Yellowstone Bird ID Guide
Yellowstone Park has a lot of bird life. Use this page to help you identify the species you might encounter. Below is a list of the most common bird species you will find inside the park.
These birds are highly intelligent and can be found throughout the greater Yellowstone area. They look as if they are wearing a tuxedo, and typically have an iridescent sheen to their feathers. Easily identifiable by their long tails and raspy calls.
This bird species is related to the crow and raven. They are among the smartest bird species in the world, often noticed teasing dogs and other animals by sitting just out of reach.
Magpies feed mostly on flesh of dead animals. They can also be seen eating various seeds and insects.
These birds can be found throughout the area, but are most common in lower elevations flying over valleys and flats in search of meat to supplement their omnivorous diet.
Other common names include Clark’s crow and Woodpecker crow. These are very intelligent birds that you can commonly find in picnic areas and campgrounds in Yellowstone. They are very opportunistic and will patiently wait for you to leave food unattended. Clark’s nutcrackers are often confused with the Gray jay.
The main food of these birds (outside of stolen picnic items) is nuts from pine cones. They are known to store several cache’s of seeds in their home areas, coming back at a later time to eat them. They can stash dozens of seeds in a pouch under their tongue, in order to transport a full load to hide them. These birds will also eat insects and occasionally feed of flesh of a dead animal if the opportunity is presented.
Clark’s nutcrackers are usually found only at high elevations. You will almost never see them at altitudes less than 8000 feet. They are fairly common in the mountains of the area. The stashes of pine seeds that these birds create are very helpful in the growth of pine forests in the area. They often don’t make it back to claim their stash, causing the seeds to germinate creating new pine trees.
The Bald Eagle
The bald eagles diet consists mainly of meat. They will often scavenge for road killed animals and will swoop down to clean up the remaining kills of wolves and bear. The are also great fisherman, but prefer to steal caught fish from osprey’s if possible.
Bald eagle will usually be found near water. The Snake river area near the South entrance of Yellowstone is a common area to spot them. They are most commonly found near water where fishing is good, but they can be witnessed nearly anywhere in the park.
Golden eagles will often be found in the same areas you might find bald eagles. They spend a lot of time around water fishing for food. The golden eagle is much larger than the bald eagle. The largest recorded size of a golden eagle had a 9 foot wide wing span. These are easy to diferentiate from bald eagles because they have a distinct mottled brown coloration.
The Golden eagles diet consists of fish and various mammals. It will eat any animal small enough to catch and will often attack very large prey, such as wolves and mountain goats. They are often seen stealing fish from bald eagles on the snake river.
Golden eagles typically build large nests on cliffs in close proximity to water. They can be seen flying overhead in search of food. They have been seen all over Yellowstone. If you watch close during your visit at the various birds overhead, you should not have a problem seeing this eagle species.
The Western Tanager
This bright and colorful species can usually be found on the sides of rivers foraging for insects and in High forest canopies. The Western Tanager spends the winter in Mexico, Costa Rica and often times in Southern California. It will return to the Yellowstone area around April to breed in pine forests.
Fruits, insects, including wasps, ants, caterpillars and many other insect types. They also eat raspberries, elderberries and other various types of berries and fruits.
In most areas the Western tanager feed high in the tree tops, but in the Yellowstone area they tend to be lower. During insect hatches on various rivers, they can be seen feeding low on the banks of rivers eating insects.
Capturing Great Bird Photos in Your National Park
Birds are some of the most difficult species of animals to get on camera. They are fast moving and will often only give you seconds to take a photo.
Bird Photo Tips
In my experiences of taking photos of birds, I have found that moving slowly and waiting for the birds to come to you is the best tactic. If they catch you moving towards them, they will often leave the area. If you sit still and wait for them to move towards you, often times you will have a great opportunity for that perfect picture. Sitting still and waiting for them will not always work—they could move off in any direction, but it is typically the best course of action for pulling off that bird picture of a lifetime.
A camera with a fast shutter speed or image stabilization will be best for taking images of Yellowstone birds. You should also opt for a camera that has a great optical zoom and telephoto lens. See (Best wildlife cameras for under $200) for more tips on choosing the best camera for taking pictures of wildlife.