Status: Rare spring migrant east, rare casual central. Uncommon, locally common, regular breeder east and north central. Rare fall migrant east.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6887, 18 May 1901 Child’s Point, Sarpy Co.
Taxonomy: No subspecies are currently recognized (Pyle 1997).
Three song types described by Silcock et al (2021) were shown to occur throughout the species’ range but with individual distributions apparently relatable to various glacial events. All three song types occur in Nebraska, although at sites inventoried to date, Song Type A (introductory note sequence consisting of alternating upstroke and downstroke note pairs) predominates.
Spring: Mar 29, 30, 30 <<<>>> summer
This species is a very early migrant, generally arriving in early to mid-Apr.
There are few reports away from the mapped breeding range: 6 May 1984 Polk Co (Jorgensen 2012), and 13 May 1991 Hall Co. One in Thomas Co 12-13 May 1973 was listed as “hypothetical” (Bray 1994). Tout (1947) listed spring reports for Lincoln Co 4 May 1920 (“a dead bird too ‘ripe’ to preserve”) and 7 May 1933.
- High counts: 10 at Rock Creek Station SHP, Jefferson Co 18 May 2016.
Summer: See “Comments” below for historical data.
This species breeds locally in eastern and north central Nebraska, primarily along forested streams and creeks with muddy, rocky, or gravelly substrate in hilly areas with sufficient declivity to expose emergent freshwater seeps. There are four major breeding locations where extensive surveys have been conducted: Platte River SP in Cass Co, Indian Cave SP in Nemaha and Richardson Cos, creeks and streams on public lands in Jefferson Co, and northeastern Cherry Co. Details follow on each of these.
At Platte River SP, a nest was located in 2010 and photographed 16 and 21 May 2010 (eBird.org). Studies in the park, along Stone Creek, began in 2012 (Shari Schwartz, John Carlini, personal communication), and in 2013 five territories were identified, with juveniles noted in four of these on 26 Jun. The four territories occupied on Stone Creek in 2014 along with the three nests located were mapped (Silcock 2014). A nest in 2016 and two in 2017 on Stone Creek were all lost during flood conditions; this is a recurring cause of egg and nestling losses along streams that tend to flash flooding after heavy rains (Shari Schwartz, pers. comm.).
At Indian Cave SP in 2015, all of the drainages were surveyed; six territories were discerned, all on three adjacent streams near the south end of the park. However, Louisiana Waterthrushes have occurred on two drainages in the Nemaha Co part of Indian Cave SP but were not detected in 2015; we include these, for a total of eight. A total of nine adult and four juvenile waterthrushes were identified in 2015 plus one of unknown age, and one active nest was located (eBird.org). All birds had departed by 25 Aug. The first confirmed breeding report from Indian Cave SP was of an adult feeding a fledged juvenile 25 Jul 1988 (Grenon 1988).
Louisiana Waterthrushes were first noted at Rock Creek Station SHP, Jefferson Co 8 May 2012. During extensive field work in 2016 along Rose and Rock Creeks and their tributaries, all in a portion of the Little Blue River drainage with shallow soils and limited agricultural development and referred to as the Sandstone Prairies (Schneider et al 2011), a surprisingly large number of territories and associated juveniles were discovered. At Rock Creek Station SHP, seven territories were occupied, with adults observed feeding 1-3 fledglings on three of them and two nests were documented on a tributary of Rock Creek (eBird.org). At Rose Creek WMA, there were five territories, with an adult feeding a fledgling on one of them as well as a lone foraging juvenile on a seep stream; and there were four territories at Rose Creek West WMA (Shari Schwartz, personal communication; eBird.org). At least three territories at Rose Creek WMA were occupied 11 Jul 2017. Individuals were observed on private property in Jefferson Co at 709 Rd 3 May 2016, Moon’s pasture 18 May 2019, and 704th Rd 5 Jun 2021.
A startling discovery by Renee Tressler was of a breeding pair at Fort Falls, Fort Niobrara NWR, Cherry Co 31 May 2021, followed up by recordings 6 and 14 Jun and the presence of two fledglings there 6 Jun (Silcock 2021). Another was in a spring-branch canyon just south of Fort Niobrara NWR headquarters 17 Aug (Renee Tressler, pers. comm.). Amazingly, two territorial singers were found at nearby Smith Falls SP, Cherry Co 7 Jun 2021 by Paul Dougherty. Birds were again at both locations 21 Apr and 20 May 2022 respectively through the period (Normand & Martine Legault, Aaron Jablonski, m. ob.; eBird.org) with an additional territory discovered on Turkey Feather Falls stream at Smith Falls SP (12 Apr, 22 Apr, 1 May, Aaron Jablonski, Gordon Warrick; pers. comm.), and breeding was again confirmed at Fort Falls 24 May 2022 when an adult was photographed carrying food (Gordon Warrick, eBird.org). Later in the 2022 season, adults were carrying food at Fort Falls 9 Jul and at Smith Creek 16 Jun.Utilization of the spring-branch canyons in the area by a population of Louisiana Waterthrushes was further substantiated in 2022 when the concerted effort required to survey the remote stream habitat was made by Gordon Warrick who obtained permission and employed a canoe to successfully locate two additional streams with singing males along the Niobrara River at Fort Niobrara NWR, just below Buffalo Bridge 18 May and at Tyler Falls 29 May; the discovery of new locales in the region when the challenging task of searching for the species was undertaken supports the conjecture that this is likely a long-standing population recently discovered contemporaneous with a recent escalation of eBird submissions (Silcock 2021). The identity of a waterthrush at Fort Falls Trail, Fort Niobrara NWR, Cherry Co 10 Jul 2019 was equivocal, but subsequent events suggest it was a Louisiana. A possibility of an earlier encounter in the absence of a photograph is that of an American Dipper reported 1 May 1977 some 8-10 miles east of Fort Falls that “exhibited the bobbing motion that is characteristic of [American Dipper]” (Maddux 1977). This 1977 observation may have in fact been of a Louisiana Waterthrush; a probable juvenile was observed using the rocky shore of the Niobrara River between Cornell Bridge and Brewer Bridge by a kayaker on 13 Jul 2022 (Debra Christein, pers. comm.).
In addition to these major breeding locations, nests and juveniles have been documented at sites in Washington, Douglas, Sarpy, and Lancaster Cos. Breeding was confirmed in Washington Co, where birds were present along Rock Creek at Neale Woods 7-31 Jul 1988 and seen carrying food 7 Jul (Grenon 1988); one was there 16 Apr 2014, and an adult was feeding a juvenile there 30 Jun 2016 (eBird.org). In northeastern Douglas Co, birds have been observed on 1-2 territories next to Canyon Road in 2016, 2017, 2020, and 2021, two juveniles were photographed on 20 Jul 2016 (eBird.org). For many years there have been 2-3 territories at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co using the limited habitat there; Bedell (1982) found a nest 5 Jun 1982, another nest was found there 18 May 2006, and fledglings were being fed there 2 Jul 1983 (Williams 1983), 28 Jun 2003, and 7 Jun 2016 (eBird.org). A pair at Wilderness Park, Lancaster Co has been present for at least four years through 2016; an adult was feeding a juvenile at a nest there 5 Jun 2016 (eBird.org) and a nest found in 2017 was later flooded on one of at least two territories identified within the park.
Breeding was also confirmed in a region of spring fed waterways mostly in western Knox Co and eastern Holt Co where mature stands of deciduous and Bur Oak habitat may to some extent be holding back invasive Eastern Red Cedar at present. A territorial male responded robustly at Greenvale WMA, Knox Co and an adult was carrying food at Long Gulch stream adjacent to O. John Emerson WMA, Holt Co on 8 Jun 2022 (Carlini, Schwartz, Silcock; eBird.org). This spring fed region also encompasses Grove Lake, Antelope Co where removal of invasive Eastern Red Cedar trees five months prior to a 24 May 2021 observation appears to have been conducive for a desirable ratio of deciduous habitat for Louisiana Waterthrush (Kyle Schumacher, pers. comm.). An apparently territorial singer was observed at Schindler Creek, Knox Co for several weeks 2-22 Jul 2009 (Mark Brogie, pers. comm.), and a single Louisiana Waterthrush was on Bazile Creek at Creighton, Knox Co 9 May 2002.
In the Lower Platte River hills, breeding is well-documented at Platte River State Park, Cass Co (see above), and probably occurs also at Schramm SP across the Platte River in Sarpy Co, where 1-2 active territories have been reported throughout the years (Donald and Janis Paseka, pers. comm.) beginning 16 May 2009. At the Bay Hills Golf Course in Cass Co, two were on a wooded creek 30 Apr 2015 and one on a different stream 21 Apr 2021. Individuals were observed at Eugene T. Mahoney SP 26 Apr 2017 and 29 May 2021, and two territories were occupied behind the Platte River eastbound rest area at Exit 426 on Interstate 80 on 16 Apr 2017 and from Apr-Aug in 2021.
Explorations in recent years of public lands encompassed by the Nemaha Ridge in Johnson, Pawnee, and Richardson Cos have revealed this species regularly utilizes the forested streams of that uplift. In Pawnee Co, a bird was observed on Rock Creek near Steinauer, Pawnee Co 26 Jun 2006, one was recorded at Table Rock WMA 15 May 2019, a pair was seen at Lores Branch WMA on 19 May 2019, and one was recorded at 704th Road on 5 Jun 2021. In Johnson Co, one bird was detected at Osage WMA middle area on 17 Jul 2016, two territories were confirmed in 2019, and one bird was recorded on 2 May 2021. Also in Johnson Co, individuals were observed at Hickory Ridge WMA and Twin Oaks WMA on 12 Jul 2016, and two roadside territories were identified at 726 Road and 735 Road on 26 June 2022. In Richardson Co, a pair was reported at Rock Creek on 19 Aug 2017, and individuals were reported next to 645 Blvd on 16 May 2019, at Stanton Lake on 30 Apr 2021, and at Four Mile Creek WMA and Kinter’s Ford WMA on 15 May 2021.
In southeast Nebraska, where extensive wooded Missouri River bluffs occur apart from the major Indian Cave SP location described above, a single was at Rulo Bluffs, Richardson Co 8 Jul 2006, and in Nemaha Co a pair was at Peru Bottoms WMA 21 May 2016 and individuals were at two locations on 20 May 2017 at Peru WTP. Several streams along the Steamboat Trace Trail in Nemaha and Otoe Cos have regularly hosted Louisiana Waterthrushes; a single was reported 1 Aug 2015 and two pairs on 4-5 May 2019 at Arbor Station trailhead, birds were observed at Minersville access in 2015, 2016, and on 13 May 2017, one was along Noble Road, Otoe Co, 12 May 2018, and two were there 6 June 2021. Also in Otoe Co, one was at Triple Creek WMA 21 Apr 2021, three were observed on 11 May 2003, one on 17 May 2015, and another 17 May 2016 on the stream at Arbor Day Farm adjacent to Arbor Lodge SHP, Otoe Co. A single Louisiana Waterthrush was near Camp Wakonda in eastern Sarpy Co 10 May 2019. Two birds were observed from Road 28, Washington Co on 5 May 2019, and one on 13-14 May 2020. Birds were reported at Hummel Park 15 Apr 2006 and 11-12 May 2022.
In northeast Nebraska along the Missouri River, there is a sizable amount of habitat in Thurston Co; there were several sightings along Honey Creek at the former Thomas Ashford Scout Ranch near Homer: 18 Jun 1999, a pair 20 Jul 2002, 2-4 birds 4 Jul 2005, and one on 13 Jun 2006 (Bill Huser, pers. comm.). At Ponca SP, Dixon Co, over the past decade there have been 1-2 territories and at least 15 records of up to three birds, the first 28 May 2012.
West of the Nemaha Ridge locations, there are several reports in the Blue River drainages apart from the major Jefferson Co locations described above. A single was in southern Gage Co 30 Jun 2016, and in Thayer Co, singles were reported 14 Jun 2010 and 4 May 2015, a singing bird was at Meridian WMA 17 Apr 2017, and one was recorded at Road C on 5 Jun 2021.
Between the southern edge of the state and the Platte River Valley hills, multiple reports have come from several relatively flat drainages. A territory located on a stream at Bluestem Lake SRA, Lancaster Co 14 May 2019 was again occupied 16 May 2020 and 29 Apr 2022. Also in Lancaster Co, eBird observations were reported on the stream at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center 17 May 2004, 6 May 2006, and 14 May 2022, on Haines Branch at Pioneers Park 2 Apr 2017 and 10 Apr 2021, and at numerous spots along Salt Creek at Wilderness Park from 2014 through 2022. A singer was northeast of Oak Glen WMA, Seward Co on 15 Apr 2017, and another report from that WMA was on 22 Apr 2022. In the Oak Creek drainage of the hilly “Bohemian Alps” region, singers have been observed in Butler Co where a territory along Road U was occupied 28 Apr 2015 and again in 2021, two singers were recorded along Road VW and another by Oak Creek Trail east of Road X on 4 May 2021, and an additional singer was recorded 1 May 2022 next to Road 30.
Delineation of territories in 2014-2017 found that there were at least 37 territories in the state (Shari Schwartz, John Carlini, pers. comm., eBird.org, accessed May 2017). Among these, nine nests were found, and there were 14 territories with juveniles observed.
An updated count of known territories for 2018-2022 (Shari Schwartz, pers. com., eBird.org, accessed 24 Jul 2022) found, in addition to the 37 above, 39 newly discovered territories for a total of 76, implying there are at least 76 breeding pairs of Louisiana Waterthrushes in the state through 2022. Satellite photos (Google Earth) indicate potential additional habitat may exist in places that are difficult to access and have never been surveyed, and because this species appears to utilize all of the limited habitat available here at the edge of its range, it may be reasonable to predict breeding on any suitable habitat in eastern and north-central Nebraska.
- Breeding phenology:
Eggs: 15 May-1 Jun (Mollhoff 2022)
Nestlings: 16 May-9 Jul
Fledglings: 25 May-25 Jul
- High counts: 9 at Platte River SP, Cass Co 25 Jun 2013, and 8 there 3 Aug 2014.
A total of 63 individuals were counted in 2016: 18 on tributaries of the Missouri and Lower Platte Rivers, 36 in the Little Blue River drainage, five on waterways between Lancaster and Johnson Cos, two near Peru, and two at Fontenelle Forest.
Fall: summer <<<>>> Aug 16, 17, 19
Later dates are 23 Aug 2021 Platte River SP, Cass Co, 25 Aug Platte River SP, Cass Co, 4 Sep 2020 Indian Cave SP, Nemaha Co, 13 Sep 2014 juvenile with drooping wing Platte River SP, Cass Co, and 18 Sep 2018 Platte River SP, Cass Co.
Louisiana Waterthrushes leave early, often in mid- to late Jul, but generally by mid-Aug, with few reports in Sep. At Platte River SP in 2014, all adults had departed by 1 Sep.
The only fall report away from the breeding range is of one at Bow Creek, Cedar Co 22 Jul 2016.
Comments: The history of this species in Nebraska is inconsistent and poorly documented. Around 1900 it bred “rather commonly in suitable localities along the bluffs of the Missouri River at Omaha and Peru, and in Richardson Co” (Bruner et al 1904). Rapp et al (1958) echoed Bruner et al (1904) but added that it was a summer resident “as far west as Lincoln Co”, a statement with no supporting evidence, then or now; Tout (1947) listed it as a migrant. However, Johnsgard (1979) did not include Nebraska in this species’ Great Plains breeding range and in 1980 stated there was “no evidence of current breeding in the state” (Johnsgard 1980). By 2001, however, Sharpe et al (2001) considered Louisiana Waterthrush a “Rare regular breeder east” based on breeding records by Bedell (1982) and Grenon (1988), although Johnsgard (2009) did not include the species in the regular breeding range and did not mention any breeding records in Nebraska. Field work from 2010 to date by Shari Schwartz, John Carlini, Ross Silcock, Sam Manning, Joel Jorgensen, Stephen Brenner, and Gordon Warrick has revealed a significant population in the state, with an estimate in 2014-2022 of at least 76 active territories (see “Summer”), along with 10 nests found and numerous reports of adults feeding young (eBird.org, accessed Sep 2021). Johnsgard (2013) updated his account of the species, stating “Confirmed breeding during the atlasing years [Mollhoff 2001] was limited to Washington and Richardson counties … and breeding has been suggested or confirmed for Fontenelle Forest, Neale Woods and Platte River State Park”.
Despite the large gap in reports of this species from the early 1900s through 1981, the single report during this period by Garrett (1944) of two nests at Fontenelle Forest in 1944 suggests that there may have been a population of Louisiana Waterthrushes in Nebraska throughout. There was another gap of about 25 years before Bedell (1982) and Grenon (1988) presented the next reports of confirmed breeding. Because its specialized habitat generally exists in remote and poorly accessible locations, finding and studying this species can be difficult even for observers familiar with its song and call notes. We believe that few observers have undertaken the challenge of locating nests, or even locating the species; there are no Nebraska BBS data on Louisiana Waterthrush (Sauer et al 2017), presumably since BBS protocol does not easily access waterthrush breeding habitat. For these reasons, we believe Louisiana Waterthrush has been present in Nebraska as a breeding bird since Bruner’s time but was not looked for and thus remained largely undetected for nearly a century.
NM: National Monument
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SHP: State Historical Park
SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
Shari Schwartz and John Carlini reviewed this species account and provided numerous helpful comments that improved its content and composition.
Bedell, P.A. 1982. Louisiana Waterthrush nesting in Fontenelle Forest. NBR 50: 88-89.
Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.
Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
Garrett, F.D. 1944. A survey of nesting birds in the Fontenelle Forest. NBR 12: 25-31.
Grenon, A.G. 1988. Food-carrying Louisiana Waterthrushes. NBR 56: 81-82.
Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Johnsgard, P. A. 1980. A preliminary list of the birds of Nebraska and adjacent Great Plains states. Published by the author, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.
Johnsgard, P.A. 2009. Birds of the Great Plains: Breeding Species and Their Distribution: New Expanded Edition (2009). University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Johnsgard, P.A. 2013. The Birds of Nebraska, Revised Edition 2013. Zea E-Books. Book 17.
Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Maddux, E.H. 1977. Dipper. NBR 45: 52.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2022. Nest records of Nebraska birds. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Paper Number 9.
Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.
Rapp, W.F. Jr., J.L.C. Rapp, H.E. Baumgarten, and R.A. Moser. 1958. Revised checklist of Nebraska birds. Occasional Papers 5, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Crete, Nebraska, USA.
Sauer, J.R., D.K. Niven, J.E. Hines, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K.L. Pardieck, J.E. Fallon, and W.A. Link. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015 (Nebraska). Version 2.07. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.
Schneider, R., K. Stoner, G. Steinauer, M. Panella, and M. Humpert. 2011. The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project: State WIldlife Action Plan. 2nd edition. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Sharpe, R.S., W.R. Silcock, and J.G. Jorgensen. 2001. The Birds of Nebraska: Their Distribution and Temporal Occurrence. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Silcock, W.R. 2014. Spring Field Report, Mar 2014 to May 2014. NBR 82: 46-73.
Silcock, W.R. 2021. Breeding status of Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) in the Niobrara River Valley, north-central Nebraska. NBR 89: 97-101.
Silcock, W.R., S.L. Schwartz, J.U. Carlini, and S.J. Dinsmore. 2021. Song type variations of Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) and their geographic distributions. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256385.
Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.
Williams, F. 1983. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 37: 1002-1004.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2022. Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online
Updated 2 Sep 2022; map updated 17 Jul 2022