Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Photo: Patrick Orton/Aurora Photos

Birding the States

Birding in Wyoming

National Wildlife Refuges National Parks Acreage of Important Bird Areas
7 7 8,278,500

Wyoming ranks among the top 10 states in size, yet it has the lowest population. Put those two things together, and you get ideal conditions for birding: wide-open spaces with few other people tromping along trails or clogging boardwalks.

This is especially true away from the iconic areas of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and Devils Tower National Monument. Scattered elsewhere in the state are splendid and varied birding sites, ranging from high-elevation conifer forest favored by Gray Jays to grasslands populated by Greater Sage-Grouse, Burrowing Owls, and McCown’s Longspurs.

Water is often scarce in the High Plains, so wetlands and lakes, such as Fontenelle Reservoir, attract good numbers of waterfowl. In southeastern Wyoming, parks and riparian woodlands can be magnets for migrant songbirds, including strays from the East.

And despite the crowds, Yellowstone and Grand Teton are just as flush with birds as they are beautiful. The Trumpeter Swan, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Dusky Grouse, Golden Eagle, and Sandhill Crane are just a few of the species that nest in Yellowstone National Park, one of the great wildlife-watching sites in North America.

Wyoming Birding Hotspots

 

Yellowstone National Park

This vast and legendary park is home to some of the country’s best birding as well as geysers, hot springs, splendid scenery, and wildlife. To see as much as possible, spend time in different habitats: broad, open valleys, rocky rivers, riparian woodland, and coniferous forests.

In Hayden Valley, famous for bison, elk, and grizzly bears, watch for Trumpeter Swan, Common Merganser, American White Pelican, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane, Black-billed Magpie, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, and Mountain Bluebird. South along the Yellowstone River, look for Harlequin Duck and American Dipper. At Yellowstone Lake you may see Barrow’s Goldeneye and Common Loon.

Hike a trail into coniferous or mixed forest above the valleys and you might find Dusky Grouse, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Solitaire, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill.

Keep an eye skyward for Golden Eagle, White-throated Swift, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon.

Grand Teton National Park

This spectacular national park is famed for its rugged mountains, which host a variety of upper-elevation birds. But visitors shouldn’t neglect its other habitats, from sagebrush to riparian woods to wetlands.

For instance, at Oxbow Bend and the Jackson Lake area, you might see Trumpeter Swan, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Common Loon, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, Osprey, and Sandhill Crane. Another good wetland to explore is the Flat Creek viewing area, along Highway 191 on the northern edge of Jackson.

Around Antelope Flats, look for Greater Sage-Grouse, Northern Harrier, Long-billed Curlew, Black-billed Magpie, Mountain Bluebird, Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and Green-tailed Towhee.

Hike into the middle and higher slopes via the Cascade Canyon Trail, and you might find Ruffed Grouse, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Dipper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Solitaire, Swainson’s Thrush, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Red Crossbill, and Pine Siskin.

For a chance to see Black Rosy-Finch, ride the aerial tram from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Many hiking trails start here, allowing exploration of high-elevation habitats.

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

Located in southwestern Wyoming about 40 miles northwest of Rock Springs, Seedskadee has a lot to offer birders, from Trumpeter Swans nesting to the spring displays of male Greater Sage-Grouse. The refuge stretches along 36 miles of the Green River, creating a linear oasis in an area of arid High Plains grassland.

It’s always a good idea to stop at a national wildlife refuge headquarters or visitor center for advice, and especially here. The designated auto tour route is a gravel road, but some other access roads many be difficult in bad weather. Ask staff members about the best areas for birding. The tour route runs west of the Green River and passes wetlands, as well as an interpretive foot trail.

In addition to Trumpeter Swan, several other species of waterfowl and wetland birds nest here, including Canada Goose, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, American White Pelican, Sandhill Crane, Marsh Wren, and Yellow-headed Blackbird.

In riparian areas and open grassland and brush, look for nesting Greater Sage-Grouse, Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Common Nighthawk, Say’s Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Horned Lark, Mountain Bluebird, Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow.

Keyhole State Park

Keyhole State Park lies on the shore of a 14,700-acre reservoir in northeastern Wyoming, and is known as one of the state’s most popular birding destinations. In summer, Audubon Rockies operates a banding station at the park as part of the MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) program.

The combination of large reservoir, grasslands, and some woodland attracts a diversity of birds. In addition, certain areas of the lake often have low water levels that lure shorebirds and wading birds.

Some of the birds present in summer are Wild Turkey, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, American Avocet, Upland Sandpiper, Western Wood-Pewee, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Black-billed Magpie, Horned Lark, Mountain Bluebird, Yellow-warbler, Brewer’s Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow.

In migration, many species of ducks, Common Loon, grebes, gulls, and terns can be seen, along with Bald Eagle.

Devil’s Tower National Monument

One of the most amazing geologic sites in the United States is also a rewarding birding area. Devils Tower rises nearly 900 feet above the boulders around its base, formed of an igneous rock called phonolite porphyry. Those who have visited the national monument know that it’s even more impressive in real life than it appears in photographs.

A noteworthy bird here is Prairie Falcon, which nests on the rock columns. Devils Tower is very popular with rock climbers, and occasionally routes are closed to protect the falcon. Golden Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon are other raptors seen regularly in the park.

A 1.3-mile trail circles the formation, and other trails total another seven miles, through ponderosa pine forest and grassland and along the cottonwood-lined Belle Fourche River.

In summer, look for Wild Turkey, White-throated Swift, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Say’s Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Plumbeous Vireo, Pinyon Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rock Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Red Crossbill.

Edness Kimball Wilkins State Park

Just east of Casper, this 362-acre park on the North Platte River was developed in part as a watchable wildlife area. Not only are the cottonwoods along the river a bird magnet in the plains, ponds were created to attract wetland birds. The park has been designated an Important Bird Area.

Wood Duck, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, and Common Merganser use the wetlands, as do Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, shorebirds, gulls, and terns in migration. Bald Eagle is seen regularly.

Nesting birds include Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Tree Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Bullock’s Oriole.

As an oasis in an arid region, the park has attracted a number of vagrants, including Long-eared Owl, Wood Thrush, and Hooded Warbler.

Lions Park

North of Cheyenne’s downtown and across the street from the airport, so to speak, Lions Park ranks with Wyoming’s top birding hot spots in terms of species seen. It’s a designated Important Bird Area, in part because of its importance to migrant songbirds and other species.

Local birders give the park and its Sloan Lake good coverage throughout the year, especially in spring migration, when many begin a “big day” by visiting the park. Migrating birds traveling across the arid High Plains see the park, with its cottonwoods around the lake and other vegetation, as an oasis—a place to rest and feed. Over the years oddities such as Tennessee Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler have shown up.

Many species of ducks and grebes frequent Sloan Lake on migration, along with Osprey and occasional shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Birds seen in summer include Western Grebe, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Townsend’s Solitaire might be found in winter.

Wyoming Hereford Ranch

This private ranch a few miles east of Cheyenne welcomes birders to its property. It’s a favorite destination of local residents, and has been named an Important Bird Area.

Along with grasslands, the ranch features mature cottonwoods along Crow Creek that act as a magnet for migrants. There are also areas of planted conifers. Over the years it has attracted many vagrants that are uncommon to rare in this region, such as Great Crested Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, and Prothonotary Warbler.

Fall through spring is the most popular time for birding visits, with the range of migrants—from wading birds to shorebirds to hummingbirds to sparrows—adding up to a species list of more than 240.

Two reservoirs, one east and one west of the main ranch entrance, attract migrant and nesting ducks, grebes, wading birds, and shorebirds.

Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

About 12 miles southwest of Laramie, Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge comprises lakes and wetlands within a vast arid region, making it an oasis for many kinds of waterbirds. More than 15 species of ducks are seen regularly in migration, and many stay to nest. Nearly 30 species of shorebirds have been recorded in spring and fall feeding on mudflats or shallow wetlands.

Some of the breeding wetland birds are Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White-faced Ibis, American Avocet, Willet, Wilson’s Phalarope, California Gull, Forster’s Tern, Marsh Wren, and Yellow-headed Blackbird.

In the grassland and scrub, look for Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Horned Lark, Sage Thrasher, McCown’s Longspur, Brewer’s Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow. Seen in migration are Virginia Rail, Sora, and Sandhill Crane.

The 1,968-acre refuge is administered from headquarters in Colorado and has no visitor center on the site. Facilities are limited to roads, parking areas, and trails.

Snowy Range Scenic Byway

The Snowy Range Scenic Byway winds 27 miles through the Medicine Bow National Forest on Highway 130 west of Centennial. As it traverses the Medicine Bow Mountains, it rises from 8,000 feet to 10,847 feet, an elevation at which trees are stunted by the harsh winter weather conditions. The birds are those of the upper Rocky Mountains, distinct from the arid landscape below.

The road rises from sagebrush to lodgepole pine to spruce-fir forests, at the high point passing through alpine tundra. Opening dates for the road depend on weather, but are generally from Memorial Day to November. Several side roads lead to campgrounds, picnic areas, and trails to explore.

Some of the birds found along this route are Dusky Grouse, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, American Pipit, Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, and Pine Siskin.

On the tundra, look for American Pipit and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. The latter might require more than a little hiking.