Birders, you’ll know this term. It’s the one given to possibly the most popular migration route in all of North America:

The Mississippi Flyway.

The Flyway is the route along the Mississippi River that stretches from central Canada and into the Gulf of Mexico. It has all the accommodations needed for safe bird travel—plenty of food, water, shelter and no mountains to navigate—and thus is used by half of the bird species in North America. It’s like the Route 66 for bird travel.

It also makes for the Mississippi River as one of the best birding places in the country. The Audubon Society reports that 325 different types of birds make the trip each year.

We’ll lay out five of the most beautiful and rare birds you might be able to see here, as well as the best time and place to see them.

Bald Eagle

Our national bird is on the rise again, as the use of DDT in mosquito control led to a near demise just a few decades back. Since DDT use was banned, the number of bald eagles have somewhat recovered.

Fortunately, the bald eagle can be spotted year round. They nest near the water, usually about two thirds up a supercanopy tree. Here’s something you may not know about their nests – they are four to six feet across and three feet deep. You could almost nestle yourself in there!

Peregrine Falcon

You probably heard of the falcon by it’s amazing hunting abilities – it’s one of the fastest animals on the planet, and can reach up to 200mph when diving for food!

In that, you’ll most likely see them on cliffs and, if you’re in town, on the perch of high buildings. They stay mostly in the northern part of the river, in the Wisconsin and Minnesota areas.

White Pelican

White pelican on the Mississippi River

With their graceful flight patterns, the white pelican migration is one of the most anticipated events for birders. They arrive at the Mississippi Middle Valley around March and stay 3-5 weeks before setting off. The best time for seeing them flock in full force would be between mid-March and mid-October.

Be careful with these birds – unlike typical brown pelicans, they’re quite shy! They’re also different from the brown pelican in that they scoop their food from the surface of the water, as opposed to diving down.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

For fifty years, the world crossed off the ivory-billed woodpecker as extinct. Like, not one left.

Then, all the sudden, footage was captured in 2005 of one allegedly flying out of an Arkansas forest. National Geographic said, “It was hailed as the birding equivalent of finding Elvis alive”.

You’d be extremely lucky, almost miraculous, if you happened to spot one today. But it’s a possibility! They are known for a double-knock when pecking at trees, so use that as a means for identifying one. Good luck!

Indigo Bunting

Granted there’s the Great Blue Heron, one of the most well-known and majestic blue birds of the Mississippi. But we can’t get over the beauty of the Indigo Bunting, the vibrantly blue bird that lives in the Prairie Oak Savana.

Interestingly, the Indigo Bunting is really black, but sunlight refracts in their feathers and makes them look blue. Yes, it’s just like with blue jays! Remember that the blue ones are the males; the females are just brown.

These are just five of the types of birds you can find along the Mississippi River. As you cruise, you can also hear about current restoration efforts, which are highly encouraging.

The Mississippi River cruise is one of our finest, especially for birders. Find out when you can book your trip along the Mississippi River, and hit one of the primo birding spots in the world!

wild birds of the Mississippi River region

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