bird watching iowa

Birding

Tucked between limestone bluffs and facing the Mississippi River, you’ll find the lovely town of Lansing, IA. And along the highways near Lansing, you can discover the Great River Birding Trail. This drivable trail along the Mississippi is one of just three birding trails in Iowa. The trail—part of the Great River Road—runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It includes sites with established wildlife refuges, parks, overlooks and numerous attractions.

First and foremost, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a 261-mile long, 240,000-acre treasure is awaiting exploration and visitor enjoyment. This is the nation’s most visited wildlife refuge, and the 4th most visited publicly owned property, exceeded only by three very distant National Parks.

The refuge, affectionately called the “Father of Waters” and “Old Man River,” is located, literally, at Lansing’s front door. The American Bird Conservancy has officially recognized the refuge as a Globally Important Birding Area.

Birding is now considered one of America’s most popular outdoor pastimes. Lansing is located in the heart of the highly scenic and wildlife-rich Driftless Area, a unique region untouched by the glaciers that nearly flattened much of the surrounding states. Our region is surrounded with diverse and excellent birding habitats, including heavily forested bluffs, dense riparian forests, grassy areas on hill slopes called “goat prairies,” deep valleys with coldwater trout streams, as well as many marshes, wetlands and open water habitats.

Spring and fall bird migrations on and near the Mississippi River are magnificent. Pelicans and tundra swans make the Lansing area a regular stop on their trips north and south. On one recent autumn day, 480 bald eagles were recorded during a two-hour boat tour. Similar large numbers of eagles are seen in migration every year. It is also common to experience several hundred thousand waterfowl, many other types of species, and nearly ¾ of all Canvasback ducks in the world near Lansing during migration. For descriptions of refuge habitats, birds, other wildlife, photography, fishing opportunities, historical information, and points of access, click here.

Birding locations in Lansing include Mt. Hosmer Veterans Memorial Park with its majestic overlooks of the Black Hawk Bridge, three states, and the town itself. Mt. Hosmer is easily accessible by car or on foot, and is hiked on a regular basis by many local residents. One Lansing resident has recorded 189 different species of birds from his own small property, a clear indication of the abundance of birds in the local area.

Situated where three excellent birding states merge, it is not possible to list here all the species that can be found in the Lansing area. However, bird watchers can gain a sense of the wonderful diversity of birds in the area. Iowa birders have sited 426 species, according to this state list. In neighboring Wisconsin, that total jumps to 437 species. And just 11miles to the north in neighboring Minnesota, birders have found and enjoyed 430 species.

Ric Zarwell, renowned ornithologist and Lansing resident, recommends you download this PDF for more information.