Bird watchers come to Melita area from all over North America and Europe to view many rare prairie species. Specialties of the region include the Ferruginous Hawk, the Burrowing Owl, the Loggerhead Shrike and the Baird's Sparrow. All of these species are endangered in Manitoba. There are other species that are more numerous near Melita than anywhere else in the province: birds such as the Gray Partridge and Sharp- Ferruginous Hawk,Sharp- tailed Grouse; prairie specialties like the Willet, Marble Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Sprague's Pipit, Grasshopper Sparrow and Chestnut- collar Longspur; and species that are near the edge of their normal nesting range like the Ring-necked Pheasant, Lark Bunting, Willow Flycatcher and Say's Phoebe.
The prairies of southwestern Manitoba have supported many other wildlife species that are considered at risk in Canada. They include species like the Bison, plains Grizzly Bear, Black-footed Ferret, Whooping Crane, Greater Prairie Burrowing Owl and Greater Prairie Chicken and Long-billed Curlew formally. These species did live on the plains but are no longer found in the area.
Other species that are endangered in Canada but can be found in southwestern Manitoba include the Peregrine Falcon, Piping Plover, Red-headed Woodpecker, Short-eared Owl, Northern Prairie Skink, Small White Lady's Slipper and the Western Spiderwort. Most of these species are threatened by numerous factors including the loss of habitat through cultivation, drainage, grazing and prairie fires.
The routes shown on this map (PDF) will take you through the area’s best birding locations and give you a feel for the incredible diversity of scenery and variety of prairie and parkland habitats that occur in extreme south-western Manitoba. Each season offers a variety of birding opportunities, but for most grassland birds the summer nesting season (mid-May through July) is best. In the course of your travels beware, as many of the area’s roads become very muddy and may be impassable when wet. Also, some may not be maintained or may be completely snow-covered in winter.
Route # 1 includes grasslands and riparian habitat associated with the Souris River and the “Blind” Souris (its former channel) and includes the village of Coulter, Sourisford Park, and some prehistoric burial mounds. Route # 2 includes Pierson and village of Lyleton, and traverses miles of shelterbelts (tree strips) in the Lyleton area, some native mixed-grass prairies west of Lyleton, riparian habitat along the Gainsborough & Antler Creeks, and through the start of the “Poverty Plains” grasslands north-east of Pierson. Route # 3 includes more of the Poverty Plains, expansive grasslands and parkland habitat in the Broomhill area, and a taste of the Lauder Sandhills along PR 345 east of Broomhill.
Specialty grassland and parkland birds of the area and where they may be found are listed below. Grassland birds that are particularly prominent in this, the “Grassland Bird Capital” of Manitoba, are asterisked.
Ross’s Goose: Most likely to be seen on fields or near wetland areas along routes # 1 or 2 during spring and fall migration. Check flocks of Snow Geese for this small goose.
Wood Duck: Check wooded river crossings and riparian habitat, especially along the Souris River.
Hooded Merganser: In similar habitat as Wood Duck but less common.
Swanson's Hawk: Generally seen soaring or hunting near the edge of grassland areas, especially on routes # 2 & 3.
Ferruginous Hawk: Most of Manitoba’s nesting pairs occur in or near large open grasslands in this area. Never approach or linger near a nest as pairs with eggs have been known to abandon their nest.
Gray Partridge: Widespread along routes # 1 & 2 but can be difficult to spot. Check edges of fields and roadsides. Often found in agricultural areas near farmsteads or tree strips.
Sharp-tailed Grouse: Check near grasslands or brushy idle patches on routes 2 & 3, especially west of Lyleton. Can be observed on dancing grounds or “leks” in early morning from April through early June.
Ring-necked Pheasant: Most reliable spots for this SW Manitoba specialty is the Mallaher WMA west of Melita (route #3), or the Lyleton shelterbelts and near the Pierson WMA on route # 2.
Upland Sandpiper: Often seen on fence posts or on the ground in large grassland areas throughout.
Marbled Godwit: Found in large grassland areas, especially near wetland or lowland areas. Listen for their noisy calls or scan pastures especially along route # 1, in the Poverty Plains, or west of Lyleton.
Black-billed Cuckoo: Usually found in shrubby underbrush near creeks or rivers along routes # 1 & 2, or near the Lauder Sandhills on route # 3. Numbers vary considerably from year to year.
Snowy Owl: Found in open areas and only in winter. Often seen perched on elevated knolls, a lone tree, utility pole, or fence posts near these open areas.
Burrowing Owl: Formerly in open, well-grazed pastures, but extremely rare in recent years.
Willow Flycatcher: In shrubby creek crossings or along shrubby slopes or ravines along routes # 1 & 2.
Says Phoebe: Generally near abandoned yards or abandoned buildings. Check near vacant buildings in Lyleton, Coulter or Broomhill.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow: Check embankments near water especially along route # 1.
Eastern & Mountain Bluebirds: Usually use nest boxes on “bluebird trails” (especially on route # 1), but natural cavities near open woodlots are occasionally used (especially by the less common Eastern).
Sprague’s Pipit: Listen for distinctive flight call over larger grasslands, especially in the Poverty Plains, west of Lyleton, and the Souris River flats. Like many grassland birds, they are declining in many areas.
Loggerhead Shrike: Check utility wires, posts, or dead branches near the tops of tree or shrubs in grassy habitat along route # 2 & 3, and shelterbelts in the Lyleton area. Declining rapidly throughout its range.
Yellow-throated Vireo: Found at wooded creek or river crossings, especially along the Souris River.
Lark Sparrow: Check shrubby uplands along the Souris River (route #1) or Lauder Sandhills (# 3).
Lark Bunting: In large scrubby pastures. Numbers vary considerably - often non-existent, but common during some dry years.
Baird’s Sparrow: Listen for its distinctive call in grasslands, especially west of Lyleton, in the Poverty Plains or the Souris River flats. Undergoing serious declines and sometimes hard to find in recent years.
Grasshopper Sparrow: Tends to occur in the same areas, but favors longer grass & sometimes haylands.
Chestnut-collared Longspur: Occurs in native or native-like grasslands, especially west of Lyleton and in the Souris River flats.
The Melita-Pierson area offers a variety of accommodations, restaurants and other facilities for visiting birders. The area can be birded in one day, but to fully appreciate all that the area has to offer, a two or more day visit is recommended. We hope you enjoy your birding and your stay in the “Grasslands Bird Capital of Manitoba”.