Mesa Verde National Park is home to several distinct habitats. The types of species which you will encounter depends on the habitat present. If you are an avid birder, make sure to purchase a copy of the brochure, "Checklist of the Birds." This will help you locate where species are found in the park. The listing of birds in this page will get you started as a bird watcher in Mesa Verde.
Most hiking trails within the park do not enter the deep canyons because federal law has closed the backcountry to protect the archaeological sites and natural resources. If you are visiting the park during late spring when migration and nesting are in progress, you can see many bird species at any point in the park.
Take the Petroglyph Point or Spruce Canyon Trail and look for warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, jays, hawks, chickadees, titmice, and other species. The Knife Edge Trail also has good birding. If you are lucky, you may see a peregrine falcon or a golden eagle soar from its nest out across the Montezuma Valley.
During the summer months, you can take any of the above-mentioned trails or walk the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail near Balcony House, or the short trail to the Park Point lookout. The Park Point area is a good place to see hawks, towhees, grouse and eagles, in addition to the many species listed above.
In the fall, you may want to take the Knife Edge Trail early in the morning to catch migrating warblers and hummingbirds feeding on the Indian Paint Brush.
If you are one of the few winter visitors, most trails are closed. But be on the lookout for chickadees, nuthatches, an occasional brown creeper, canyon wrens, woodpeckers, flickers, and jays during your Spruce Tree House tour. Turkey vultures usually arrive in late March and leave in early October, so the large black birds you see will likely be common ravens or the vivid black-billed magpie.
The riparian area of Mesa Verde is largely inaccessible within the park. To access a similar habitat, take one of the county roads west of Mancos and follow the road along the Mancos River. You will see ducks, Canada geese, great blue herons, possibly an American dipper, flocks of western and mountain bluebirds, lots of red-winged and Brewer's blackbirds, and bald and golden eagles. Depending on the season, you may also spot migrating waxwings, goldfinches, evening grosbeaks, a variety of flycatchers, both ruby and golden-crowned kinglets, four or five varieties of swallows, and other species as well.
Bird watching in Mesa Verde is not as impressive as some specialized areas, but it is an exciting and worthwhile experience. Fill out a wildlife sighting card if you see something rare or unusual. Such sightings are added to the park's resource management data file, providing a detailed permanent record that assists researchers.
Did You Know?
On a snowy December day in 1888, while ranchers Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason searched Mesa Verde’s canyons for stray cattle, they unexpectedly came upon Cliff Palace for the first time. The following year, the Wetherill brothers and Mason explored an additional 182 cliff dwellings.