Flights of Fancy

“The amazing birds of the Great Plains survive body-numbing cold, mind-numbing heat, and fly thousands of miles each year through unimaginable challenges.”

—Marian Langan, Executive Director, Audubon Nebraska

From the endemic prairie birds of the Sandhills, to the songbirds and raptors of Pine Ridge country, to the migrating waterfowl and shorebirds of the Niobrara and Platte river valleys, Nebraska’s avian diversity is enough to delight birders of all feathers.

The long-billed curlew in the poster is one of the continent’s largest shorebirds. The grassland bird spends its summers in the western Great Plains and winters in Mexico. The white-faced ibises flying over are the most common ibis found in the Great Plains.

For being land-locked, the Great Plains is full of water birds like loons, rails, grebes, terns, and many more types. At least 90 species of water birds have been found in the Great Plains. The meandering waterways and marshes of the Plains make for good birdwatching in every state.


Rainwater Basin Joint Venture

(308) 395-8586

The shallow playa wetlands of the Rainwater Basin in south central Nebraska attract millions of migratory birds each year — a birder’s dream come true. The 160-mile-wide region lies at the narrowest portion of the Central Flyway migration route, making it a gathering place for ducks, geese, and other water birds. Designated a Landscape of Hemispheric Importance for shorebirds, it’s possible to see over 40 species, including the Long-Billed Curlew (featured on the GPEC’s poster). The Rainwater Basin doesn’t have a visitor center, or a centralized location. Instead, visitors can download a Bird List and a Driving Tour Map to explore the area independently.

Crescent Lake Wildlife Refuge

(308) 762-4893
10630 Rd. 181
Ellsworth, Nebraska 69340

A well-kept secret in the Nebraska panhandle, the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge consists of 45,818 acres of rolling sandhills, twenty-one lakes and numerous ponds resulting from the underground aquifer. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Refuge, as many as 20 bald eagles and over 200,000 waterfowl may concentrate in the area during fall migration. Over 275 bird species have been observed on the Refuge since 1975, including a wide variety of migrating shorebirds and passerines. In the summer months breeding ducks and geese populate the lakes, while Red-tailed hawks and Northern Harriers search the meadows for prey. The Refuge has a Bird List and a Calendar of Natural Events — great tools to help you plan your visit.

Nebraska Birding Trails

Nebraska Birding Trails is the ultimate online bird-watching guide to Nebraska. Extensively researched, the site describes 400 public-access birding sites. Visitors can search by geographic region, ecological region or by communities that surround the site. Great descriptions, regional bird checklists, and trails that connect various birding sites make exploring easy.

Chicken Dance Trail

(308) 995-4601
701 4th Avenue
Holdrege, NE 68949

The Chicken Dance Trail provides opportunities to see not just prairie chickens, but a multitude of other bird species in south central and southwestern Nebraska. The Chicken Dance Trail is not a physical location, but a website full of insider information about canyons, reservoirs, and creeks where you’re sure to spot the birds on your bucket list—as well as rural communities to explore along the way. The Chicken Dance Trail organizes the information into five birdwatching trails that travelers can take independently, at their own pace.

Know of an ecotourist-friendly place in the Great Plains to see birds? Email us at cgps@unl.edu