5 Best Birdwatching Hikes in Iowa

By Brad Lane

5 Best Birdwatching Hikes in Iowa

An essential aspect of any nature hike is the familiar chirp of birds nearby, coupled with the sight of these incredible creatures soaring by. It’s a fun element of any outdoor outing, and if you want to spot some birds specifically, the state of Iowa has many opportunities to allow you to do so. From Dewey’s Pasture Complex to a variety of National Wildlife Refuges, if anything avian gives you some awe, check out these five wonderful birdwatching hikes in Iowa. 

1. Dewey’s Pasture Complex

Consisting of over 5,000 acres to explore, Dewey’s Pasture Complex of northwest Iowa is a Bird Conservation Area recognized by the National Park Service as a Registered Natural Landmark. Highly representative of the avian wildlife found in this prairie pothole region of the state, Dewey’s Pasture Complex contains a dense collection of bird species ranging from green herons to swamp sparrows and kingfisher swans. With a few different trails to explore, and campsites nearby, Dewey’s Pasture is the perfect place for new and experienced birdwatchers. 

2. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri Valley, IA

Split between the states of Iowa and Nebraska, the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge not only protects native and migratory bird species, but it sets out to preserve an entire ecosystem that is fun to explore. Throughout the year, the different seasons of DeSoto paint a unique natural picture, and for those interested in the birds, the spring and fall attracts mallards, blue and green winged teal, American wigeon and wood ducks. 

#wildlife #desotobend #iowa #nebraska #goodtimes

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3. Big Creek State Park, Polk City, IA

Located just north of Des Moines in Polk City, Big Creek State Park is a popular place for many outdoor lovers to visit. At the center of all the attention is the Big Creek State Lake, which besides water activities, provides a great backdrop for hiking and biking trails, as well as a prime habitat for local bird populations. Whether you spot them incidentally from the shore, or you travel the 26-mile trail around the lake looking for one certain species, any trip to Big Creek State Park will be good for birdwatching. 

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. -Henry David Thoreau

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4. Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, IA

Formerly known as Walnut Creek, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge of south central Iowa aims to protect the tallgrass prairies of the area that once defined nearly the entire state. Alongside its protection of the tallgrass prairie habitat, as well as a reintroduced bison population, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is home to a healthy avian community. What type of birds you’ll encounter at Neal Smith depends on the season, and no matter the time of year, this national wildlife refuge always has something amazing to see.

5. Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, IA

Dedicated to preserving the unique landscape of the Loess Hills of western Iowa, the Hitchcock Nature Center displays over 1,000 acres of preserved beauty and plenty of wildlife. For the birdwatchers out there, the supple habitat of the wind-strewn prairie remnants at the Hitchcock Nature Center lend to plenty of bird species to spot. From late September to December, the Hitchcock Nature Center hosts a HawkWatch, where you can help count the number of migratory visitors the park receives in a season. 

Pure gold.

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