Nebraska offers a vast range of natural habitats that are home or a vacation spot to a massive number of interesting and beautiful bird species. With over 365 species of birds in Nebraska – one for every day of the year – any keen birdwatcher or nature enthusiast will have fun spotting some of these exciting animals!
If you’re curious about what types of birds in Nebraska you’ll find, then follow along as we provide information on the most common birds, some of the most colorful and vibrant birds, and even some of the rare birds found throughout Nebraska.
We not only show you what they look like, but even share with you the best places in the state to see them, and some interesting facts!
Common Birds in Nebraska Worth Looking Out For
How common a bird is in Nebraska will depend on where you are. If you’re in a suburban setting and seeing birds in your backyard, they will often be American Robins, Mourning Doves, European Starlings, or even brightly colored birds like the Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, and American Goldfinch.
However, if you’re out birdwatching or hiking, you’ll see a host of other common birds in the wild. Some of which we show you below.
1. American Goldfinch
American Goldfinches are a small, brightly colored golden yellow finch with a black forehead and wings during mating season. But that molts to a much more muted brown color in winter. The females are a much lighter yellow during mating season and go to the same muted brown color during winter. They can grow to be 5.5 inches long with a 9-inch wingspan and weigh up to 20 grams.
During mating season, they are extremely aggressive towards anybody entering their territory; this includes both males and females. Dominance during the non-mating season is determined by how many battles have been won. However American Goldfinches will flock together with other finches outside of breeding season without any issues.
The American Goldfinch is found throughout residential areas as it is attracted to bird feeders many locals put out for them, as well as the planted grasses and perennial trees that produce seedheads that the bird wants to eat.
American Goldfinches are not endangered and are very common birds in Nebraska.
2. Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Cranes are a large crane towering up to 4 feet tall and with a wingspan of 6 feet and weighing up to 12 lbs! They are mostly light and dark grey with a red forehead and white cheeks.
Often, Sandhill Cranes will appear reddish-brown due to the fact they preen themselves with mud or clay. So the color can depend on what mud is available to them. As the nesting season draws to a close, the mud wears off, and they return to their natural grey color.
When migrating, Sandhill Cranes can form flocks as large as 10,000. While resting during migration, these huge flocks can join together on the ground creating a fantastic sight.
During spring, 80% of the world’s population of Sandhill Cranes gather in the Platte River Valley of Nebraska! This is estimated to be around 650,000 Sandhill Cranes in a relatively small area along the Platte River. It’s an incredible thing to see.
Sandhill Cranes are not listed as endangered but have faced many threats from hunting and population loss over the years. In Nebraska, they are a migratory species but are extremely common at certain times of the year.
3. Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal is a striking bright red bird. This bird gets its Cardinal name from Catholic cardinals who wear bright red robes. It’s a medium-sized songbird measuring up to 9 inches long with a 12-inch wingspan and weighing up to 45 grams.
The males are almost exclusively bright red, with a black face mask covering the eyes and down to the upper neck. Its red does become slightly darker on its back and outward on its wings. The females are greyish-brown with a slight light red tinge to some feathers.
Northern Cardinals are permanent residents of Nebraska and can be found throughout woodlands, gardens, parks, and wetlands. They will also be spotted in residential areas because they’re especially fond of bird feeders in people’s backyards.
Northern Cardinals are not endangered and are one of the most common birds in Nebraska. It’s estimated there are around 100 million of them globally!
Dickcissel are small songbirds that can grow up to 6 inches long with a wingspan of 10 inches and weigh 40 grams. Males have brown upper feathers with black streaks, rust-colored patches on their shoulders, lighter brown under feathers with a black throat patch, a yellow chest, and a yellow line over their eyes. Females are similar in appearance but without brighter colors.
They’re known as seed-eating birds and are considered pests by farmers due to their overconsumption of grains. They can consume seeds exceptionally quickly, and can hull and eat more than a dozen sorghum seeds per minute!
Dickcissel are common birds found at Funk Waterfowl Production Area, Branched Oak State Recreational Area, Ponca State Park, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center.
You will find them in open fields or grasslands, and during summer they frequent prairies. You may also find them in farmland that is being grazed by livestock.
Dickcissel are not endangered and are a common bird seen throughout the midwest. However, they have seen a 1.5% decline in population over the past 50 years in the midwest, primarily due to grassland being converted to cropland.
There has been a 14% decline in population worldwide, but there are still an estimated 28 million Dickcissel worldwide.
5. Mourning Dove
Mourning Doves are one of the most common and widespread birds in North America. They’re a medium-sized dove measuring up to 12 inches long with an 18-inch wingspan and weighing up to 128 grams. They’re a light grey-brown on their upper feathers with light pinkish lower feathers, black spots on their wings, and a white tail.
They are one of the biggest gamebirds in the United States, with between 20 million – 70 million shot each year.
Mourning Doves prefer open habitats such as urban parks, farms, prairies, grasslands and can sometimes be found in lightly wooded areas. They have adapted well to live in human-populated areas.
Mourning Doves are not endangered, and the population is estimated to be 475 million.
6. Greater Prairie-Chicken
Greater Prairie-Chickens are a reasonably large bird at 17 inches long with a wingspan of 29 inches and weighing up to 2.6 lbs. They’re a stocky bird with short tails and rounded wings; their feathers are primarily brown and white striped. The males have yellow-orange eyebrows and similar colored air sacs on their throat with a long head feathers that they can raise and lower.
When the males are looking for a mate, they will perform an incredible dance that involves raising their headdress feathers and inflating their brightly colored air sacs while stomping their feet and making whooping and crackling calls!
Greater Prairie-Chickens prefer prairie areas but can be found in other locations that have converted prairie to agricultural land. Your best chance to see them is by visiting Valentine National Wildlife Refuge or the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center.
Greater Prairie-Chickens are near threatened, but that is a huge improvement because they almost went extinct in the 1930s. The global population is estimated at anywhere between 200,000 – 700,000.
Habitat loss as prairies are turned into agricultural land is the current biggest threat to this species.
The Most Colorful And Vibrant Birds in Nebraska
1. Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlarks are a medium-sized songbird and the official state bird of Nebraska, thanks to their abundance and beautiful song. It’s the second most common state bird in the US, with Northern Cardinals first.
They can grow to be 10 inches long with a 16-inch wingspan and weigh up to 120 grams. Their upper feathers are black, brown, and white in intricate patterns, and they have bright yellow under feathers with a black V on their chest.
Eastern Meadowlarks and Western Meadowlarks don’t often interbreed but will fight over territory with each other if their environments do overlap. The Eastern Meadowlark can be found in the more eastern parts of Nebraska.
Western Meadowlarks can be found anywhere there is grassland, prairies, or agricultural land.
The Western Meadowlark is not endangered and is extremely common throughout Nebraska. There are an estimated 30 million of them worldwide.
2. Cinnamon Teal
Cinnamon Teal are a small dabbling duck that feeds on the surface rather than diving for food. They can grow to be 16 inches long with a 25-inch wingspan and weigh up to 400 grams.
Male Cinnamon Teal have a bright cinnamon head and body with a brown back. Their eyes are also bright red, and their beaks are dark brown or black. Females aren’t as bright but have vibrant light brown heads and bodies, with brown eyes.
Cinnamon Teal and Blue-Winged Ducks are closely related and will interbreed, creating an interesting color combination, often a bright cinnamon body and head with blue wings!
An excellent location for a guaranteed sighting of Cinnamon Teal is Fontenelle Forest during the fall and spring migrations; otherwise, they can be primarily found in the North-Western parts of Nebraska in many of the marshes and ponds in the area.
Cinnamon Teal are not endangered and are found throughout western North America and down into South America. There is an estimated 380,000 Cinnamon Teal worldwide.
3. Western Tanager
Western Tanagers are brightly colored songbirds in the same family as Northern Cardinals. They’re medium-sized, growing up to 7.5 inches long with an 11.5-inch wingspan and weighing up to 36 grams.
They have bright yellow under feathers on their chest and belly, with black wings and back with some lighter colored yellow patches. Males have bright red heads and yellow necks and butts, while the females are more muted in color with yellow-olive heads.
Many birds of prey eat Western Tanagers. Some smaller birds will also raid Western Tanager nests for eggs to eat.
Western Tanagers can be found in open coniferous forests and mixed woodlands. In Nebraska, they are primarily found in the North-Western part of the state, such as the Pine Ridge area.
Western Tanagers are not endangered and have a stable population estimated to be 9 million worldwide.
4. Blue Jay
The Blue Jay is a very loud and colorful songbird. It’s primarily bright blue with white chest, belly, and cheeks. It can grow up to 12 inches long with a 17-inch wingspan and weigh up to 95 grams.
While its appearance is lavender-blue, this is not due to pigments but light trickery. If you crush a Blue Jay’s feather, it will no longer appear to be blue.
Blue Jays are slow, so many predatory birds will attack them. However, if a Blue Jay spots a predator, it will let out a thunderous call that will alert other birds in the area who will then have a chance to hide.
You can find these Nebraska birds in mixed woodlands, including Oak, Beech, and Pinewood forests. With deforestation, they have also moved to urban parks and wooded areas.
Blue Jays are not endangered and are common throughout Nebraska.
Rare Birds in Nebraska
Nebraska and many parts of the midwest have started to see an influx of rare birds never seen before in the state.
It’s unknown why there have been so many rare bird sightings in the past few years, but it’s an exciting time to make a discovery when you’re out birdwatching.
1. Whooping Crane
Whooping Cranes are the tallest North American bird and one of the heaviest, reaching up to 5’3 in height with a wingspan of 7’7 and weighing up to 19 lb! They’re primarily white with a red crown and dark wingtips, and they have dark legs and beaks.
Their calls are a deafening whooping sound that can be heard for miles around. They will call to alert their partner of danger and will perform a combined call when they wake up in the morning and when defending their territory.
Once extremely common throughout the midwest, by 1941, there were only 23 Whooping Cranes left in the world. However, various conservation efforts have increased the population slowly, and they are becoming a more common sight throughout the midwest again.
Whooping Cranes migrate through Nebraska, so you will see them during the fall and spring migrations. You’ll have the best chance of seeing them if you visit Rowe Sanctuary or Funk Waterfowl Production Area.
Whooping Crane are an endangered species with around 800 left, though due to their migration path, they are becoming a more common sight in some regions of Nebraska.
2. Black Scoter
The Black Scoter is a large sea duck measuring up to 22 inches long, with a 28-inch wingspan and weighing up to 2 lbs. The male is primarily black with an oversized yellow bill, while the female is darker brown.
Their diet consists mostly of shellfish, but during their migrations and resting periods in lakes, they’ll eat a variety of available vegetation. They’re also heavily hunted during certain times of the year, with roughly 48,000 – 84,000 shot during each season.
Black scoters have been spotted in the Branched Oak State Recreational Area within the lake during their migrations during fall and spring.
Black Scoters are near threatened, and estimates put the global population at around 500,000.
3. Neotropic Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorants are medium-sized sea birds, measuring up to 25 inches long with a wingspan of 40 inches and weighing up to 3.5 lbs. They’re mostly black with a yellow-brown patch on their throat and have white tufts on the side of their heads during mating season.
They’re primarily found in the tropics or sub-tropics of central and south America, so seeing them in Nebraska is rare but it happens because the south is getting hotter each year.
Neotropic Cormorants don’t usually migrate but head north if it gets too hot. They have been seen in the lake within the Branched Oak State Recreational Area during the summer months.
The Neotropic Cormorant is not an endangered species, though it is a rare bird to find in Nebraska and is only spotted during migration.
4. Anna’s Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbirds are medium-sized hummingbirds. They’re around 4.3 inches long with a 5-inch wingspan and weigh up to 6 grams. Their back is an iridescent bronze-green; it has a pale grey chest and belly and green on its sides. The male has an iridescent crimson or magenta coloring on its neck and up to the crown of its head.
Incredibly, the higher the protein in the male’s diet, the more colorful their iridescent crowns become!
Anna’s Hummingbirds started appearing in Nebraska in 2016 and have been a rare but ongoing sight in the state.
In recent years, the majority of sightings in Nebraska have been in Scotts Bluff, but there have been numerous sightings throughout much of Nebraska.
They’re most often seen in open areas within urban environments, as it enjoys the nectar from flowers in gardens and parks.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are not endangered, with a population estimated at around 1.5 million, which is stable.
5. Harris’s Hawks
Harris’s Hawks are a medium and sometimes large hawk species, measuring up to 23 inches long with a 47-inch wingspan and weighing up to 3.6 lbs. Females are often much larger than males by around 35%. They have dark brown feathers with reddish shoulders and tail feathers.
Most Harris’s Hawks in Nebraska are thought to be escaped falconry birds that have now taken up in the wild of Nebraska.
They will hunt in packs which is unusual for raptors, but this is attributed to their high intelligence, making them excellent birds to use in falconry.
Harris’s Hawks are non-migratory and prefer woodland or semi-deserted areas. They can also be found in marshes and mangrove swamps.
Their usual habitat is further south in hotter regions and are somewhat common up to the south-western United States.
Harris’s Hawks are not listed as endangered, but their population is declining due to habitat loss.