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Discover great birdwatching at these 8 wetlands

A blue heron stands on a stump.
A blue heron stands on a stump at Lake Ogallala in Keith County. The lake attracts a variety of birds, making it one of the top recommendations for spots to celebrate both American Wetlands Month and Nebraska Bird Month. Copyright Nebraskaland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Nebraska contains more acres of wetlands than any surrounding state. These diverse wetlands include marshes, lakes, river and stream backwaters, oxbows, wet meadows, fens, forested swamps and seeps.

They’re also a great place to watch birds.

“Wetlands are highly productive – they produce lots of food and cover that birds like. And because of that, they probably have a better concentration of overall bird life than some other habitat types,” said Ted LaGrange, wetland program manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

So during this Nebraska Bird Month and American Wetlands Month, Game and Parks recommends these eight wetland areas that offer good birding opportunities.

Marsh Wren Saline Wetland

Located just north of Lincoln, this site is 150 acres of unique saline wetlands. It’s a great place to observe spring and fall migrants including a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. Approximately 2 miles of minimally maintained maintenance roads offer outstanding birding opportunities. In the summer, these roads can be overgrown, so boots and pants are recommended. Visitors may be able to view such species as eastern meadowlark, marsh wren, shorebirds and waterfowl.

Fontenelle Forest

This 1,500-acre area includes a variety of landscapes – deciduous forest, oak savannah and prairie, along with wetlands along the Missouri River. There are 17 miles of maintained trails, including a 1-mile, ADA-compliant boardwalk offering year-round opportunities to observe wildlife.

Fontenelle Forest attracts many migrants and breeding songbirds. The half-mile Marsh Trail offers great views of riparian birds, as well as forest birds. This trail can get muddy after rain. A few species you can observe include wood ducks, yellow-throated vireo and prothonotary warbler.

Ponca State Park

This state park, which offers wetlands along the Missouri River, is a must-stop location during peak spring migration, when the forests come alive with singing migrant and resident passerines. Here the Missouri River is still unchanneled, resembling its original state with sandbars that offer refuge for shorebirds, including the piping plover. There are several places with scenic overlooks of the Missouri River valley that offer great views of bald eagles in winter. Ducks and snow geese migrate past the Missouri River in spring and fall and can be seen from a viewing blind.

Harvard Waterfowl Production Area

This Rainwater Basin site consists of 760 acres of wetlands and 725 acres of upland habitat. These wetlands attract tens of thousands of snow, Canada, cackling and greater white-fronted geese in spring, with numbers peaking in mid-March with up to 500,000 waterfowl. Occasional flocks of Sandhill cranes stop over, and bald eagles are regular visitors in early spring. Later in spring and summer, the main basin and several smaller wetlands to the south offer excellent shorebird watching. As with any Rainwater Basin wetland, check conditions before visiting as they can sometimes be dry.

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge

This is Nebraska’s largest national wildlife refuge, and contains a large number of Sandhill wetlands that attract a variety of wetland birds. At least 224 bird species have been sighted here. There are numerous marshes and shallow lakes that offer breeding habitat for western and pied-billed grebes, Forster’s and black terns, a dozen species of waterfowl, shorebirds and other waterbirds like American bitterns and soras. A 9-mile gravel auto tour road, starting at US-83, is great for bird viewing, and some of the lakes are open for kayaking or boating, offering additional viewing opportunities.

Kiowa Wildlife Management Area

This alkaline wetland area attracts various shorebirds, including nesting American avocets, and is designated a Nebraska Important Bird Area. Canada geese nest here, and about 20 waterfowl species have been reported, including cinnamon teal and large wintering goose and duck populations. Common migrant shorebirds include Baird’s, white-rumped and stilt sandpipers. Nesting shorebirds also include the black-necked stilt and likely Wilson’s phalarope and Wilson’s snipe.

Rowe Audubon Sanctuary

This 2,900-acre site attracts a variety of wetland and grassland birds. It is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society and includes a visitor center with educational displays, gift shop and viewing windows. The sanctuary protects prime Sandhill crane and whooping crane stopover habitats, and guided and self-guided crane viewing opportunities are offered.

Lake Ogallala

This area attracts a variety of wetland birds and is fairly accessible. The lake is very attractive to migrant ducks, ospreys, Caspian terns, cliff swallows, gulls, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and other summering species, and is used by numerous bald eagles and gulls in winter. An eagle-watching facility is available during peak periods, open from December to February on weekends or by scheduled appointments during the week.

Learn more about Nebraska’s wetlands or view new documentary films dedicated to the vibrant spaces at Learn more about Nebraska’s birds or participate in Nebraska Bird Month at

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