Waterbirds are an extremely diverse group of species that include any aquatic-dependent species besides waterfowl and shorebirds. In the Northern Great Plains, the major waterbird groups are herons, gulls, terns, cormorants, pelicans, grebes, rails, and bitterns. Waterbirds are often classified according to their primary nesting substrate (tree, ground, or marsh vegetation), and gregariousness (nest in colonies, semi-colonial, solitary). Waterbirds require nest sites safe from mammalian predators and typically nest over water or on islands. Sites protected by water are essential for successfully rearing chicks. Waterbirds primarily eat aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, especially fish, amphibians, and crustaceans; smaller species eat smaller prey such as leeches and aquatic insects. Many waterbird species have similar habitat requirements as waterfowl and may benefit from habitat management actions aimed at waterfowl. Approximately 20 species of waterbirds breed in the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture (NGPJV), eight of which have been identified as priority species for the region, they are: American White Pelican, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Tern, Interior Least Tern, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Bittern. Priority species are those species of moderate or high concern based on threats to habitat, declining abundance and limited distribution of species.

Of the colonial species, the Interior Least Tern is federally endangered, while the remaining species are of moderate concern in North America. Two solitary breeding species, Pied-billed Grebe and American Bittern, are of high concern in North America. For all of the priority species, except the pelican, the NGPJV is well within their breeding ranges. Although the number of American White Pelicans breeding within the NGPJV is relatively small, the area provides vital habitat for migrating and non-breeding birds. You can learn more about waterbirds by visiting https://waterbirds.org/