Updated: Jun 25
My college years were spent stomping around Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. My earliest wildlife photos come from countless hours at the refuge.
If a non-birdwatcher were to leave a stereotypical bad review of Loess Bluffs, it might look like:
⭐️ - I left one star because I only saw 300,000 Snow Geese. Also, the swans made angry sounds at me when I swam in the gross water. Make the water cleaner or something. There were no beaches, no hotdogs, and the geese were so noisy I couldn't hear T-Sizzle on my Apple Music. Turn down the sound of the geese!!
Did you read that in an obnoxious voice? I did.
Hotspot Name: Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge
Managing Organization: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Facilities: Public Restrooms, Trails, Picnic Area
eBird Hotspots for Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge
Overall - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L170028
Headquarters - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1846318
Eagle Pool - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1454838
Pelican Pool - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1171138
Snow Goose Pool - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1454851
Mallard Marsh - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2366290
Teal Pond - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2366298
North Woods - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2366303
Cattail Pool - https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2462278
When to Loess Bluffs NWR
Spring - Spring migration in the refuge is full of waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines. This is my second favorite season in the refuge.
Summer - If you visit in the summer, make sure to wear bug spray and have some water. There are some great nesting species to be found during the summer, but you'll want to arrive early in the morning for your best chance at these species.
Fall - The waterfowl will arrive in fall. Late fall is when the largest flocks begin to appear.
Winter - This is my favorite season at the refuge. Seeing the masses of geese and swans will always be special to me.
Number of Bird Species in Loess Bluffs NWR
300+ species. For the 'official' checklist, click here.
Notable Birds of Loess Bluffs NWR
Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Northern Bobwhite, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Yellow Rail, Sandhill Crane, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Plover, American Golden Plover, Snowy Plover, Piping Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Ruff, Stilt Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, Baird's Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Bonaparte's Gull, Franklin's Gull, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Bald Eagle, Swainson's Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Willow Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Purple Martin, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, LeConte's Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Dickcissel
How to Birdwatch in Loess Bluffs NWR
Loess Bluffs NWR is one of the most impressive goose sites in the midwest. Why? Flocks of over 1,000,000 Snow Goose have been reported in the refuge at a single time. Hard to imagine? I understand your disbelief. However, I have seen these large flocks firsthand, and the sights and sounds are unforgettable. Imagine standing inside a tornado made of white and black feathers. The sounds of the geese can drown out the loudest of nearby trains. These numbers are attainable from winter through the early stages of spring migration.
And that's not all...
During the winter months, Trumpeter Swans can number almost 2,000 individuals! Seeing a single swan is a great day but seeing 2,000 swans is worth writing about. Winter is your best chance to see these large numbers of swans. If you are able to join the Christmas Bird Count for the refuge, your chances of the hordes of swans will increase.
Bird the refuge early in the morning. The refuge opens 30 min before sunrise (and closes 30 after sunset).
The various cells have controlled water depths. You can ask at refuge headquarters for which cells are attracting which birds.
Pelican Pool and Snow Goose Pool are great spots for some shorebirds.
Eagle Pool is where the large numbers of geese and swans can be found.
North Woods and the woods near Mallard Marsh are great for migrant and nesting passerines.
Watch the open fields/marshes at sunset for Short-eared Owls
Drive both auto loops
Wild Goose Auto Tour Loop
Mallard Marsh Auto Tour - this connects to the Wild Goose Loop
If you are aiming to do some hiking in the loess hill woodlands, you will want to visit the Loess Bluff Interpretive Trail and the Munkres Homestead Trail.
Have a question about Loess Bluffs NWR? Ask it at our Flocking Mailbag!