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Birding in Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge

My college years were spent stomping around Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. My earliest wildlife photos come from countless hours at the refuge.

Large Snow Goose Flock at Loess Hills NWR ©
Large Snow Goose Flock at Loess Hills NWR

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.

We frequented Loess Bluffs in our college years, and we have many fond memories from there! We hope this helps you plan your birding adventure!

If you appreciate these helpful bits of information, we encourage you to join our flock!

Hotspot Name: Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge

Managing Organization: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Facilities: Public Restrooms, Trails, Picnic Area

Fees: n/a

eBird Hotspots for Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge


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If you are going to visit Loess Bluffs NWR, you are going to need a quality scope to fully enjoy some of the waterfowl sights!

To see a full list of our favorite scopes, visit our spotting scope article!


When to visit 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 the 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


Check out my favorite waterfowl guide! The Crossley Waterfowl ID Guide!


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.


Trumpeter Swans at Loess Bluffs NWR ©2020
Trumpeter Swans at Loess Bluffs NWR
Snow Goose at Loess Bluffs NWR ©2020
Snow Goose at Loess Bluffs NWR
American Coot at Loess Bluffs NWR ©2020
American Coot at Loess Bluffs NWR

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