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Expedition - What Kind of Mammals and Birds Were Encountered?

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Catlin sketch of buffalo

Besides possessing obvious political overtones, the Lewis and Clark venture into the Louisiana Territory was also a scientific expedition. The commanders of the Corps of Discovery were charged with recording birds, mammals, and various sundry plant life to further the study of those disciplines. Some of the birds mentioned in the journals include “Large White Gulls” about which little is known; “Canadian Geese”; “Mallards” and “Blue Wing Teals”. Both ducks: “White Brandt” and “Gray Brandt”, or the lesser Snow Goose and White-Fronted Goose respectively; “Large Cranes” or the now endangered Whooping Crane; “Hooting Owl” or the Western Horned Owl; “Calumet Bird” or Golden Eagle to name just a few.

Of the many mammals the Corps of Discovery recorded, the “American Bison” was the most numerous, although the number of elk–described simply as “Elk”–were found in great numbers, as well. “Big Horn” or “Mountain Ram” is today know as Mountain Sheep; “Antelope” referred to Pronghorn Antelope as was, next to bison, the most numerous mammal they came upon in North Dakota. What was described simply as “Deer” is of course the Plains White-tailed Deer, while “Black-tailed Deer” is today known as the Mule Deer. The Black-tailed Prairie Dog was referred to as “Burrowing Squirrels,” while “Burrowing Dog of the Prairie” is today known as the badger. The most formidable animal the Corps of Discovery encountered, however, is what they described as the “White Bear” or “Yellow Bear”: the fearsome Grizzly Bear.

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