Birding Pioneers in Iowa

Often, the first pre-settlement records of birds that lived in Iowa were from midden piles left by American Indians. Cardinals, for example were recorded in some of the archeological digs.

A number of well-known explorers noted the variety of birds seen on their explorations. Lewis and Clark mentioned flocks of Canada Geese along the Missouri River on their expedition between 1804-06. Zebulon Pike passed through Iowa in 1805 and hunted Passenger Pigeons. Thomas Say, an early biologist, reported Long-billed Dowitchers, Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Long-billed Curlews, Ravens, and Greater Prairie-Chickens in the Pottawattamie County area near Omaha between 1819-1820.

Joel A. Allen spent time in central and western Iowa collecting birds and mammals. This resulted in the first papers on Iowa birds and mammals. Allen was also a founder of the American Ornithologists' Union. John James Audubon visited Iowa briefly in 1843 and mentioned Carolina Parakeets, Ravens, Lark Buntings, Wild Turkeys, Sandhill Cranes, and Pileated Woodpeckers near the present site of Sioux City.

The first book on the birds of Iowa was published in 1907 by Rudolph M. Anderson. In 1933 Philip A. DuMont revised and updated the list, and in 1971 Woodward H. Brown published an annotated list of 369 species in Iowa.

In 1897 the Iowa Ornithologists' Union (IOU) was formed to compile the state list but there is no evidence that the project was completed. This early group only lasted five years.

On February 28, 1923, Thomas C. Stephans encouraged the reformation of the Iowa Ornithologists' Union and, in 1931, published the first Iowa Bird Life. Many local Iowans wrote about birds: How to Know the Wild Birds of Iowa and Nebraska by Dietrich Lange 1906; Bird Notes from the Journal of a Nature Lover by William G. Ross; Birds of an Iowa Dooryard by Althea R. Sherman, 1952; and Birding in Eastern Iowa by Fred W. and Thomas H. Kent, 1975; Waterfowl in Iowa by Jack W. and Mary R. Musgrove, to name a few.

IOU is still an active group that publishes the journal Iowa Bird Life. Many books on birds in Iowa have been published, including, Birds of Iowa by Gladys Black, (1979); and Iowa Birds by James J. Dinsmore, Thomas, H. Kent, Darwin Koenig, Peter C. Petersen, and Dean M. Roosa (1984); The Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas by Laura Spess-Jackson, Carol A. Thompson, and James J. Dinsmore (1997); Birds in Iowa by Thomas H. Kent and James J. Dinsmore (1996); and Birds of an Iowa Dooryard by Althea R. Sherman (1952,1996).

The IOU Records Committee periodically updates the Official Checklist of Iowa Birds.