State of Iowa

Eastern Goldfinch Carduelis tristis ©Mdf Wikimedia
Birding Iowa

Located between two major river systems in the heart of the upper Midwest, Iowa offers a bit of everything for birders. Many species are at the limit of either their east-west or north-south range in this state.

Along Iowa’s eastern border, formed by the Mississippi River, one can find a typical sampling of the species found in eastern North America. The Mississippi Flyway is a major migration route for waterfowl, hawks, shorebirds, and most passerines. Extensive bottomland forest is typical. The eleven locks and dams on the Mississippi each have large pools above them that accommodate great concentrations of waterfowl. Vagrant winter Gulls are found quite routinely along the river. Large numbers of Bald Eagles winter here, with this species now ranging over the entire state. The western border of the state is formed by the Missouri River. The Loess Hills, ranging north along the river, are a unique geological feature, and attract many western species not found in other parts of the state. The Missouri flyway is the primary migration route for Snow and Ross’s Geese, as well as many waterfowl.

Historically a prairie state, Iowa is now extensively farmed. The most recently glaciated prairie pothole region, in the Northwest part of the state, is home to many waterfowl, gulls, terns and wetland birds. Its extensive marshes and pools attract shorebirds in migration.

The steep bluffs and hills in the Northeast Palaeozoic Plateau are the best areas to find Golden Eagle, Ruffed Grouse and Pileated Woodpeckers.

The most comprehensive and valuable website for Iowa birders is the Iowa Birds and Birding Page, sponsored by the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union. It includes information about the IOU, publications available, the state Rare Bird Alert (Iowa Birdline); archives for the state listserv, and extensive list of e-mail addresses of birders who are willing to assist others, birding sites around the state, the official Iowa checklist, activity of the Records Committee, local birding groups, links to other Iowa websites, and more.

Top Sites
  • Hitchcock Nature Centre Hawkwatch

    WebpageSatellite View
    There is an annual hawkwatch at the Hitchcock Nature Centre, which is located in the Loess Hills near Crescent. It records an average of slightly over 10,000 hawks, eagles, and vultures of 18-20 different species every fall. Large flights of waterfowl and other avian species also occur there. It is certainly a site of national significance and has been listed among the top hawkwatches in North America by Wildbird magazine and was Iowa's first IBA.
  • Mark Orsag


  • Rick Hollis


Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 429

    As of May 2019 - of which, 91 are classed as accidental, 25 are classed as casual, eight have been introduced to North America, three are extinct, and one has been extirpated.
  • iGoTerra Checklist

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • Birds of an Iowa Dooryard

    | By Althea R Sherman | University of Iowa Press | 1997 | Paperback | 270 pages, 16 photos | ISBN: 9780877455684 Buy this book from
  • Fifty Common Birds of the Upper Midwest

    | By Nancy Overcott | University of Iowa Press | 20006 | Hardback | 124 pages, 50 colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780877459835 Buy this book from
  • Fifty Uncommon Birds of the Upper Midwest

    | By Nancy Overcott | University of Iowa Press | 2007 | Hardback | ISBN: 9781587295904 Buy this book from
  • Iowa Birdlife

    | By Gladys Black | Iowa State University Press | 1992 | Paperback | 220 pages | 32 colour & 107 b/w photos | ISBN: 9780877453932 Buy this book from
  • Iowa Birds

    | (A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species) | by James R Kavanagh | Waterford Press | 2000 | Unbound | 12 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781583551462 Buy this book from
  • The Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas

    | By Laura Spess Jackson, Carol A Thompson & James J. Dinsmore | Iowa State University Press | 1996 | Paperback | 484 pages, 185 b/w photos, tables, 185 maps | ISBN: 9780877455615 Buy this book from
  • The Raptors of Iowa

    | By James F Landenberger | University of Iowa Press | 2013 | Paperback | 128 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781609381660 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • State Bird

    Eastern Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
  • Hitchcock Nature Area Hawkwatch

    Observatory WebsiteSatellite View
    Every September through December, bird of prey enthusiasts gather at Hitchcock Nature Area to observe and count thousands of hawks, eagles, and vultures that migrate south past Pottawattamie County's Hitchcock Nature Area…
Museums & Universities
  • Stempel Bird Museum

    Dr. Guido Louis Stempel, M.D. (1836 – 1917) was a self-made authority in the areas of ornithology and entomology. Then and now, his bird and butterfly collections were considered to be the best in the state of Iowa…
  • Audubon Society in Iowa

    Contact numbers and a list of local chapters
  • Big Bluestem Audubon Society

    A local chapter of Audubon in Iowa with details of committee, newsletters etc
  • Cedar Rapids Audubon Society

    The Cedar Rapids Audubon Society (CRAS) is a chapter of the National Audubon Society. When you join the National Society, you become a member of the Cedar Rapids chapter. Your membership includes a subscription to the Audubon magazine and also the chapter newsletter (Nature Trails). You will also receive mailings of national, regional, state and local conservation issues and events
  • Des Moines Audubon Society

    Des Moines Audubon Society was organized in 1923 by a group of folks interested in the birds of the area. Although it is not a chapter of National Audubon, there is an affiliation and the Des Moines group actively participates in the statewide coalition Iowa Audubon.
  • Dubuque Audubon Society

    Welcome to the Dubuque Audubon Society Online! Please explore and learn more about the Audubon Society, birding, wild birds, conservation and more. Join the DAS or pick up a bird list to begin birding on your own. It all begins here
  • Iowa Audubon

    The Mission of Iowa Audubon is to identify, protect and restore Iowa's bird habitats, to educate Iowa's citizens toward a greater level of conservation awareness, and to promote enjoyment and greater pride in Iowa's natural ecosystems, birds, other wildlife
  • Iowa City Bird Club

    About Eastern Iowa Birds, Birders, local bird sightings, places to bird, etc.. This is a very active group with field trips at least once per month, often more
  • Iowa Ornithologists Union

    The Iowa Records Committee, a standing committee of the Iowa Ornithologists Union, is charged with evaluating and voting on records of rare birds recorded in the state and extensive info on birding around the state of Iowa, where to bird, contacts, etc…
  • Iowa Purple Martin Organization

    Website from June 2013
    The Iowa Purple Martin Organization is dedicated to the protection, preservation and promotion of the purple martin species throughout Iowa and surrounding states. We strive to increase the martin population through education, raising public awareness, research, recruiting new martin landlords, best landlord practices, restoration of housing, offering connections for landlords through and in utilizing a mentoring program.
  • Iowa Young Birders

    Founded in 2011 to encourage young Iowans ages 8-18 to study and enjoy birds and birding, Iowa Young Birders has offered nearly 60 field trips all around Iowa. More than 600 participants have included over 300 young birders, 200 parents and 100 volunteer trip leaders.
  • Loess Hills Audubon Society

    The Loess Hills
  • Macbride Raptor Project

    The Macbride Raptor Project or MRP is a non-profit organisation devoted to the preservation of Iowa's raptors and their natural habitats. They achieve their goals through the rehabilitation of sick and injured raptors, educational programs for the public, and field research of Iowa's native birds of prey…
  • Nature Conservancy in Iowa

    Well presented site but they should look at some other state NC sites - and copy their use of stunning photographs. The Nature Conservancy of Iowa is focused on the long-term protection and stewardship of the natural communities found throughout our state. We strive to balance human needs and ecological health. The Iowa Chapter was founded in 1963, since then we have purchased over 6,000 acres of significant landscapes. We currently own 30 preserves, lease two and participate in the management of one. We also hold conservation easements on two additional properties…
  • Prairie Rapids Audubon Society

    The mission of Prairie Rapids Audubon shall be to engage in programs that provide members of the public education about and appreciation for birds; increased knowledge and awareness of birds and birding; and conservation, preservation and restoration of natural bird habitat for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.
  • Quad City Audubon Society

    Welcome to the Quad City Audubon Society. A chapter of the National Audubon Society, we are an association of local volunteers whose primary concerns are birds and the habitats that sustain them
  • Raptor Resource Project

    The Raptor Resource Project is a nonprofit, 501c3 dedicated to restoring the Midwest`s population of Peregrine falcons and other raptors. Welcome to our website
  • Rolling Hills Audubon Society

    1200, 317 6th Av, Des Moines, IA 50309, 515-288-6041 - Thomas Reavely, President
  • Southeast Iowa Audubon Society

    2197 236th Blvd, Fairfield, IA 52556, 641-472-9795 - Diane Porter, President
  • Tallgrass Prairie Audubon Society

    The Tallgrass Prairie Audubon Society is a private, nonprofit corporation affiliated with the National Audubon Society. The chapter’s approximately 150 members live in east-central Iowa, primarily in Jasper, Poweshiek, Marshall, and Tama counties. The mission of Audubon is “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats.” To this end, the Tallgrass Prairie chapter sponsors public programs, educational activities, nature walks, bird watching outings, and a newsletter.
  • Upper Iowa Audubon Society

    Facebook Page
    24589 70th St, Cresco, Iowa 52136 - Phone +1 563-547-4685

Abbreviations Key

  • CA Kuehn

    InformationSatellite View
    Kuehn Convservation Area is park near Earlham, Iowa managed by the Dallas County Conservation Board.[1] The park provides a restored prairie, bird watching areas, primitive camping, and hiking trails. The park was formed in 1982 from a 300-acre (1.2 km2) donation by Gerald Kuehn, which was his residence during his youth. Subsequent acquisitions has brought the park to almost 600 acres (2.4 km2)
  • Hitchcock Nature Center

    Facebook PageSatellite View
    Nestled in the southern half of the Loess Hills, Hitchcock Nature Center (HNC) is a former YMCA camp that has a become a county park and is managed by the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board (PCCB); HNC provides spectacular views of the Loess Hills and the adjoining Missouri River Valley….
  • Iowa State Forests

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Iowa's state forest system consists of 4 major and 6 smaller units totaling 40,706 acres. The Division of Forestry pursues an active land acquisition program with a goal of 250,000 acres by the year 2020…
  • NR Hartman Reserve Nature Center

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Hartman Reserve Nature Center is a 308.9-acre (1.250 km2) nature reserve located in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The reserve is dedicated to teaching youth about nature through hands on experiences and preservation.
  • NS Robertson Bird Sanctuary

    WebpageSatellite View
    Robertson Bird Sanctuary is a 1.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Waterloo, Iowa that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
  • NS Sugar Creek Audubon Sanctuary

    PDF BrochureSatellite View
    Sugar Creek Audubon Nature Sanctuary is owned by the Tallgrass Prairie Audubon Society, the local Audubon chapter, and Jacob Krumm Nature Preserve is owned by the Jasper County Conservation Board.
  • NWR DeSoto

    WebpageSatellite View
    DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge was established on March 12, 1958 under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 for "…use as an inviolate sanctuary or for other management purposes, for migratory birds." The refuge lies in the wide, fertile plain of the Missouri River Valley in a former bend of the Missouri River about 25 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska…
  • NWR Neal Smith

    WebpageSatellite View
    The mission of the Refuge is to actively protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow. These were the native habitats existing on the Refuge’s 5600 acres prior to Euro-American settlement. …
  • SP Belleview

    InformationSatellite View
    Bellevue State Park is a state park of Iowa, USA, along the banks of the Mississippi River just south of Bellevue. The South Bluff Nature Center in the Nelson Unit contains displays on the plants, animals and geology of Bellevue State Park. The center is open seasonally and offers a variety of programs in the summer.
  • Watchable Wildlife of Northwest Iowa

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Interactive Map - Northwest Iowa is a hidden treasure amid the country's midsection. We have great areas to explore. While we don't have mountains or oceans, Iowa abounds with special and unique areas. Come with us to explore some of the special highlights. Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the area, start with one of these great spots, and you won't want to stop! There is something special in our backyard
Sightings, News & Forums
  • ABA Bird News Iowa


    Welcome to the new IA-BIRD, a listserve for discussions about Iowa Birds. If you need assistance please send a message to
  • Iowa Birding

    The purpose of this group is to provide a forum in which Iowa's birders (and those with an interest in Iowa birding) can share information and express their general interest in birds.
Trip Reports
  • 2005 [06 June] - Jan Landsverk - Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado.

    My wife and I spent one month in USA from June 24. We landed in Denver Colorado where a Chevrolet waited on us. It served us so well all the 9600 km – no problems, no accidents. We had a great time in every respect, also due to the fact that the weather was on our side – almost no rain for a month. But there was a slight “problem”, it was too hot, as a heat wave followed us part of the time, even at high altitudes. Denver is situated on about 1650 meter, and there we had around 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) for several days, beating all the previous records.
Places to Stay
  • Bluebird B&B

    The Bluebird B&B is nestled by a wooded creek valley in central Iowa, near the Des Moines River. Our home was built in 1918, and is furnished with family heirlooms and antiques. You'll find our Bed & Breakfast to be a unique lodging experience. Carmen's collection of vintage clothing and accessories is on display everywhere, and nature`s birds are just outside the window!
Other Links
  • Archives for the Iowa Rare Bird Alert

    Occasionally readers wonder what great birds they missed while out of town. These archives will let you peruse the rare bird alerts for the past few years.
  • Birding Lansing

    Tucked between limestone bluffs and facing the Mississippi River, you’ll find the lovely town of Lansing, IA. And along the highways near Lansing, you can discover the Great River Birding Trail. This drivable trail along the Mississippi is one of just three birding trails in Iowa. The trail—part of the Great River Road—runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It includes sites with established wildlife refuges, parks, overlooks and numerous attractions.
  • Birding in Iowa

    You really ought to give Iowa a try. With farmland, the state features a variety of habitats, especially along the banks of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
  • Out & About - John Pearson

    Co-author of The Guide to Iowa's State Preserves and essayist in Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa and A Watershed Year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008, all published by the University of Iowa Press.
  • Ten Bird Watching Hotspots in Iowa

    From trails along wooded bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, you can watch hawks, ospreys, and bald eagles glide along above the river in spring and fall...
  • Rick Hollis - Thoughts of an Iowa Birdwatcher

    These will be random thoughts about birds, birders, birdwatching, feeders, reptiles, wildflowers and nature in general. I will specifically discuss conservation interests, and other things as the mood hits me. The topics will probably lean a bit towards of interest to Iowa, as that is where I live

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

Skip to content