Within the borders of Nebraska there is an opportunity to view more than 400 species of birds, with a record of over 454 birds setting foot in Nebraska according to the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Nebraska is in the Central Flyway, a highway in the sky for migrating birds. Nebraska is on the southern edge of the nesting grounds for northern-breeding species and on the northern edge for southern breeding species. The Sandhills are as pristine an expanse of grassland as can be found on the continent and provide a reliable place to view many declining grassland birds. The Rainwater Basin and Platte River are internationally important for migrating birds. Follow is information about birding opportunities in Nebraska. Additional information is available on the Nebraska Birding Trails website.
Nebraska has two species of cranes — the sandhill crane and the whooping crane—and these species offer very different viewing experiences. The sandhill crane migration is predictable, massive and impressive. Whooping cranes are very rare, so viewing one of them is a rare spectacle.
Learn more about cranes
Peregrine falcons are birds of the sky and open spaces. In natural settings, peregrine falcons nest on sheer cliff faces. Since tall building and other human structures resemble cliffs, peregrine falcons have adapted to and now nest on these structures. The species’ adaptation to buildings and other structures hastened the species’ recovery and has allowed this species to nest in Nebraska, something they were not known to have done historically.
Peregrine falcons were first observed at the Nebraska State Capitol in 1990, and a nest box was installed on the 18th floor of the Capitol the following year. It was not until 2003 that a pair of falcons settled in and laid the first eggs, none of which hatched. In 2005, a female named Ally, hatched and banded in Manitoba in 2004, and an unnamed male, hatched and banded in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2001, successfully hatched and fledged the first chick from the Capitol building. This pair has nested every year since. Birders around the world view this pair each year via the FalconCam. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Nongame Bird Program Manager Joel Jorgensen provides updates on these birds regularly on his blog
Read Nongame Bird Blog
View Falcon Cam
Bald eagles can be seen year-round across the state of Nebraska. However, winter and early spring is the best time of year to see numbers of bald eagles. An excellent strategy is to visit any large reservoir in late February or early March once there is some open water and migrating waterfowl have arrived. Reservoirs that have some ice cover are ideal. From November through January, concentrations of bald eagles often occur at reservoirs that maintain some open water. Favored sites include Sutherland Reservoir near North Platte, Harlan County Reservoir near Alma, and below Gavin’s Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota. Lake Ogallala and Lake McConaughy are also good locations, and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District (CNPPID) maintains a viewing building near the dam spillway. CNPPID also facilitates viewing at their J-2 power plant near Lexington.
Resident bald eagles begin nesting each year in January or February. February and March offer the best opportunity to seethe birds building new nests or repairing old ones. During that time of the year, eagles are active and the trees do not have leaves, so the eagles and nests are often quite visible.
Learn more about bald eagles
If you discover an active bald eagle nest please do two things:
- View the birds from a distance using a spotting scope or binoculars. Do not disturb the birds; doing so may be a violation of federal law. If you have questions about how close or what activities are acceptable in the vicinity of a bald eagle nest, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Nebraska Field Office at 308-382-6468.
- Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to report the nest to Joel Jorgensen by email or by phone at 402-471-5440
The grasslands of central Nebraska are home to prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse. Every spring, male prairie chickens perform an outstanding courtship display characterized by stomping feet, towering leaps and resonant booming noises from inflated yellow-orange air sacs along the sides of their necks.
In their attempt to attract females, the males bear a remarkable resemblance to wind-up toys in a field. The courtship behavior, performed on a lek, starts in early March and can continue well into May. The dancing starts just before first light and continues for two to three hours. Some booming also occurs at sunset.
A viewing blind is available at Halsey National Forest and at Burchard Lake (though lek numbers have declined at this location). The Chicken Dance Trail Website offers information on where to see prairie chickens, as well as other tips for viewing these unique birds.