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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

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Migrating species make early spring a birder’s dream

Image of a sandhill crane with a dirty beak, surrounded by golden prairie grass.

Photo of Sandhill Crane by Mike Benkis

March and April often mark the beginning of the spring migration for a variety of bird species. Depending on the weather, which can run the gamut from spring-like temperatures to sub-zero snowstorms, initial waves of many migrating birds make their way back to our area.

Sandhill Cranes start sweeping into central Nebraska in late February, and their numbers crescendo to more than half a million by mid-to-late March. If you have never been out to the Grand Island/Kearney area during peak Sandhill Crane migration season, and you would like to go – put it on your bucket list. Opportunities abound to go on your own or with a group of friends or sponsoring organizations. The Audubon Nebraska Crane Festival – the nation’s oldest birding festival – celebrates its 50th anniversary March 20-22 of this year in Kearney. Every year a couple of Whooping Cranes show up as well, and large flocks of American White Pelicans like to spend a few days on some of the large reservoirs and lakes in Nebraska (e.g., Calamus, Harlan, Wanahoo, Branched Oak, Wehrspann, and a few other assorted larger bodies of water).

March and April also are the months when several million Snow Geese migrate through eastern Nebraska on their way to nesting grounds on the Canadian tundra. With the geese come great varieties of northbound migrating duck species.

Passerines are more likely to start showing up in large numbers in April and May. Some early migrants to watch for are Eastern Phoebes, Brown Thrashers, Tree Swallows, Eastern Towhees, and by mid-April such neo-tropical warblers as the Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler (the latter often winters in the southern U.S.). By the last week of April, you may note an influx of a whole variety of Vireos, Warblers, Flycatchers, Wrens, Tanagers and the like. By late March, Turkey Vultures will also be drifting north. March, April and May are a local birder’s dreamtime — the months birders dream about the rest of the year!

Reprinted in memory of Clem Klaphake from the Meadowlark March/April 2020 issue.

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