Residents, Migrants, and Nesters
Joshua Tree’s resident bird species, such as greater roadrunner, phainopepla, mockingbird, verdin, cactus wren, rock wren, mourning dove, Le Conte’s thrasher, and Gambel’s quail can be sighted in the park throughout the year. The park’s winter migrants: white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, sage sparrow, cedar waxwing, American robin, and hermit thrush will remain in the park into March. Along about the time the winter migratory species are departing, other species will begin to migrate into the area for spring and summer. This group includes summer nesting species such as Bendire’s thrasher, ash-throated flycatcher, western kingbird, Scott’s oriole, northern oriole, and western bluebird.
A brightly colored bunch of warblers: Wilson’s, black-throated gray, Nashville, Mac Gillivray’s, yellow, yellow-rumped (a species also here in winter), and orange-crowned are among the species that just pass through the park. Other transients are black-headed grosbeaks, western tanagers, indigo buntings, and lazuli buntings. In addition to these smaller migrants, the park hosts a migration of birds of prey: sharp-shinned hawk, rough-legged hawk, northern harrier, osprey and Swainson’s hawk. There are several resident hawks as well: red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, Cooper’s hawk, and prairie falcon.
Occasionally groups of 200 or more turkey vultures will spend the night in the trees at the Oasis of Mara during their spring migration. They present quite a sight especially with their wings slightly spread, warming in the early morning sun. An occasional shore bird also finds its way into Joshua Tree during spring. Do not be too surprised if you see a black-necked stilt or an eared grebe standing on a park road. Grebes have their feet placed so far to the back of their bodies they cannot make a running takeoff on land—once grounded, they are stranded. Please report any sightings to park personnel so the stranded bird can be transported safely to a water site.
Where to Look
Fan palm oases, and water impoundments are good places to search for birds. Even “lakes” that are dry, such as Barker Dam, offer forage vegetation for birds. The Oasis of Mara, including the 29 Palms Inn at the west end, is a good bird viewing area. Cottonwood Spring has both cottonwood trees and fan palms to provide vegetation and shelter for a number of birds. Lost Palms Oasis, 49 Palms Oasis, and the riparian habitat associated with Smith Water Canyon require more extensive hiking but provide good birding as well. When in the high desert areas of the park take a walk or two in the Queen and Lost Horse valleys and look for ladder-backed woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, oak titmouse, bushtit, black-tailed and blue-gray gnatcatchers, black-throated sparrow, and sage sparrow.
Pickup a Checklist
Interested visitors can stop at a visitor center and pick up a bird checklist that will indicate the likelihood of a particular species being observed during each season. Also ask about any interesting bird sightings or report any unusual sightings you might make. Enjoy your park and its birds.
Bill Truesdell, Volunteer Naturalist