Some of my greatest memories of Yellowstone are of the winter days I spent watching birds along the Madison and Firehole Rivers. The abundance of thermal features located near these pristine watersheds heats the water enough to keep much of it ice free. Visitors traveling to and from the West Entrance are rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
Trumpeter swans, which are difficult to find in summer, seem abundant. The white adults that often mate for life, winter here with their gray cygnets, the juveniles. Numerous swans feed along these rivers before migrating out of the park in spring.
In winter, the Common Goldeneye out-numbers the Barrow’s Goldeneye, but both can be found here. Both species have brilliant eyes. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to look at the spot near the base of the male’s bill. Common Goldeneyes have a round spot, while the Barrow’s is crescent shaped.
When you’re along the faster moving sections of river, keep an eye out for American Dippers. These small song birds can be seen dipping and diving into the open water. Above the rivers, you can see Bald Eagles perched in trees. Bald Eagles dive for fish and prey on water fowl. In winter, I find it easier to watch for dark patches high in the trees. The dark seems to stick out more against the snowy landscape.
Yellowstone’s forest offers some great birding as well. Recently burnt sections are a good place to watch for Hairy Woodpeckers. They quickly move through the trees in search of insects that have burrowed under tree bark.
Ravens can be seen near many of the park’s roads and parking lots begging or searching for a free meal. Never leave food or backpacks unattended. These smart critters have learned to search for human food.
Overall, researchers believe nearly 50 different species of birds can be found in Yellowstone during winter. Please, while feeding birds at home may be normal, it is unacceptable in the park. All wildlife species are protected here. Dress warmly, bring your binoculars and I hope to see you on your next Yellowstone adventure.