News and Events

Ucross Foundation Ranch Designated as an Important Bird Area


“Hope” is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all - by Emily Dickinson

Ucross, Wyoming – April 2, 2015 – A small group of birders from Bighorn Audubon spent the day at Ucross identifying birds - it was a windy September day. High winds blowing from the north made it perfect for migrating raptors. While we were there five large birds flew over us. They soared above us, providing a good opportunity for identification. They were Swainson’s Hawks. Three of the birds landed on the grassland slope to rest and feed to prepare for their long migration south. They are one of the longest migrating raptors, traveling 6,000 miles from western North America where they breed, to the pampas of Argentina where they spend their winter months. Ucross was as far as they could fly that day. This place spoke to us as a vital stopover site for these birds, not just a beautiful place.

Under the guidance of Audubon Rockies, the local Bighorn Chapter of Audubon and the Ucross Foundation have formed a partnership to designate the Ucross Ranch of approximately 20,000 acres as an Important Bird Area or IBA. In the United States IBAs are designated by American Bird Conservancy and The Audubon Society. IBAs are part of a global conservation strategy that focuses attention on habitats and key bird species. The concept is simple: identify and compile an inventory of areas that sustain healthy populations of birds.

Dr. Jackie Canterbury, President of the Bighorn Audubon Chapter describes the power of such a designation for Ucross:

“The IBA designation provides legitimacy to the notion that Ucross is an important place for birds. Audubon asked the question - if Ucross were not here, would birds be affected? The answer was an astounding yes. There are many criteria and standards that have to be met in order to achieve IBA status, and Ucross meets and exceeds those standards. The IBA designation gives birds standing, a place at the table, in a changing world.”

In fact, the Ucross Foundation ranch provides a diversity of habitat for birds on the western edge of the Powder River Basin. It contains riparian habitat along both Clear and Piney Creeks that form a confluence within the property. The ranch contains wetlands, large areas of native grasslands, sagebrush scrublands, and upland habitat for two bird species of special interest, the long-billed curlew and the sage grouse. Raptors, including bald eagles, nest on the property. The abundant bird life of the ranch also include the Sandhill Crane, the Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Upland Sandpiper and a variety of important sparrows that use the sagebrush scrublands.

“This is such an exciting opportunity for both Audubon and the Ucross Foundation. The ranch is not only incredibly important for birds, but it is managed extremely well with a keen focus on conservation,” says Canterbury. Ucross Foundation President Sharon Dynak notes: “the significant habitat improvements and management of the overall ranch health by Apache Foundation during the past 10 years have been essential factors in this designation.” Ucross Foundation has also planted over 22,000 trees and shrubs on the ranch in recent years.

The property remains a working cattle ranch, leased by the Apache Foundation, and is managed holistically with a focus on land stewardship. In 1999, a conservation easement held by the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy was placed on more than half of the ranch.

At the same time, Ucross Foundation, founded in 1981, runs an artist-in-residence program that is known throughout the world. Dynak notes, “We are honored by this recognition of the significance of the birds of Ucross, which was the title of a very popular exhibition at the Ucross art gallery, featuring avian photographs by Ernesto Scott. Many of our artists, who come to Ucross from the biggest urban centers of the world, are avid bird-watchers. They tell us about the powerful impact the vast landscape has on their creative thinking, and the wildlife is a big part of that. They let us know of bird sightings and have helped us to keep track. A recent collaboration with Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has also helped by monitoring Ucross birds with acoustic recordings.

A public celebration of the IBA designation will be set for a date in the near future and a bird walk will be part of a grasslands symposium to take place at Ucross Foundation on May 30.

For more information contact:

Dr. Jackie Canterbury
Bighorn Audubon Society

Sharon Dynak or Ruth Salvatore
Ucross Foundation