Best National Parks For Bird Watching

Bird perching on abandoned fence at Grand Teton National Park against cloudy sky

Cavan Images/Getty Images

Bird watching is a great activity for all ages. Whether you're just getting into birdwatching or already have a substantial Life List, spotting, identifying, and watching birds can be a great way to spend an afternoon. Luckily, the country offers hundreds of spots perfect for bird watching. You can find native or migratory birds all over the United States. Check out these top parks that offer the best of bird watching.

01 of 08

Big Bend National Park

Turkey Vulture
© devra via Flickr

Situated on north-south migratory pathways, Big Bend National Park is home to approximately 450 species of birds—more than any other national park. Not only can you spot native birds, but the park is situated on the north-south migratory pathway, allowing you to see migratory birds as well. Here are a few species you can expect:

  • Colima warbler
  • Hummingbirds
  • Turkey vultures
  • Golden eagles
  • Woodpeckers
  • Scaled quail
  • Cuckoos
  • Cardinals
  • Screech owls
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02 of 08

Biscayne National Park

Brown Pelican
© Kristine Paulus via Flickr

While Biscayne National Park may be known for its opportunities for snorkeling or scuba diving, there are more than 170 species of birds around this national park. What can you expect?

  • Brown pelicans
  • White ibis
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Mangrove Cuckoo
  • Gray Catbird
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • And much more!

Although all the Keys are excellent for birding, Jones Lagoon is one of the best.

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03 of 08

Death Valley National Park

Yellow Warbler
© Kelly Colgan Azar via Flickr

With a name like Death Valley it may not seem like an opportune place for birding, but this national park actually has about 350 bird species within its borders. As your travel from the low valley desert to woodlands and high peaks the climate and vegetation changes attracting a variety of birds. Check out the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, where you can spot ravens, common snipes, killdeer, and great blue herons. Here is a sample of other birds within the park:

  • Kingfishers
  • Peregrine falcons
  • Hawks
  • Canada geese
  • Yellow warblers
  • Golden eagle

Rangers at Furnace Creek Visitor Center often lead birding walks through Salt Creek between November and March, so be sure to contact the park before your visit.

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04 of 08

Grand Teton National Park

Trumpeter Swan
© Alan Vernon via Flickr

With over 300 species of birds in the park, Grand Teton National Park is excellent for bird watching. Most of the birds found in the park and parkway are migratory, spending only 3-6 months here each year. Be sure to plan some time at Oxbow Bend and Phelps Lake for impressive spotting.

Download the birding brochure before you head to Grand Teton for tips on where to locate different birds. Here is just a taste:

  • Calliope hummingbird
  • Trumpeter swan
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Prairie falcons
  • Woodpeckers
  • Bluebirds
  • Hummingbirds
  • Evening grosbeaks
  • Cassin's finches
  • Bald eagles
  • Great blue herons
  • Western tanagers
  • Northern flickers
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05 of 08

Joshua Tree National Park

Rufous Hummingbird
© Minette Layne via Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park is well known and popular for bird watching as the park hosts about 250 species of birds. During the fall migration, which runs from mid-September through mid-October, there are several sighting areas worth checking out. Be sure to plan some time at Barker Dam, Cottonwood Spring, Black Rock Canyon, and Covington Flats. You won’t want to miss these birds:

  • White-throated swifts
  • Swallows
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Lucy's warbler
  • Lesser goldfinches
  • Anna's hummingbirds
  • La Conte's thrashers
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets
  • Warbling vireos
  • Rufous hummingbirds
  • Pacific slope flycatchers

Stop by the Visitor Center when you arrive for ists of birds found in the park, as well as information on recent sightings.

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06 of 08

Mesa Verde National Park

Great Horned Owl
© David Turcotte via Flickr

Mesa Verde National Park is home to several distinct habitats so the types of species you will encounter depends on the habitat. If you are an avid birder, make sure to download a copy of the Checklist of the Birds.

Be sure to ask rangers at the Far View Visitor Center or Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum for special hints if you are on the lookout for certain species you want to add to your life list. Here is a sample of what you can expect:

  • Turkey vultures
  • Ravens
  • Ducks
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Great horned owls
  • Golden eagles
  • Steller's jay
  • Hummingbirds
  • White-throated swifts
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07 of 08

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Red-Breasted Nuthatch
© Matt MacGillivray via Flickr

More than 200 species of birds inhabit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, including many neotropical migrants. Species are diverse in both parks due to the changes in elevation so you will have no problem adding many birds to your life list. Here is a preview:

  • White-headed woodpecker
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Hawks
  • Owls
  • Warblers
  • Kingbirds
  • Thrushes
  • Sparrows
  • Goshawk
  • Blue grouse
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • Brown creeper

Sometimes, ranger-led bird-watching tours are available, so call (559) 565-3341 for more information.

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08 of 08

Wind Cave National Park

Western Meadowlark
© Greg Schechter via Flickr

You’re going to want to visit Wind Cave Canyon for one of the best birding areas in the park. The limestone walls of the canyon are fantastic nesting grounds for cliff swallows and great horned owls. Here the others you can expect at Wind Cave National Park:

  • Red-headed and Lewis's woodpeckers
  • Nuthatch
  • Wild turkey
  • Ring-necked pheasant
  • Blue jay
  • Horned lark
  • American robin
  • Mountain bluebird
  • Western meadowlark
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee
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