempt to attract females. Despite their macho efforts, only 15 percent of these show-offs successfully attract a mate.
  • The Governments of Canada and Alberta have partnered to fund a captive breeding program at the Calgary Zoo as one aspect of an intensive effort to assist with species recovery in Canada.
Greater Sage-Grouse map
Greater Sage-Grouse map
Long description for Greater Sage-Grouse map

This is the distribution map of Greater Sage-Grouse in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. There are five separate areas with the species. The largest area is in the extreme south eastern corner of Alberta in the area around Manyberries and extending south and east through the One Four Research Station, and across the AB SK border. Moving to the right, the next is a small area south of Eastend Saskatchewan. Further east, is a cluster of three circles: two encompass the east and west blocks of  Grasslands National Park and third is north of Val Marie, Saskatchewan.

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Least Bittern

Ixobrychus exilis

Photo of Least Bittern
Photo: © Parks Canada, W. Lynch
Long description for Least Bittern photo

Here is an image of a Least Bittern perched facing left,  on a dead piece of bull rush in a marsh. It has brown and buffy side plumage, with broad buff streaks on its white underside, and a contrasting black back and crown. Its beak is long, yellow and pointed

Length of males:
65 - 75 cm (25-30 inches)
Length of females:
56-58 cm (22-23 inches)

Threatened

Least bitterns are much smaller than other members of the heron family such as American bitterns. They are secretive, often heard giving a soft, low "coo" call. In flight, their legs often dangle below their bodies. They generally prefer marshes that are five hectares (12.5 acres) in size or larger. They reside in areas covered in dense cattail next to deeper open water.

Did you know?

  • Like other bitterns, they are occasionally seen holding a reed-like pose with their bill pointed upwards, blending in with their surroundings.
  • They are affected by recreational water activities and the decline in the number and quality of marshes in the Prairies.
  • Maintaining vegetation around wetlands will improve water quality and clarity which they need to forage for aquatic insects, frogs and small fish.
Least Bittern map
Least Bittern map
Long description for Least Bittern map

This is a distribution map for Least Bittern in Manitoba. Starting at the border with North Dakota, Least Bitterns are found in a swath between South Junction and Manitou, straight north through the inter lake region, to Gypsumville.

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Piping Plover

Charadrius melodus circumcinctus

Photo of Piping Plover and Killdeer
Photo: © G. W. Beyersbergen; © Environment Canada, J. Paul Goossen
Long description for Piping Plover photo

This is a photo of a Killdeer and a Piping plover, both facing left, standing amongst some white rocks on a beach. The Killdeer in the background, is larger, has a darker brown back and head, a dark bill, a red eye, and two dark black neck rings. The Piping Plover in the foreground is much lighter in color, has only one black neck collar and an orange bill with a dark tip.

Length:
15 - 19 cm (6-7 inches)

Threatened

Piping plovers are small shorebirds with a single neck-band, an orange bill with a black tip and orange legs that differentiate them from similar looking killdeer that have two neck-bands (see photo). Plovers are found on sparsely vegetated sand or gravel beaches and alkali mud flats where they nest and raise their young.

Did you know?

  • Keeping pets, cattle and vehicles (including ATVs) off nesting beaches increases survival of plovers.
  • Ranchers and other landowners have signed up for voluntary stewardship programs to conserve piping plovers and their habitat.
Piping Plover map
Piping Plover and Killdeer map
Long description for Piping Plover map

This is a map of the distribution of Piping Plovers in the three prairie provinces. There are four areas where they are found. The first and largest is goes across much of east central Alberta and central SK as far east as the Quill Lakes in SK, and south in an irregular pattern between Lethbridge and Edmonton, Alberta in the west and eastward to  Weyburn, Saskatchewan,  excluding the grassland areas east-northeast of Lethbridge. Piping Plovers are also found in three other areas, all in Manitoba; 1) a small area around Oak Lake, west of Brandon, 2) a very small area at the southern tip of Lake Winnipegosis, and 3) in a crescent shaped distribution starting at the southern edge of Lake Manitoba, moving north and east over the southern portion of Lake Winnipeg, then north west over Lake Winnipeg to the interlake region.

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Prairie Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides

Photo of Prairie Loggerhead Shrike
Photo: © 23 cm (9 inches)
Long description for Prairie Loggerhead Shrike photo

This is a photo of a Prairie Loggerhead Shrike perched facing right on a thorny branch, against a blue sky. The shrike has a distinctive black mask across their eyes and forehead. Wings and tail are also predominately black. The top of the head, the back and the hind quarters are dark grey, while the lower body is whitish with stripes that are barely visible.

Length:
23 cm (9 inches)

Threatened

Prairie loggerhead shrikes are slightly smaller than a robin with a distinctive black mask across their eyes and forehead. They occupy open grassland areas, but require scattered trees or shrubs nearby for nesting and perches. The loggerhead shrike migrates south in winter, and are replaced on the Canadian Prairie by the similar but slightly larger northern shrike.

Did you know?

  • These masked hunters use their sharply hooked beak to kill insects or mice and will often impale their prey on thorns or barbed wire for future use.
  • Shrikes often use roadside power lines and fences as hunting perches.
  • Do not clear abandoned farmyards to maintain shrub and tree growth for nesting shrikes and other wildlife.
Prairie Loggerhead Shrike map
Prairie Loggerhead Shrike map
Long description for Prairie Loggerhead Shrike map

This is the distribution map of Prairie Loggerhead Shrikes in the three prairie provinces. They are found south of the boreal forest, in a large area south of Edmonton and Saskatoon and west of Winnipeg.

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Sage Thrasher

Oreoscoptes montanus

Photo of Sage Thrasher
Photo: © Peter LaTourrette, 2001
Long description for Sage Thrasher photo

This is a photo of a Sage Thrasher standing alert in a grass field, facing right, with its tail held out straight behind. The plumage is very cryptic, It has greyish-brown upperparts and grey-brown stripes on its breast and belly. The Sage Thrasher’s face appears streaked with a whitish eyebrow bar and black streaks on the sides of the throat. Its bill is relatively short.

Length:
20 - 23 cm (8 - 9 inches)

Endangered

Sage thrashers are slightly smaller than robins and are distinguished from the more common brown thrashers by their shorter tail and grayish rather than reddishbrown colour. As the name implies, sage thrashers prefer areas where sagebrush grows.

Did you know?

  • Both males and females are equally involved in building the nest, sitting on the eggs and caring for the young.
  • Although they are common south of the border in areas where sagebrush is abundant, they are extremely rare in Canada.
Sage Thrasher map
Sage Thrasher map
Long description for Sage Thrasher map

The distribution of Sage Thrasher is in an area from Medicine Hat, Alberta, south to the border, and north east to Eastend, Saskatchewan.

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Sprague's Pipit

Anthus spragueii

Photo of Sprague's Pipit
Photo: © Bob Gress, 2002
Long description for Sprague's Pipit photo

This is a photo of a Sprague’s Pipit standing alert on a rock, facing left, against a grass background. The species superficially resembles a sparrow, with its brown and white streaked plumage, and has several field marks that make it readily identifiable if observed in close proximity. The head is characterized by a thin bill and relatively large brown eyes; the breast is composed of a necklace of short streaks, while the belly and flanks are unmarked. The legs are pink in this photo.

Length:
16 - 17 cm (6 – 7 inches)

Threatened

Sprague's pipits are secretive sparrow-like birds more often heard than seen. The males sing a twittering "Cheeeer, Cheeer, Cheeer, Cheeer" while circling at a height of up to 150 m (500 feet) in the air. Then, they drop rapidly to the ground and hide in the grass.

Did you know?

  • Sprague's pipits nest on the ground in native grasslands and feed insects to their young.
  • They prefer range in fair to excellent condition and are rare in cultivated lands or introduced forage.
Sprague's Pipit map
Sprague's Pipit map
Long description for Sprague's Pipit map

This is the distribution map of Sprague’s Pipit in the three prairie provinces. They are found from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southern and central Alberta to southwestern Manitoba.

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Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker
Photo: © Ron Bazin
Long description for Red-headed Woodpecker photo

This is a photo of the Red-headed Woodpecker perched on an old stump against a green background. The bird is very striking, with a red head and nape, white belly and wingtips, and a black back and forewings. It has a large, light coloured beak.

Length:
24 cm (9¼ inches)

Threatened

Red-headed woodpeckers are easily recognizable robin-sized birds. They have an unmistakable red head and neck and contrasting black and white body. Large white patches are visible on their wings in flight. They prefer woodlots containing larger scattered trees and limited ground cover usually located near clearings such as roads or open pastures.

Did you know?

  • They can catch flying insects, and do so more frequently and skillfully than most other woodpeckers.
  • The male is solely responsible for incubation during the night.
  • They nest in dead standing trees or dead limbs of live trees, often found within grazed wooded pastures. Landowners should avoid removing dead trees and limbs from their property if possible.
Red-headed Woodpecker Racer map
Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker map
Long description for Red-headed Woodpecker map

This is a distribution map of the Red-headed Woodpecker in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is found just east of the Saskatchewan/Alberta border near Swift Current, north to Yorkton, over to the west side of Lake Winnipeg and down to the south east corner of Manitoba.

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