The annual “fall” migration of birds is actually somewhat of a misnomer. Many species of birds actually begin their trek south long before the date we humans mark as the autumnal equinox, which falls on September 23 this year. For example:
Adult shorebirds begin their southward migration from areas as far north as the Arctic tundra as soon as their precocious youngsters are on their own. In Nebraska, we start seeing the adults over the last two weeks of July into early August, with the juveniles following about a month later. Look for these migrants in or near standing shallow water and mudflats.
Late July and early August also signal when you may start seeing male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrating south across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, followed by juveniles and females in late August and early September. Remember: there are always exceptions because this species also breeds locally. Your best bet for viewing? Watch late blooming flowers and hummingbird feeders.
Raptor migration times can vary, sometimes greatly. A few “early bird” species include Mississippi Kites, which take wing in late August and early September in Nebraska, and Osprey and Broad-winged Hawks, which migrate mainly in September. You’ll get a great view of these and other raptors at Hitchcock Nature Center just north of Crescent and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Need to ID a bird? If you have a smart phone, download the Audubon App; it’s FREE and useful.