Spring is in the air and many of us are looking forward to warmer weather and a change of scenery as we deal with COVID-19. Now is a spectacular time to get outside and see nature’s beauty as winter colors change to springs’ glory, bringing with it, the spring bird migration.
The cranes are still trickling in to our viewing area and are spectacular to watch with some birds giving viewers an up close and personal look as the long-legged birds forage for food near roadways. Cranes bring awesome sights and sounds as flocks soar and land in the fields and meadows in the Platte Valley. Their calls fill the air as they fly along the river looking for a place to roost on the sandbars for the night. Make it a point to get outside soon to see the great migrating flocks before they begin to make their way to their northern breeding grounds.
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area has a scenic drive-through where cranes can be seen flying across the North Platte River and feeding in the adjacent meadows. Early mornings and late evenings you can watch the cranes fly over the North Platte River at Cody Park in North Platte.
The North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau has a self-guided sandhill crane driving route brochure, which is available from their office located at 101 Halligan Dr. or online at visitnorthplatte.com/outdoor-recreation.
Ducks and geese are still using area Interstate 80 lakes, ponds and reservoirs as they search for food, mates and for some, areas to nest.
The colors of the male ducks, or drakes, this time of year is magnificent and their courtship displays are never boring.
Some mating Canada geese are already on their nests, as the females incubate eggs and the males guard the nest. Others might still be looking for that perfect nesting site to call home until their goslings hatch. Either way, watching geese in anticipation for the young to hatch is a great learning experience for all ages. Cody park is a great place to watch spring hatchings take place.
Spring turkey displays are another sight to see. What fabulous sounds and sights there are during this time as toms display and put on a show for the hens — all trying to gain ground over the other for breeding rights. Hearing the morning gobbles from waking toms in the trees and their flight as they come down out of the roost; then the sounds of the strut are heard as toms poof their feathers out and fan their tails making a booming sound, followed by dragging their wingtips on the ground in full display is common in the woods and one that should be appreciated.
A drive on the backroads south of North Platte and in the canyons south of Maxwell, Brady and Gothenburg all have great turkey and bird-viewing opportunities.
American white pelicans are another great white bird that will soon be in our area. They are a sight to see whether in flight with their heads cocked back holding their large bills majestically or watching them land in the water with a splash. Pelicans will work together pushing schools of fish in a circle where they can all dip their bills in the water for a meal.
When the birds are combing an area and one pelican does score a tasty morsel, the fight is on as other pelicans fly in to attempt to steal the meal or to score a fish for themselves. Watching these birds swim, fly and fish is an amazing sight this time of year as well. Lake Maloney, Sutherland Reservoir and Lake Ogallala are great places close to home to watch and learn about these big birds along with many other bird species.
These are only an example of all the birds that are around right now and many other migrating birds will soon follow. Birds like ibis, yellow-legs, avocets, godwits, curlews and others will make their way back to Nebraska. Public areas are not far away or hard to find, so get outside, take a relaxing drive and enjoy all the things going on around us during the spring season. Go online and find a copy of the Public Access Atlas to find places to view some of these species at outdoornebraska.gov/publicaccessatlas.
Game and Parks educational resources
If you don’t have a bird book but would like to get outside to view them, there are plenty of resources to get you on your way to birding with a cell phone or tablet.
The Nebraska Bird Library offers online resources to help identify and learn more about over 400 species of birds in Nebraska. With easy functions, users can search by bird characteristics — size, color, region and habitat; common name; or bird group — and can gain tips on how to identify birds through anatomy. To find the bird library visit nebraskabirdlibrary.org.
If your kids are going stir-crazy and need something to do check out all the lesson plans for all ages available from the Game and Parks.
Project Beak offers online lesson plans and activities focused on teaching children about Nebraska’s bird species, birdwatching basics, find information on Nebraska’s at-risk and rare bird species along with interactive games. Most curriculum and activities can be adapted for a variety of ages. Learn more at projectbeak.org.
Watch our live bird cams
Game and Parks and our partners Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary offer live bird cam streams. Watch an American Kestrel, the most common and smallest falcon in North America, at outdoornebraska.gov/kestrelcam; our falconcam focused on the peregrine falcon nest box on the 18th floor of the Nebraska State Capitol at outdoornebraska.gov/falconcam; or the spring sandhill Crane activity at rowe.audubon.org/birds/crane-cam.
Spring turkey season
Hunters that want to get their kids in the field but may need Hunter Education can still get their chance to bag a spring turkey.
There is no age limit to turkey hunt so consider taking your child out for a new adventure this year. Permits for youth 15 years of age and younger are only $8.
Hunters age 12 to 29 must have completed a firearm hunter education course when hunting with a firearm or air gun. Those hunting with archery equipment do not need hunter education. Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Game and Parks has cancelled all of its events through May 31 and have made temporary changes to assist youth hunters that wish to get into the field.
Youth ages 11-15 who take the online Hunter Education course normally are required to attend a two-hour Hunt Safe Session before they can receive a certificate of completion. That Hunt Safe Session requirement temporarily is being waived. Youth completing the online course will be certified, and they will be encouraged to take a Hunt Safe Session in the future. For more on Hunter Education, visit outdoornebraska.gov/huntereducation.
Hunters are encouraged to read all the rules and regulations in the 2020 turkey hunting guide, view the Public Access Atlas for places to hunt, and get your turkey permit online at outdoornebraska.org.