Wild Category - Prairie Pothole Birding Loop

Prairie potholes are shallow wetland basins formed by the last glacial advance of the Des Moines lobe into Iowa 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. Although 95% of the area’s natural wetlands have been drained, the remaining marshes and grassy uplands provide nesting habitat and migration stopovers for a wide range of birds. Restored wetlands have added to the region’s diversity. These wetland havens are truly the sparkling gems of Northwest and Northcentral Iowa.

The Upper Midwest pothole region is home to more than 50% of North American migratory waterfowl! Mallards, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Canada Geese, Least and Common Bitterns, Bobolinks, Northern Harriers, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Black Terns, a variety of herons, Sora Rails, Pied-billed Grebes, Swamp Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and White Pelicans are some of the species found in the area. Spring and fall are the best times to view large flocks of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. The Upper Midwest pothole region is home to more than 50% of North American migratory waterfowl!

Many of the sites on this loop can be seen from the road, but hiking the shoreline or paddling a kayak or canoe will give you the best experience. Bring your binoculars. Enjoy the sunsets, listen to the frog chorus, or relish the sight of dragonflies as they emerge on gossamer wings.

What good is a prairie pothole?

  • Prairie wetlands act like sponges, absorbing excess rainfall and releasing water slowly into nearby lakes and rivers, preventing flooding.
  • Plants in the wetland, like cattails and bulrushes, filter out nutrients from runoff, trapping and breaking down fertilizers and other chemicals before they reach our waterways.
  • Prairie potholes trap soil that has eroded from nearby uplands. This prevents silt from clogging up streams and filling in lakes.
  • Prairie wetlands provide habitat (food, water, shelter and space) for a variety of wildlife. Acre for acre, a wetland has more diversity (variety) and numbers of animals and plants, than any other habitat in Iowa.
  • Pothole wetlands provide recreation like hunting, trapping, fishing, canoeing, wildlife viewing and wildlife photography, for thousands of people annually.
The Prairie Pothole Birding Loop (and Wild Sites) covers a five county area. You may want to visit the Wild Site choices linked above to learn more about them each, or all. Each Wild Site also has an embedded Google Map with it as well as driving directions to the site's parking lot.
Wild Categories