More than 230 bird species have been documented in Capitol Reef National Park. Some species are seasonal residents, others pass through during migration, and a few make this their home year-round. Popular locations for bird watching in the Fruita area include the Fremont River trail that passes by the campground and orchards, the trees around the Ripple Rock Nature Center, the picnic area, and the riparian vegetation along Sulphur Creek. Trips to the northern and southern parts of the park can provide opportunities to see birds in other vegetation types including desert grasslands, desert shrublands, and pinyon-juniper woodlands.
A complete bird checklist can be downloaded.
The following provides information on some of the more common and interesting birds of Capitol Reef:
Ravens (Corvus corax) are found in nearly every habitat across western and northern North America. They are common in the park where they are often seen soaring along the cliff walls. Breeding pairs form territories and try to exclude other ravens. They are excellent fliers and often perform aerobatics, including sudden rolls, wing-tucked dives, and dropping objects and catching them in midair. In the park they nest on cliff ledges or holes. They are typically seen alone or in pairs except at food sources where groups may form. Their diet is varied and includes carrion (dead animals), small mammals, insects, small birds, eggs, invertebrates, fish, grains, fruits, and unattended human food. Ravens are among the smartest of all birds, and can mimic the calls of other birds.
Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) nest on cliff ledges or holes and are native to Utah and rare in the park. The widespread use of DDT from the 1940s-1960s caused a drastic reduction in their numbers. By 1999, due to a ban on DDT and reintroductions, the species had recovered and was removed from the Federal endangered species list. Peregrine falcons hunt from a perch or high in the air, attacking prey midair high speeds. They are the world's fastest bird, capable of attaining speeds of over 200 mph. They feed mainly on small and medium-sized birds. They have pointed wings, a short tail, and a prominent dark mustache. The prairie falcon, a similar bird found in the park, is browner in color with dark patches where the wings meet the body on the underside of the bird.
The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) inhabits western North America including the park, where it is rare. This large powerful bird of prey has a wingspan of up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) and is able to successfully hunt larger prey animals like rabbits, marmots, and ground squirrels. They also feed on snakes, birds, and carrion; at times, pairs may hunt cooperatively. They are typically found in open country, especially in mountainous or hilly terrain. Pairs are monogamous, mating for life, and often use the same nest for generations. Nests are more often constructed on cliff faces than in trees. Sometimes nests include interesting items such as antlers, bones, and barbed wire.
Mexican Spotted Owl
Mexican spotted owls (Strix occidentalis lucida) live in parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico. The species has been federally listed as threatened since 1993 due to habitat loss, degredation, and fragmentation. This owl inhabits deep narrow canyons within the park where it is a rare, permanent resident. They commonly eat rodents such as woodrats, mice and voles, but will also consume bats, birds, reptiles, and arthropods. They nests on cliff ledges and caves, in stick nests built by other birds, on debris platforms in trees, and in tree cavities. They have one of the lowest clutch sizes among North American owls with one to three eggs laid, two being the most common.
The Bullock's oriole (Icterus bullockii) is a common breeder and summer resident in Utah where it is typically found in open woodlands, brushy areas, and riparian zones. Bullock's orioles are common in the park, especially in the Fruita area. Their hanging, pouch-shaped nests are built in trees high above the ground. Nests are made from a variety of fibers including hair, twine, grass, and wool and are lined with down, hair, or feathers. Orioles eat invertebrates (including many caterpillars), ripe fruit (especially cherries), and nectar. Males are readily identified by their bright orange, black, and white feathers. The song, which both sexes sing, is a mix of whistles and harsh notes.
The canyon wren (Catherpes mexicanus) is found in the arid mountains and canyon lands of the western US. It is fairly common in Utah including the canyons, cliffs, and rocky outcrops in the park. Most individuals are non-migratory. It is rusty-brown with a distinctive white upper belly and throat. Its long bill and flat head enable it to reach deep into crevices to find insects and spiders, its primary prey. Its nest is a cup made of twigs and other coarse materials placed in caverns, crevices, or attached to a rock face, protected above by a ledge. Its distinctive, cascading song is unique and memorable.
The rock wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) is a common resident of arid and semi-arid habitats in the western US. It is migratory and abundant in the park during the breeding season. The rock wren inhabits rocky slopes and outcrops at elevations as high as 10,000 ft (3050 m). It has a pale gray back, faintly striped breast, long tail, and long, thin bill. Both sexes build a walkway of small, flat stones that leads to the cupped nest located in a rock crevice or hole. It uses its long bill to probe into narrow crevices to find insects and spiders, its primary prey. The rock wren can frequently be seen bobbing up and down, especially when alarmed. Its song is a mix of buzzes and trills. Territorial males often alternate songs with their male neighbors.
The pinyon jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) is found in pinyon-juniper woodlands throughout much of the western US. including Utah. It is common in the park during the breeding season. Overall it is dusty-blue colored and has a short tail. It is a highly social bird that typically travels in flocks of a few birds to hundreds. Flocks consist of multiple breeding pairs and the offspring of those pairs from previous nesting seasons. Pinyon jays feed primarily on pinyon pine seeds but will also eat seeds from other pines, berries, grains, and insects. Each jay stores thousands of seeds each year, and has such a good memory that it can remember where most of them were cached. Nests are located in trees, usually conifers, and are constructed of twigs and stems.
The chukar (Alectoris chukar) is native to the Middle East and Southern Asia, and has been introduced as a game bird to the western US. Intensive efforts to establish this species in Utah began in 1951. Sightings have decreased in recent years, but chukars may still be spotted in the Fruita area. This bird has a buffy-gray back, boldly black and white striped sides, a buffy belly and face, and a throat outlined in black. The beak and legs are red. Sexes are similar although males are slightly larger. Chukars prefer arid, rocky terrain where small groups forage on the ground. Their diet consists of grass seeds, weed seeds, green leaves, and flowers. They are seen in groups of five to forty, especially in fall and winter. Their call is a series of harsh clucks.
Last updated: April 13, 2020