Birding in Nebraska: Best Destinations, Locations & Clubs To Check Out (Free & Paid)

December 17, 2021 // 23 minute read

Birding Locations » US » Birding In Nebraska

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There’s an interesting phenomenon about Nebraska that most people do not know about. If you were to travel on a diagonal trajectory throughout Nebraska and started at the border of Missouri and went straight through to the border of Wyoming, you discover a wide range of wildlife habitats including prairies, hardwood forests, ponderosa pine wood lands, and other habitats that stretch for 490 miles. Perfect for birding in Nebraska!

Oddly enough, the amazing habitats mentioned above are even what Nebraska is most famous for. They are known most of all for their sandhills, which encompass about 20,000 mi.² of rolling grassland dunes and make up roughly ¼ of the entire state. It’s in these grasslands that visitors will have an opportunity to see the rare grassland birds that are unfortunately becoming increasingly more difficult to discover.

Today, I’d like to tell you about the many free and paid birding destinations that you can visit in this wonderful state. I’m also going to share valuable information about a few bird watching clubs including local chapters of the National Audubon Society.

Also, be sure to check out Nebraska’s neighboring states of Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri for birding resources there.

If you love birdwatching as much as I think you do, then you’ll definitely want to join one of these local chapters as soon as possible. It gives you the opportunity to take your birdwatching to the next level by connecting with other experienced individuals who share a passion for the activity as much as you do. Plus, you learn about conservation, bird education, environmentalism, and you can even help protect natural habitats.

Bird Watching Destinations in Nebraska: Free Destinations

Visiting free bird watching destinations in Nebraska is always an exciting proposition. You’ll have an opportunity to check out some of the top birding destinations in this wonderful state. And you’ll certainly find a great place to go that is close to home and meets your needs. And if you feel like doing a little traveling within the state, you’ll have a plethora of choices available for you to visit in the Cornhusker State.

Check out any and all of these locations the next time you’re passing through Nebraska or if you live here already, make it a point to go birdwatching often with friends and loved ones.

Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center – Free Admission to the Park and Visitor Center

There are 850 acres of tallgrass prairie located within the 11-mile sanctuary southwest of Lincoln, Nebraska. Visitors will have a wonderful time walking along the rolling grasslands as they have an opportunity to see many of their favorite birds in the wild.

But this is more than just an outdoor sanctuary. The Audubon Center has interactive cultural and natural history exhibits. There are trails on the premises that make it very easy to walk along the prairie, and some popular and rare birds can often be found on the premises.

Location:

11700 Southwest 100 Street
PO Box 117
Denton, NE 68339

Phone: 402-797-2301
Fax: 402-797-2304

GPS: 40.6934° N, 96.8548° W

Hours Of Operation:

The Spring Creek Prairie is open every day of the week all throughout the year from sunrise to sunset. You do not have to make an appointment and admission is free.

The Visitor Center recently reopened in July and it now has regular weekly hours. The Visitor Center hours are as follows:

  • Open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Open Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Northern Shrike
  • Ralph-Legged Hawk
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Bobolink
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Dickcissel
  • Smith’s Longspur
  • Northern Harrier
  • Harris’s Sparrow

Hiking Trails:

It’s my absolute pleasure to tell you that there are just over 3 miles of trails available for you to hike along as you enjoy the bird watching experience in Spring Creek Prairie. The 3 miles or spread out over two hiking trails that I will tell you much more about right now.

The names and other details about these trails include:

  • Spring Creek Prairie Trail – this trail is easy to navigate and it’s definitely well-maintained, so you will not have any difficulty navigating the terrain. It’s also incredibly beautiful walking along the grassland prairie, so you’re in for an amazing treat. The trail itself is only 1.6 miles long, which means the average person hiking at a moderate pace can finish it in its entirety in roughly 45 minutes without much difficulty.
  • Spring Creek Woodland Trail – very similar to the first one mentioned, this trail is also incredibly easy to navigate, well-maintained, and it takes you right along the edge of the water which is a beautiful sight to behold. You don’t have to worry because this trail is only one and a half miles long, which isn’t too difficult to handle. And even better, this trail should only take an average person walking at a mild pace roughly 40-45 minutes to finish it completely.

Rowe Sanctuary – Free Admission to the Sanctuary and Audubon Center, Donations Welcome

I think Rowe Sanctuary is an incredible place for birders to visit in North America. You’ll discover numerous migrating birds including hundreds of thousands of Sandhill cranes that visit as they are continuing along their northern migration. Besides that, you can spend time in the Iain Nicholas Audubon Center, which is also free to enter. Stop by the next time you’re in the area to enjoy walking trails, exciting exhibits, and so much more.

Location:

Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary
44450 Elm Island Rd.
Gibbon, NE 68840

Phone: 308-468-5282

Email: [email protected]

GPS: 40.6702° N, 98.8838° W

Hours Of Operation:

The outdoor portion of Rowe Sanctuary is open every day, seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset each day. There is also a visitor center on the premises that maintains different hours.

Visitor Center Hours

  • Open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM
  • Closed Saturday and Sunday
  • Whooping Crane
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Greater Prairie-Chicken
  • Least Tern
  • Bell’s Vireo
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Bald Eagle
  • Orchard Oriole
  • American Goldfinch
  • White-Breasted Nuthatch

Hiking Trails:

Unfortunately having a difficult time finding out the official names of the hiking trails located in Rowe Sanctuary, but they definitely do exist.

After taking a look at the Rowe Sanctuary website on Audubon.org, I learned that there are two walking trails located in the sanctuary itself. They began at Iain Nicolson Audubon Center, but unfortunately, I have very little other information to share with you regarding these trails.

Just know that they are open every day from dusk until dawn, but this only happens during the majority of the year and not the entirety of the year. These trails are closed during rifle deer season and Crane season, so visitors aren’t allowed to walk on them during the specific times of the year.

If you have further questions, please call 308-468-5282 and they’d be happy to answer your queries.

Bird Watching Destinations in Nebraska: Paid Destinations

It turns out that there are many more locations that require some form of payment or special permit to enter the park than previously anticipated. So, in this particular case I’m going to share more paid destinations than I normally would. But it makes sense since I’d like to give my readers as many excellent birdwatching options as possible. The best part is that most if not all of these locations require a small payment or a yearly park permit that’s good for the whole family and they only charge a nominal fee.

Branched Oak State Recreation Area – Nominal Fee Required

Branched Oak State Recreation Area is an exciting location to visit for birdwatchers and non-birdwatchers alike, and it’s conveniently located roughly 15 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska to the Northwest. But as a birder, you’ll especially love this exciting hotspot because it encompasses 1800 acres of Branched Oak Lake and it attracts bald eagles, waterfowl, and many other species of birds.

Location:

Branched Oak SRA
12000 W. Branched Oak Rd.
Raymond, NE 68428-9728

Phone: 402-783-3400

GPS: 40.9713°N 96.8631°W

Hours Of Operation:

Branched Oak State Recreation Area is open 24 hours a day, so the park never closes. It’s even open on weekends and holidays, which is perfect for anyone who intends to visit in the near future.

  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • American White Pelican
  • Neotropic Cormorant
  • California Gull
  • Black Scoter
  • Wild Turkey
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Red-Throated Loon
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Ross’s Gull

Fees & Permits:

Resident Park Permit Prices

  • $30 annual permit
  • $15 duplicate annual permit
  • $6 daily permit

Non-Resident Park Permit Prices

  • $45 annual permit
  • $22.50 duplicate annual permit
  • $8 daily permit

Hiking Trails:

One of the exciting things about Branched Oak State Recreation Area is that there are 8 miles of hiking trails for patrons and visitors to enjoy. These trails are kept in pretty decent condition, although one is definitely easier to traverse than the other. And they are somewhat long but the longer trail shouldn’t take any more than two hours to complete. I think you’re going to like these trails as much as I do.

Their names and other important information include:

  • Branched Oak Lake North Trail – this is the easier trail of the two, which I’d like you to know right away. The path is well-maintained, the area is always very clear, and you’ll never have any trouble determining where the trail leads next. It’s relatively long because it’s 4.5 miles in total distance, but I know you can handle it. In fact, I believe that the average person walking at a normal pace can complete this trail in two hours.
  • Branched Oak Southwest Trail – this is the more moderately difficult trail even though it’s actually shorter than the other by a mile. In fact, the total length of the trail is 3.5 miles long. And if you decide to attempt the entire trail from beginning to end, I believe you can complete it in an hour and 35 minutes walking at a moderate pace.

Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge – National Park Pass, Senior Access Pass, or Golden Eagle Passport Required

There is an element of backwoods driving to get to Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, but the trip is totally worth it. In fact, you’ll need to drive through roughly 30 miles of unpaved roads in order to finally reach the NWR, which encompasses 45,800 acres of land. This is a rewarding trip to say the least and it’s definitely one of the biggest birding destinations and hotspots in all of the brassica, so I promise you will not be disappointed.

Location:

10630 Road 181
Ellsworth, NE 69340
Phone: 308-762-4893

GPS: 41.7612° N, 102.4371° W

Hours Of Operation:

The refuge is open to anyone interested in hiking or walking around to view the animals and enjoy the sights and sounds of the wildlife. It is open every day of the week from sunrise to sunset.

Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge Office Hours:

  • Open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Closed on weekends and federal holidays
  • American Bittern
  • Pied-Billed Grebe
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Lark Bunting
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Black Tern
  • American White Pelican
  • Virginia Rail
  • White-Faced Ibis
  • Western Greed
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Marsh Wren

Fees: 

  • Nebraska State Parks Daily Pass – cost is between $3-$5, depending on the location.
  • America the Beautiful Federal Recreational Land Pass – $80 annual fee
  • Senior Pass – $20 annual fee or $80 lifetime membership
  • Free annual pass for US military

Hiking Trails:

The good thing is that according to information shared on their website, it’s not only possible but encouraged to have hikers enjoy the sights and sounds of the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. They want all of their visitors to know that hiking is allowed in all areas open to the public.

For the life of me, I cannot find any specific information about the hiking trails in the region. I know that they exist because they mention them on the website. But other than that, I cannot provide specific names or other important details to get you started.

Ponca State Park – Permit or Nominal Fee Required

This gorgeous state park is located on the Missouri River and it’s also nestled 15 miles in a northwesterly direction of Sioux City, Iowa. This popular destination is one of the most productive birding areas in all of Nebraska. And even more important, so many people love to visit the area every year so it’s always a favorite bird watching destination for family members and friends. You will love visiting here because this area is the home to more than 200 bird species that you can discover living in various habitats throughout the area.

Location:

Ponca State Park
88090 Spur 26 E
Ponca, NE 68770-0688

Phone: 402-755-2284

GPS: 42.5940° N, 96.7095° W

Hours Of Operation:

The park is open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to anyone willing to pay a nominal fee to enter this wonderful location. It’s open every day from Sunday through Saturday from 8 AM to 8 PM. Their holiday hours may differ, so call 402-755-2284 if you have questions.

  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Bald Eagle
  • Double-Crested Cormorant
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Wild Turkey
  • Yellow-Throated Vireo
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Wood Thrush
  • Whip-Poor-Will
  • American Redstart

Permits and Fees:

Resident Park Permit Costs

  • Annual permit – $30
  • Duplicate annual permit – $15
  • Daily permit – $6

Non-Resident Park Permit costs

  • Annual permit – $45
  • Duplicate annual permit – $22.50
  • Daily permit – $8

Hiking Trails:

The beautiful thing about visiting Ponca State Park is that it has a number of excellent hiking trails that you’re bound to enjoy and appreciate. In fact, there are seven gorgeous trails in the area that I know you’re going to love. And I’d like to tell you all about them and more below.

The names of the hiking trails and other important details include:

  • Old Oak Trail – this is a nice and easy trail for experienced beginners, novices, and experts alike. You are going to have a difficult time on this trail at all and it is relatively long, so you’ll certainly appreciate that aspect of it. The total length of the trail is 1.1 miles, which the average person should finish walking at a fairly normal pace in about 35 minutes.
  • Tristate Overlook and Bigley’s Ravine Trail – just like the last trail, this one is very easy and it even has the exact same length and estimated time that it will take you to complete it. Remember, as long as you are a healthy person walking at a moderate pace, you shouldn’t have any trouble completing the 1.1-mile-long trail in about 35 minutes.
  • White Tail Trail – this trail is a little bit more on the difficult side because it has what’s considered a moderate difficulty because it’s less maintained and the terrain is a bit on the rockier side. With that said, it’s still relatively short because it’s only 1.4 miles long, which the average person should have no problem finishing in roughly 45 minutes.
  • Backwater Trail – I’m beginning to sense a common theme here because this is also another very easy trail to navigate and it’s well maintained. It also happens to be 1.1 miles long, which the average person should finish in about 30-35 minutes to walk the trail from beginning to end.
  • Tristate Overlook Trail – this trail is also easy to navigate and it’s well-kept and well-maintained. It’s only 0.8 miles long, so it’s a little bit shorter than the majority of these trails mentioned today. If you walk at a moderate pace you can complete the trail from beginning to end in 25 minutes.
  • Corps of Discovery, Outlook, Loess Hill, Bloodroot and Old Oak Loop – this is definitely the biggest trail that I’m going to share with you today and it certainly isn’t easy either. Thankfully it isn’t too difficult as well because the difficulty rating is considered moderate, so it falls somewhere right in the middle. The total length of this trail is 5.6 miles long, which is definitely going to take a while. It’s estimated that the average hiker can complete the trail from start to finish in two hours and 45 minutes.
  • Buffalo Run Trail – this is another moderately difficult trail that I wanted to tell you about and it’s the last of the hiking trails in Ponca State Park. The total length of the trail is 2.8 miles long, which an average walker hiking at a normal pace can complete in one hour and 25 minutes without much difficulty.

Indian Cave State Park – Permit or Small Fee Required

Located on the Missouri River, Indian Cave State Park is a stunning birding location found in Southeastern Nebraska all the way near the bottom of the state. It’s a great place to go if you want to visit to see the spring migration, because many gorgeous birds pass through including warblers, thrushes, Vireo’s, and more. Some of the Southern birds are also found here that are typically uncommon in Nebraska, so you’ll see a few different species that you wouldn’t find in other parts of the state.

Location:

Indian Creek State Park
65296 720 Road
Shubert, NE 68437-9801

Phone: 402-883-2575

GPS: 40.2648° N, 95.5798° W

Hours Of Operation:

One of my favorite things about Indian Cave State Park, which is located in Shubert, NE, is that this place is open 24 hours a day, every day, 365 days a year. So, you can visit at any time to enjoy the beautiful historic preservation area and public recreation lands in Southeast Nebraska.

  • Eastern Whippoorwill
  • Yellow-Throated Vireo
  • Chuck-Will’s-Widow
  • Barred Owl
  • Black-and-White Warbler
  • Summer Tanager
  • Wood Thrush
  • Northern Parula
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Wild Turkey

Fees & Park Permits:

Resident Park Permit Fees

  • Annual permit – $30
  • Duplicate annual permit – $15
  • Daily permit – $6

Non-Resident Park Permit Fees

  • Annual permit – $45
  • Duplicate annual permit – $22.50
  • Daily permit – $8

Hiking Trails:

Like the previously recommended paid birdwatching destination, I have another seven hiking trails that I get to tell you about right now. These amazing trails are perfect for hikers and bird watchers looking to spend time in the great outdoors as they view their favorite wildlife, natural habitats, beautiful scenic locations, and so much more.

The names of these trails and other important details include:

  • Rock Bluff Run Trail – this is considered a moderately difficult hiking trail because the areas often overgrown with lots of lust wildlife so the trails can become somewhat difficult at times. The total length of the trail is nearly 6 miles long, so it will take the average person about three hours and five minutes to complete if they are walking at a somewhat moderate pace.
  • Indian Cave: Trail 2, Trail 3, and Trail 7 – once again, we have another moderately difficult combination of hiking trails that all fit together into one longer and more exciting variety. The total length of these combined trails is 4.7 miles long, which the average person walking at a moderate pace can complete in 2 ½ hours.
  • Rock Bluff Trail – I would like to tell you about another moderately difficult trail that is very similar to the first trail that I mentioned. It’s called Rock Bluff Trail and the total length of the trail is 5.7 miles from end to end. The average person can complete this trail in just under three hours walking at a decent pace.
  • Indian Cave Trail – so far, it’s the shortest trail that I’ve had the pleasure of mentioning, this moderately difficult trail is only 3.1 miles from beginning to end. The trail is somewhat rocky at times but you’ll also come across beautifully tended grasslands as well as you walk along the water. The average person can finish the trail in one and a half hours.
  • Hardwood Trail – we have a new winner for the shortest trail of the group because the Hardwood Trail is moderately difficult, so it will possess a mild challenge, but it’s only 1 mile long, so it’s only going to be a challenge for a short while. In fact, you should have no problem finishing this trail in about a half an hour with very little effort or difficulty.
  • Indian Caves State Park Loop – this moderately difficult path takes you along a somewhat rocky terrain, although the path is clear of brush and debris it’s still definitely more on the moderate difficulty side. The total length of the trail is 5 miles exactly, which can be completed in 2 ½ hours if you walk at an average pace.
  • Indian Cave North Ridge Trail – this is the only easy trail out of the bunch because the rest mentioned were all moderately difficult. The complete length of the trail from start to finish is 1.8 miles long, which should take just under an hour to complete at roughly 55 minutes.

Nebraska Birdwatching Clubs

Whether you like living in Nebraska or not, you’re definitely going to experience a lot of joy and happiness if you become a member of one or more of the amazing bird watching clubs and National Audubon Society chapters available in your community.

After spending some time online, I discovered a number of different clubs and Audubon Society chapters right here in Nebraska that I’d like to tell you about today. These groups meet regularly for environmental causes, habitat care, birdwatching, field trips, group meetings, and many other reasons that you’ll learn about when you become a member.

If you’re thinking about joining, please consider becoming a member of one of the following local organizations in the Cornhusker State real soon.

Wachiska Audubon Society

The best thing about becoming a member of this organization is that they really get involved with the community and the members themselves. They participate in many different activities and other types of events that bring people and communities much closer together.

This chapter was originally founded in 1973. They currently manage 32 different pieces of land, which total 920 acres of land across 16 counties in Nebraska. They do backyard garden tours, birdseed sales, publish a newsletter, and have other regular events that I’ll tell you about below.

Contact Info:

Wachiska Audubon Society
4547 Calvert St., Suite 10
Lincoln, NE 68506-5643

Phone: 402-486-4846

Email: [email protected]

Member Activities:

  • Monthly Programs – each month they have guest speakers, recognize major authorities, and others from around the world teach about birding and other bird related topics.
  • Field trips – the organization normally takes monthly field trips to local and regional areas to help birdwatchers improve and sharpen their overall skills. But due to the Covid pandemic, monthly trips are temporarily on hold right now.
  • Backyard Garden Tour – this event is held every year during the spring and it encourages many local citizens in the area to open up their backyards for birdwatching, butterfly watching, and viewing other wildlife.
  • Spring and Fall Bird Seed Sales – these bird seed sales help the group continue their environmental and educational efforts. And it allows members of the community to get birdseed at an inexpensive price, so it’s good for everyone.
  • Christmas Bird Count – this event takes place every year at Christmas time and it’s part of a nationwide count held by the National Audubon Society. This count has been taking place for over 100 years in Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Awards Banquet – every year, the organization holds an annual banquet to honor the most outstanding Earthkeepers in the region. They also discuss past activities and what plans and challenges lie ahead.

Membership Fees:

It’s really easy to become a member of the Wachiska Audubon Society. You can join online or you have the option to mail a check and your information into the following mail address. If you prefer to join online or need further instructions about mailing, please click here.

Mailing Address (please make your check payable to Wachiska Audubon Society)

Wachiska Audubon Society
Attention: Membership Committee
4547 Calvert St., Suite 10
Lincoln, NE 68506-5643

Audubon Society of Omaha

The Audubon Society of Omaha is an organization dedicated to creating and promoting awareness for the environment in the community. They do this by initiating conservation activities, providing education, and going on regular birdwatching trips and other events to enjoy the natural beauty of these majestic creatures.

Their goal and mission is to actively promote environmental awareness, help the community become more involved in nature, and learn more about conservation, biodiversity, all the while protecting the native ecosystems while restoring nature to more friendly environments in the area known as greater Omaha.

Contact Info:

Audubon Society of Omaha
PO Box 3542
Omaha, NE 68103

Phone: 402-445-4138

Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • North American Waterfowl Identification: Virtual Event – because of the coronavirus pandemic, events or taking place virtually online for the time being. This event was held on November 11, 2021 from 7 PM to 8 PM. Rick Schmid delivered a Zoom presentation for this topic.
  • Fat and the Migration South for Songbirds through Eastern Nebraska: Virtual Event – this virtual event is happening on December 9, 2021 between 7 PM and 8 PM on a Thursday. Stephen Brenner will deliver the Zoom presentation for the group. He is a non-game bird biologist with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Membership Fees:

To become a member of the Audubon Society of Omaha, you should visit this page here and follow the on-screen instructions to learn how to get started. They actually provide two options. You can either join the National Audubon Society and make them your main chapter, or you can join the Audubon Society of Omaha directly via Option Two, so please visit this page to either sign up for the first time or renew your membership.

The annual membership fee to join the National Audubon Society or the Audubon Society of Omaha is $20 per year for both organizations. But you can always donate more if you’re feeling generous, and both groups provide opportunities to provide an additional donation when you pay online.

Birding In Nebraska Final Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Our goal is to always provide the best birdwatching resources for our readers. If you know of other fantastic birdwatching locations, destinations, or birding clubs in Nebraska that should be included in this article, please contact us. We are more than happy to review the location and add it to this resource.

Happy Birding!

Birding In Nebraska - State Bird Western Meadowlark
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