rIn the heart of the Great Plains in the Midwestern United States, Nebraska is a beautiful place. Legendary for its vast agricultural landscapes, it is also popular due to its iconic sandhill crane migrations. However, this state also boasts a diverse array of wildlife that may surprise many. From unique mammals to rare birds and fascinating insects, Nebraska is home to a wide range of species that thrive in its varied habitats. In this article, we will explore some of the most fascinating wildlife that can be found in the “Cornhusker State.”
The American Bison, also known as buffalo, once roamed the Great Plains in massive herds, and Nebraska was no exception. Today, the Nebraska National Forest and the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge are two places where visitors can see these majestic creatures up close. Watching a herd of bison grazing or witnessing their powerful charge is an awe-inspiring experience that offers a glimpse into Nebraska’s rich natural history.
2. Sandhill Cranes
Every spring, over half a million sandhill cranes descend upon the Platte River Valley in Nebraska during their annual migration. This natural spectacle is one of the greatest wildlife phenomena in North America, drawing visitors from around the world. The sight and sound of thousands of cranes filling the sky as they come to roost along the river at sunset is truly mesmerizing.
3. Whooping Cranes
Nebraska is also one of the few places where the critically endangered whooping crane can be spotted. These elegant birds, standing at over five feet tall, are the tallest birds in North America and are known for their distinctive trumpeting call. Seeing a whooping crane in the wild is a rare and special sighting, as there are only about 800 individuals left in the wild.
While elusive and rarely seen, bobcats are one of Nebraska’s native predators. These medium-sized wild cats are known for their striking appearance, with tufted ears and a short bobbed tail. They are skilled hunters and play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of Nebraska’s ecosystems.
5. Pronghorn Antelope
Often referred to as “pronghorn,” these unique mammals are native to the grasslands of Nebraska. Known for their exceptional speed, pronghorns are the fastest land animals in North America, capable of reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. Observing a pronghorn sprint across the prairie is a thrilling experience and a testament to their incredible adaptability.
For wildlife enthusiasts visiting Nebraska, this article about Colorado’s top wildlife destinations could provide useful insights into what to expect when exploring the great outdoors.
6. Regal Fritillary Butterfly
Nebraska is home to the rare and beautiful Regal Fritillary butterfly, a species that has declined significantly due to habitat loss. The Niobrara Valley Preserve in north-central Nebraska is one of the few places where this stunning butterfly can still be found. Its striking coloration and intricate wing patterns make it a sight to behold for nature enthusiasts and butterfly lovers alike.
7. Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
Nebraska is also home to several species of snakes, including the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Despite its venomous nature, this small rattlesnake is known for its mild temperament and shy behavior. Spotting one in the wild can be a thrilling experience for those who appreciate the unique beauty and importance of these often misunderstood creatures.
8. Bald Eagles
Nebraska’s rivers and lakes provide ample opportunities for birdwatching, and the bald eagle is one of the most iconic species that can be spotted here. These majestic birds of prey are known for their distinctive white heads and tails, and they can often be seen perched on tree branches or soaring high above the water as they hunt for fish.
9. American Burying Beetle
The American Burying Beetle, also known as the “undertaker beetle,” is a fascinating insect that can be found in Nebraska. This unique beetle has a striking appearance, with its glossy black body and bright orange markings. What makes this species particularly interesting is its unusual behavior of burying small animal carcasses, such as birds or mammals, as a food source for its offspring. The American Burying Beetle plays an important role in recycling nutrients and maintaining the ecological balance in Nebraska’s ecosystems.
10. Monarch Butterflies
Nebraska is an essential part of the annual migration route of the iconic Monarch butterfly. Every fall, millions of Monarchs pass through the state as they make their way to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. During this migration, Nebraska becomes a hub for Monarch sightings, with fields and gardens dotted with the orange and black butterflies as they fuel up on nectar before continuing their long journey. Witnessing the mass migration of Monarchs is a breathtaking experience and a testament to the wonder of nature.
Top Destinations in Nebraska to Spot Them
If you are wondering where exactly to navigate your way and see some of these animals in their natural habitats, look no further. These are the best places in Nebraska to see the amazing wildlife that calls the state home.
1. Platte River Valley
The Platte River Valley in central Nebraska is renowned for its sandhill crane migration, which takes place from late February to early April. During this time, over half a million sandhill cranes gather along the river as they make their way northward to their breeding grounds. The Rowe Sanctuary and the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center are two popular spots along the Platte River that offer viewing blinds and guided tours, providing opportunities to witness this awe-inspiring wildlife spectacle.
2. Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
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In the north-central part of Nebraska near Valentine, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is home to diverse wildlife, including bison, elk, deer, and prairie dogs. Visitors can take a scenic drive through the refuge and hike on its trails to spot these animals in their natural habitat. The refuge is home to a diverse population of birds like bald eagles, whooping cranes, and waterfowl.
3. Nebraska National Forest
The Nebraska National Forest, located in the Sandhills region of Nebraska, is a unique and ecologically diverse area that offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The forest is home to herds of bison, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and elk. You can see them while driving along the forest roads or hiking its trails. The forest also has a rich birdlife, with species such as sharp-tailed grouse, burrowing owls, and greater prairie chickens.
4. Niobrara Valley Preserve
Operated by The Nature Conservancy, the Niobrara Valley Preserve in north-central Nebraska is a vast and pristine area that harbors diverse wildlife. The preserve is home to bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, and several species of deer, which can be spotted while driving along its scenic loops or hiking its trails. The preserve also boasts a rich birdlife, including the endangered whooping crane, as well as regal fritillary butterflies.
5. Sandhills Wildlife Management Area
The Sandhills region of Nebraska with the Sandhills Wildlife Management Area is a vast and remote region. It offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife viewing. The area is home to a wide range of wildlife, including bison, pronghorn antelope, deer, and a variety of bird species, such as grouse, owls, and hawks. The Sandhills offer a unique and pristine landscape where visitors can experience Nebraska’s natural beauty and wildlife in a truly wild setting.
6. Indian Cave State Park
In southeast Nebraska along the Missouri River, Indian Cave State Park dominates with its rugged bluffs, scenic overlooks, and abundant wildlife. The park is home to white-tailed deer, wild turkey, raccoons, and various bird species. Visitors can explore its many trails and scenic drives to spot wildlife, and the park also offers camping and picnicking facilities for an immersive outdoor experience.
7. Fontenelle Forest Nature Center
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Near Omaha, the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center is a unique urban oasis. It offers opportunities for wildlife viewing within the city limits. The nature center encompasses over 2,000 acres of forested land along the Missouri River. There are trails and boardwalks for visitors to spot deer, foxes, raccoons, woodpeckers, warblers, and owls.
Nebraska may not be very famous as a wildlife destination, but it offers a diverse array of wildlife species. The unique habitats they live in provide excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. From the iconic sandhill crane migration along the Platte River to the majestic bison herds in the Nebraska National Forest, and the elusive elk and deer in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, there are plenty of chances to witness Nebraska’s wildlife in their natural habitats.