Tips for birding in northwest Iowa

A flock of small gray birds appears in your yard, hopping around in the snow eating some seed that has spilled from your backyard bird feeders.

Another red-headed bird sits on the feeder, pecking at the sunflower seeds inside.

Photo of a house finch catching a worm

But do you know the names of the species that you see?

Local birder Lee Schoenewe will help you be able to identify some of the most common birds in the area during the Birding in Northwest Iowa program 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Dickinson County Nature Center.

A part of the Birdwatchers Anonymous series, this program will take people through a variety of birding topics, from seasonal differences in area species to the best way to attract birds to your yard.

“I will also ask people to name their favorite bird and then talk about that species,” Schoenewe said.

Northwest Iowa is a unique place to bird because of the variety of habitats in a small area. The lakes, wetlands, grasslands and forested river corridors draw in many interesting species.

“With all the lakes, marshes and wetlands in this area it is common to see waterfowl and other water birds such as grebes, loons, pelicans, coots, rails, herons, egrets, gulls and terns. That is the most common category of birds for this area because we have good water habitats,” Schoenewe said. “My favorite is the western grebe which over the past two years have nested at Trumbull Lake in Clay County. These are the long-necked, black and white water birds whose courtship display involves racing side-by-side across the water and other coordinated moves with their mate.”

Each season in northwest Iowa provides an opportunity to see different avian species, although spring migration is the peak time for seeing the most different kinds of birds in our area.

Photo of a blue jay

“From late April through the end of May, it is possible to see well over 100 different kinds of birds in one day,” Schoenewe said. “Fall can also be good with a more extended migration window and a greater possibility of rarities. Really though, birds can be found at any time of year especially in good habitat, so I get out birding all year round.”

Many people have an interest in birds, and Schoenewe enjoys teaching people from 8-88, although he said the Birding in Northwest Iowa program will be more adult-oriented. He will be happy to take questions from the audience, so if you’re aching for bird information, this is the program to attend.

“For those people who attend, I hope their interest is rewarded with increased knowledge or appreciation of our feathered friends,” he said. “I also hope people come away with the understanding that birds can only be successful if we humans make sure they have good habitat that is large enough and stable enough for their needs.”

Birdwatchers Anonymous programs will continue through the spring, with the Great American Bird Count Feb. 17-18 and birding treks March 25 and April 22. Then local birders can participate in Birding on the Green the first Monday of the month May-September.

For more information on birding and other programs, visit our environmental education page or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


  1. Nathan on November 26, 2017 at 12:08 am

    I am a freelance bird photographer. I am working on a birdwatching book which I plan to compile and launch anytime from next year. I was wondering if there are some unique bird species there in Iowa that I don’t have in my gallery yet. If possible, we can both share some of the unique bird species we’ve got. Thank you.

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