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Nebraska for Birders

Updated on June 16, 2011
Sandhill Cranes on the Platte. Photo by Steve Deger.
Sandhill Cranes on the Platte. Photo by Steve Deger.

In 1995, Forbes Magazine named the small city of Grand Island, Nebraska (population about 43,000) the best birding spot in the world.

The late birding legend Roger Tory Peterson also listed Nebraska among his 12 favorite birding hotspots, thanks to the annual migration of sandhill cranes and other migratory birds that pass through the region every spring.

Though the March migration of the Sandhill Cranes is the most famous Nebraska birding opportunity, Nebraska offers a wealth of birding opportunities throughout the year.

Nebraska is home to over 400 species of birds (7th in the nation) and two major flyways for migratory species: the Central (or Great Plains) flyway and the Missouri Valley flyway.

Nebraska also contains a wide range of habitats, from farm fields to grasslands to forests to rivers to wetlands - perfect for birders!

The rivers are especially important to Nebraska's birders: the Platte, Missouri, Republican, Niobrara and Elkhorn rivers provide many of the finest birding opportunities in the state.

Nebraska Birds for the Life List

Nebraska offers exceptional opportunities to spot several unusual bird species.

Sandhill Cranes and endangered Whooping Cranes pass through a narrow bottleneck on their migration path every spring that concentrates more than half a million birds in a short stretch of the Platte River near Grand Island, as well as countless ducks, geese, and other migratory birds.

The Rainwater Basin south of the Platte is also an extremely important stop-off for migratory birds, including the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper.

The Greater Prairie Chicken is another threatened bird that can be spotted in Nebraska.One of the best spots to look for them is Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, and local birders Angus Garey and Don Brockmeier have documented their favorite prairie chicken spots in Southwestern Nebraska at their website: The Chicken Dance Trail.

Bald eagles are another popular Nebraska bird. Some great spots to watch for them include De Soto Bend National Wildlife Refuge, on the Missouri River at the border of Nebraska and Iowa, and Lake McConaughy, where the eagles like to fish near Kingsley Dam.

Lake McConaughy is also a good spot to look for breeding populations of the Interior Least Tern and Piping Plover. These rare species can also be found along the Niobrara, Platte and Missouri Rivers.

The Sandhills are home to a number of threatened grassland birds, including Henslow's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, and Long-Billed Curlew.

Whooping Cranes in Thayer County


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    • Netters profile image

      Netters 9 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

      You don't hear too much about Nebraska. This is really nice, thank you.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice hub! Beautiful video. I used to hunt pheasants, prairie chickens and ducks in the Nebraska Sand Hills.