Migrating birds abundant at area refuges

It's a great time to see ducks, said Joel Jorgensen, the nongame bird program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.


Sure, the famous sandhill cranes are flooding into the Kearney and Grand Island areas in record numbers.

But you don't have to drive that far to see migrating birds. Just look for the closest body of water, and you'll likely find hundreds of geese and ducks and a fair number of eagles.

"Geese are here in big numbers. The majority of geese in the Central Flyway are probably around Nebraska right now," said Joel Jorgensen, the nongame bird program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "It's a great time to see ducks."

Warm weather recently has pushed birds north into the Midwest, and some likely won't stick around long if mild temperatures continue. That increases their urgency to catch a favorable wind and head to their nesting grounds to the north.

"They're trying to get north as fast as they can so they can nest as fast as they can," said Tom Cox, the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge manager.

DeSoto is one of the sure bets for birds as well as Lake Wanahoo near Wahoo, Branched Oak near Lincoln and the Rainwater Basin wetlands in the Utica area. Closer to Omaha is Cunningham Lake, plus Carter Lake and Lake Manawa in Council Bluffs.

Numbers are plentiful at Lake Wanahoo. In just one hour last week, a birder reported seeing 19 species. That included thousands of geese, several hundred ducks, two bald eagles and a red-tailed hawk.

Birders are still posting pictures of eagles they've spotted on Lake Manawa and even at Dodge Park, although that may be winding down as the majestic birds follow the migration north.

"Oftentime eagle viewing is best when we have a slow easing into spring and the reservoirs start to open up with some ice on them," Jorgensen said. "We've had such nice weather, it may not be as good as other years."

Cox said DeSoto doesn't have the historic large flocks of snow geese on the refuge waters anymore. Jorgensen said the huge flocks follow the Missouri River north and then take a big left turn out to central Nebraska.

But there's still plenty to see at DeSoto. A recent count showed thousands of ducks, including more than 10,000 mallards.

"I think it will be really good viewing opportunities," Cox said. "There's a couple of miles of walking trails for getting out and stretching your legs and seeing all types of wildlife."

The auto tour route at DeSoto is closed because the migration is on. Cox said it's important to give the birds a break, so they can rest and feed.

"These birds when migrating use a tremendous amount of calories. If they're disturbed, they're just using those calories up," he said. "They need to be really fat and healthy when they hit the nesting ground, or they can't nest right away."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1034, marjie.ducey@owh.com

BIRDING FACTS

• Bald eagles that breed north of Nebraska are currently migrating through in large numbers, but resident bald eagles are currently laying eggs.

• Five species of geese and 16 species of ducks migrate through this area in the spring.

• Diving ducks can swim 5 to 10 feet underwater to find food, such as aquatic vegetation, crustaceans and mollusks.

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