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March Means Migration Near You (Even in the City)

When I was kid, I always looked forward to taking a drive with my grandparents during the March thaw to see the spring migration of birds along the Platte River in rural Sarpy County, Nebraska.

We never had to travel very far from our homes in Gretna to see the migrating birds either.

It’s those drives that helped develop my appreciation for birds.

Truth is, you still do not have to venture far at all to enjoy the spectacular March migration of birds in Nebraska.

Extraordinary spring migration bird watching awaits you in Nebraska’s public parks, green spaces and waterfront properties, even amid cities and towns.  Being an urban Omaha, NE resident for many years now, I know this full well.

Remember, for tens of thousands of years, since the end of the last ice age, birds most likely have migrated to and through these areas. Many of these locations are easily accessible by foot, bicycle, bus or are a short trip by motor vehicle. A variety of different birds can be seen at these public sites and the species are ever-changing throughout the year with seasons, weather and migrations. In March, ducks, geese and bald eagles can be frequently seen where there is ample water.

For example, only a ten-minute drive by car from my house in the Metcalfe Park Neighborhood of mid-town lies one of the best public bird watching spots I know to witness the spring migration — the 300 water-acre Levi Carter/Kiwanis Park complex in the northeastern part of the city.

Referred to as Carter Lake by the locals, it is actually an old, natural, oxbow of the Missouri River that is situated in the shadow of downtown Omaha and adjacent Eppley Airfield.

Canada goose swimming at Carter Lake with skyline of downtown Omaha in the background. Photo by Greg Wagner.

I know what you’re thinking. Go bird watching at urban Omaha’s Carter Lake or at the Kiwanis Park Lagoon, really? C’mon!

Carter Lake with its close proximity to the Missouri River for bird migration and navigation, along with its topography and habitat diversity, offers a plethora of birds to see, particularly during the month of March!

Lesser snow goose. Greg Wagner.
Lesser snow goose. Photo by Greg Wagner.
American white pelicans. Photo by Greg Wagner.
American white pelicans. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Pairs of Mallard ducks and Canada geese. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Bird watching during migrations in large cities and extensive metropolitan areas such as Omaha can even be better than many realize and very rewarding. Just because you live in a city or town, don’t think that stops you from finding a surprising amount of bird life on your doorstep!

Here are some quick tips to get you underway in urban bird watching.

Go in the morning. My recorded observations show that the morning is often the best time to look for birds in metropolitan areas because there are less people around. In practice, birds can appear at any time of the day, so always expect the unexpected. The fun of urban bird watching is to see how many different species you can identify and capture with photos.

Do not disturb. Visiting bird species have few habitats to utilize in urban areas, and bird watchers should always respect the birds they encounter and take steps not to disturb them. These feathered, winged creatures are no doubt tired and hungry after their long journeys. Honestly, the last thing they need is to be intentionally or accidentally disturbed causing them to waste energy flying around!

Look up! Birds have wings and practically anything can fly over your head during the spring migration in Nebraska – even in the middle of a metropolis! The problem is that most of us spend our entire lives walking and looking straight ahead, but rarely upward. I think if we tried to look up a bit more in these public spaces we would begin to view more birds!

Bald eagle. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Bald eagle. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Take the binocs. It’s amazing the amount of detail you can pick out when looking at a bird from a distance through binoculars. The intricate plumage colors, the glint in their eyes all add up to vividly bringing the bird you are watching to life.

Go with someone in your household or “bubble.” Adhering to COVID-19 prevention guidelines, consider taking someone with you in your household or “bubble” outside for a bird watching adventure. It is safer and more fun!

Enjoy the city.  While viewing migratory birds can be truly outstanding in a city environment, one should not overlook the other nearby attractions. It could be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee and a fresh pastry at local coffee shop while letting the folks there know about the enjoyment that migratory birds bring to the area. This can also raise awareness about how important migratory birds can be to tourism.

White-fronted geese. Photo by Greg Wagner.
White-fronted geese. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Banded Canada goose. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Banded Canada goose. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Canada goose. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Pair of mallard ducks. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Ring-billed gulls. Photo by Greg Wagner.

So you see, bird watching in urban areas like the Carter Lake/Kiwanis Park complex is an easy-to-do adventure. I have  learned that urban locations such as this one may even rival those in the countryside when it comes to numbers of stopover birds.

Assorted waterfowl at Carter Lake. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Redhead ducks and American coots. Photo by Greg Wagner

Don’t overlook what may lie just beyond your house in a public space for some great migratory bird watching. I know I have thoroughly enjoyed my Marzo mañanas  (March mornings in Spanish) watching and photographing birds at Omaha’s Levi Carter/Kiwanis Park.

Ring-billed gull. Photo by Greg Wagner.

What phenomenal March bird watching spots will you discover near your home?

To get started with information about wildlife viewing in Nebraska, click here.

Happy March bird watching!



About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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