Many birders and non-birders alike are familiar with the annual spring migration that occurs as colorful neotropical migrants make their way from South and Central America to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Boreal Forest. Less commonly appreciated is the southward fall migration of adult and, often, first-year babies. This is a much less concentrated migration, which can start in the middle of July into August when shorebirds from the Arctic pass through our area. Look for these traveling shorebirds and their young in shallow water or mudflats and at area lakes and marshes.
At roughly the same time, male ruby-throated hummingbirds begin to leave eastern Nebraska and western Iowa on their trek south. This year’s hatch, accompanied by the female birds, departs about a month later in late August into early September. To catch a glimpse of these precision fliers, keep your eyes on late flowers and maintain your hummingbird feeders up until the first week of October, as ruby-throated hummingbirds will often breed in Nebraska and wait until the end of September to decamp.
One of the most striking fall bird migrations is the Raptor Migration down the Missouri River Valley. This migration can be quite variable, depending on changes in weather and wind direction. Early migrating species include the Mississippi Kites, which can take flight in mid- to late August and pass through in early September. Other early migrants include Ospreys and Broad-winged Hawks, which generally wing their way south in September. Swainson’s Hawk takes wing in late September, with the bulk of these birds trekking west of our area — although they are spotted and counted at Hitchcock Nature Center during the annual fall Hawkwatch. Other September/October migrants include Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, Merlins, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. The region’s Turkey Vultures will usually wander toward South America around the middle of October. As the season segues into November, Bald Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks of many different morphs and subspecies flying from Canada will journey through our area.