May is a big birding month in Iowa. It kicks off with National Bird Day on May 4th, then is followed by the Iowa Ornithologists' Union 100th Anniversary celebration from May 5th to 7th. World Migratory Bird Day on May 13th coincides with the predicted peak migration, which has been forecasted to occur between May 9th and 14th.
We have compiled a list of birding resources to help you explore the wonderful birding opportunities in western Iowa. Read about them below.
The Iowa Ornithologists' Union spring meeting will kick off their celebration of 100 years of birding as an organization. The venue for the weekend is the beautiful Stine Barn and grounds in West Des Moines. Join them for exceptional programs, great birding, and fellowship with like-minded individuals. The keynote speaker is Ted Floyd, of the American Birding Association, who will examine how much birding has changed over the course of one hundred years. Activities are planned for newer birders, families, photographers, and seasoned veterans alike!
If you cannot make the celebration, check out the IOU website. They have a wealth of information to learn about birds and find birds in Iowa, including an Iowa bird list with 433 species, an Iowa breeding bird atlas, birding by county, Iowa hot spots, and more! The Ann Barker Library includes issues of Iowa Bird Life dating back to 1931.
Iowa Audubon is an organization of people, corporations and other organizations, including National Audubon Society chapters, all interested in improving bird habitat in Iowa. They are a grass-roots organization that maximizes the use of our collective resources to have the largest impact on habitat issues. Iowa Audubon is a non-profit member organization, with a mission to protect, restore and enjoy Iowa’s natural ecosystems with a focus on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. Our focus on bird conservation fills a unique niche in Iowa. There is a great opportunity to conserve and improve the habitats most essential to birds across the state.
Iowa Audubon offers small grants for bird conservation research and projects. They also partner with other organizations to manager and monitor Important Bird Areas. If you would like to support Iowa Audubon, consider becoming a member; they have several membership options.
Loess Hills Audubon Society has a dedicated group of members that offer programming and bird outings in the greater Siouxland area. They are currently seeking Bird Friendly designation for Sioux City. Golden Hills RC&D is partnering with LHAS to revise their Siouxland Bird Guide that was originally published in 2003.
Check their Conservation Notes blog for bird-related news. Also, take a look at their calendar for a birding event in the Siouxland area. LHAS organizes annual Christmas Bird Counts, among other birding excursions.
Join IAYB at Springbrook State Park on May 20th at 9 AM as they search for the last migrants of spring and pause to appreciate the local breeding birds as they sing and establish territories. May 20th often marks the peak of warbler diversity in Iowa as amazing species such as Connecticut Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Canada Warbler fill the woods with their beautiful songs. IAYB will search for these fleeting species and learn about the breeding strategies of different birds. This event is free but advanced registration is required. This outing is open to young birders and their parents/guardians/caretakers. No previous knowledge or experience is necessary.
Birding the Byways
From the Missouri River to the Raccoon River, Western Skies Scenic Byway traverses four of Iowa's landforms and many unique habitat types. If you're looking for waterfowl, upland birds, woodland birds, Western Skies Birding Trail has you covered.
Check out the Western Skies Birding Trail website to learn where you can go birding in the Western Skies corridor (Audubon, Guthrie, Harrison & Shelby counties) and what species you might find.
Bird diversity here is exceptional, with 249 species identified, including 80 Iowa Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Currently, 111 species are known to nest in this BCA’s prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands. This same crucial habitat supplies important bird wintering grounds and migratory stopover sites. Special birds of this area include wood thrush, Bell’s vireo, whip-poor-will, redheaded woodpecker, grasshopper and field sparrows, Blue-winged warbler, and both meadowlark species. The BCA’s western Iowa location makes it a good place to see western bird species that are less often seen elsewhere, like western kingbird, Townsend’s solitaire, and perhaps Lazuli bunting.
There are numerous parks and nature centers in western Iowa that are excellent birding sites. State parks managed by the Iowa DNR, parks managed by county conservation boards, and other publicly accessible lands in western Iowa all offer birding opportunities. Check the park's respective website for organized birding events and tips.
DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge offers great birding year round. The visitor center viewing windows provide great birding of waterfowl and bald eagles during the spring, fall and winter season. Bird feeders are stocked daily at the visitor center and provide good “backyard” birding opportunities.
Hitchcock Nature Center is home to HawkWatch, a citizen science driven research project that monitors raptor migration from September 1st to December 13th, counting an average of 13,000 migrating raptors annually. Anyone can join the Hitchcock HawkWatch volunteer team. All you need is a love of birds and a willingness to learn. On-the-job training is provided by the experienced team of HawkWatch volunteers and park staff. To become a Hitchcock HawkWatch volunteer, please complete and submit a volunteer application on the HawkWatch website.
The Chris L. Lloyd Swan Restoration Refuge in Buena Vista County is a 10-acre area to promote the restoration of trumpeter swans. A kiosk with information and an observation deck help inform the public about the swans. A five acre lake is surrounded by prairie grasses. The swan refuge is located 10 miles south of Sioux Rapids on Highway 71.
Other notable birding sites include, but are not limited to, Sawmill Hollow Wildlife Area in Harrison County, Riverton Wildlife Management Area in Fremont County,and Prairie Heritage Center in O'Brien County.
Besides the aforementioned organizations, the following resources are helpful to both novice and experienced birders.