The Best Birdwatching Destination To Visit In America

Visiting an aviary or bird sanctuary can be a fun and unique experience for travelers. However, every avid birdwatcher knows that there is nothing quite as beautiful as watching birds thrive in their natural habitat. From the East Coast to the West Coast, there are endless bucket list-worthy destinations for birding. However, one of the most remarkable destinations on the map for bird lovers is actually in the Midwest: The North Platte River Valley, located in Nebraska, boasts some of the best birdwatching in the United States all-year-round. 

The valley is made up of forested canyons, picturesque bluffs, wetlands, and rolling prairies, and has must-see landmarks such as the famous Chimney Rock, a natural formation that overlooks the valley. Given the wide array of diverse habitats, the valley is a haven for many bird species and wildlife in general. There is no shortage of fantastic birdwatching opportunities that even travelers who are inexperienced with birding can appreciate.

Species of birds you'll see in North Platte River Valley

The North Platte River Valley plays host to more than 300 species of birds; what kinds of feathered friends you can expect to see will depend on the time of year you visit. "From February to April, this Midwestern state serves as one of the nation's most incredible birding destinations, with roughly one million migrating sandhill cranes touching down across the North Platte River Valley to rest before heading north," Jared Ranahan, a travel writer and avid birdwatcher, told Best Life. The valley also provides a migration habitat for waterbirds, including the Western grebe and common mergansers.

Moreover, North Platte is a critical nesting hub for an estimated 160,000 grassland birds annually, including the near threatened piping plover, a tiny bird known for its bell-like peeps. Another interesting species you'll encounter is the interior least tern, which was nicknamed "striker" because they hunt by striking water, and adult terns are known to dive-bomb people that approach their nest. You'll undoubtedly also spot the prairie chicken (pictured above), which Ranahan described to Best Life as "an eccentric bird renowned for its fascinating mating dance and booming call." During winter months, higher concentrations of nesting bald eagles can be observed at the Sutherland Reservoir.

Notably, whooping cranes — the tallest bird in North America — have been spotted in Nebraska during both the spring and fall migration periods. The whooping crane is considered highly endangered, so seeing this spectacular species can be an exceptional experience for birdwatchers.

The best spots in North Platte River Valley to go birding

There are plentiful locations to go birding in the North Platte River Valley. Posting up at a public viewing blind or dock in the area is perfect for birdwatching on your own, or with an experienced guide. The Rowe Sanctuary and Iain Nicolson Audubon Center offers both morning and evening trips to crane-viewing blinds during certain months, and offers overnight photography blinds for birdwatchers who want to snap memorable photos.

Crane Trust Nature Center is another popular attraction that houses native wildlife exhibits, along with conservation programs focused on preserving the natural ecosystems that allow birds in the valley to thrive. Near the center, visitors can follow a paved trail crossing the Platte River's north channel that connects to roughly ten miles of hiking trails through the beautiful valley; this provides ample spots where you can stop and birdwatch, or simply stroll and listen to their calls. Best of all, a short walk from the nature center will lead you to a 35-foot observation tower that offers a bird's eye view (no pun intended).

If you want to combine birdwatching and camping, consider hiking the Platte River State Park Trail Loop. This 6.7-mile trail is popular for birding, as it offers scenic views of lush forests and the Platte River System. The North Platte River Valley is not only a bird lover's paradise, but it's a must-visit destination for all nature lovers who want to see wildlife up close.