Birds are endothermic (warm-blooded) vertebrates that lay eggs and have beaks, feathers, and a lightweight skeleton. Visitors are often surprised to learn that Dinosaur National Monument is home to living dinosaurs, too. While the big ones died out long ago, most paleontologists believe birds are actually direct descendents of theropod (meat-eating) dinosaurs. As such, birds are the only members of the dinosaur lineage alive today. Over 200 species of birds have been confirmed in Dinosaur National Monument, with over one-third of them detected in the pinyon-juniper woodlands. While some birds are part-time residents, others live here year-round.
For a complete list of all the bird species found in Dinosaur National Monument, use the NPS Species tool. A bird checklist for the park is available upon request at the Visitor Centers.
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Abundance KeyLearn more about a few of Dinosaur National Monument's birds below. Keep in mind the following definitions regarding bird abundance:
Abundant -- usually observable on any day in suitable habitat
Common -- fairly certain to be seen in suitable habitat
Uncommon -- present but not as likely to be seen
Occasional -- seen a few times during the season
Rare -- seldom seen
Year-round ResidentsGreater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) Uncommon
Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) Rare
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) Common
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) Common
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Common
Woodhouse's Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii) Common
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) Common
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) Common
Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus) Common
Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)
This is the largest grouse in North America. They are a bit smaller than a goose in size, with chubby bodies, mottled brown feathers, and black bellies. Males have a white ruff about their necks while females have white markings around the eye. During the mating season, between March and May, males puff up yellow air sacs on their chest and fan their tails into a starburst shape to attract females. They remain inconspicuous for the rest of the year, eatings forbs and insects in spring and summer, and sagebrush buds in winter. The sagebrush steppe is their home.
Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
This well-known bird is one of only two domesticated birds native to the Americas (the other is the muskovy duck). Wild turkeys are large, round birds with brown iridescent feathers and long legs. They have small featherless heads covered in blue and red fleshy parts called "waddles." Wild turkeys generally travel in flocks, searching through wooded areas for insects, snails, nuts, and berries. During courtship, males lift their tailfeathers in a round fan and make a distinctive throaty call, called a "gobble."
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
In Dinosaur, red-tailed hawks are most often seen soaring in the sky. While there are several different kinds of raptors (predatory birds) in the monument, red-tailed hawks are easily recognized from below by their reddish-brown tailfeathers. They have broad wings with brown backs and mottled white-and-tan underbellies. They mainly eat small mammals and rodents. Whether or not you have heard a red-tailed hawk in the wild, chances are, you already know what they sound like. Movies often play the red-tailed hawk's shrill cry when a bird of prey appears on screen, even if a different species is shown.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Named for the golden sheen of feathers on the back of their necks, golden eagles are one of the largest birds in North America. They nest in remote cliffs and feed mainly on small mammals, including rabbits and prairie dogs. With a wingspan of about 6 feet (2 meters), adults are all brown in color. Juveniles have patches of white in their wings and at the base of the tail. Golden eagles can look very similar to juvenile bald eagles in appearance. However, juvenile bald eagles have more mottled underbellies and slightly larger beaks than golden eagles.
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
This unusual species of woodpecker is often found on the ground, digging for bugs with its slightly curved bill. Northern flickers are typically light brown and gray in color, with black spots and a black U-shaped patch on the breast. Northern flickers in the West are usually red-shafted. Red-shafted flickers, like those found at Dinosaur National Monument, have wings with reddish undersides. Males also have a "whisker" of feathers extending from the beak down the neck. The Eastern variety are yellow-shafted, with males having a black whisker, and both sexes possessing a bright red patch on the nape of the neck.
Woodhouse's Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)
In 2016, the Western scrub jay was split into two species: the California scrub jay and the Woodhouse's scrub jay. Only the latter can be found at Dinosaur National Monument. This bird is similar in appearance to another bird found in the monument, the mountain bluebird. However, the Woodhouse's scrub jay is larger, with a longer beak. It also has a "necklace" of white feathers running down the front of the neck. These beautiful jays can be found in montane woodlands with pinyon pines, where they use their bills to extract pine nuts.
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)
Easterners are often mesmerized by these beautiful, but common, Western birds. Black-billed magpies are easy to identify by their long tails and distinctive coloring. They have black heads, white chests, and white primary wing feathers with black tips. When the light is right, their tails and the dark parts of their wings shimmer with an iridescent blue-green color. As members of the corvid family (which includes ravens, crows, and jays), magpies are inquisitive. They eat a variety of foods, including grains, insects, small mammals, fruits, and even carrion (dead animals). They make large stick nests in trees.
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
These little songbirds live year-round in Montane forests, where they use tree cavities for nesting. Mountain chickadees have large black-and-white heads with adorable white "eyebrows." Their bodies are round, with light-colored bellies, gray backs, rounded wings, and a narrow tail. They have teeny tiny black beaks, which they use to eat insects. Ever the acrobats, mountain chickadees can perch on small twigs or even hang upside-down from pine cones. They tend to hang out with other small birds, like kinglets and nuthatches, and can often be seen together, flocking between trees.
Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus)
This small, pot-bellied bird is rusty red with a white throat. They have a long, thin, slightly curved bill that's perfect for fishing insects out of hard-to-reach places. Canyon wrens are well-adapted to arid environments. They are not known to drink water, likely getting most of their hydration from the food they eat. Given that these birds typically live in rocky slopes and canyons between 1,000 to 6,000 feet (305 to 1829 meters) in elevation, Dinosaur National Monument provides ideal habitat for them. They are occasionally spotted clinging to rock walls, climbing even the steepest places with ease.
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
Members of the duck family, common Mergansers are adept swimmers. Females usually nest in tree cavities. In summer, the chicks will leave the nest within a day or so, already able to catch their own food. They start off with insects, and at around 12 days old, graduate to fish. With their bright pink bills, common mergansers are so good at fishing that they're occasionally followed by other birds, such as gulls and eagles, who may try to steal their prey. Males have a mostly white body with a dark back, and a smooth green head. Females are mottled gray with white chins and rust-colored heads that are sharply contrasted with the lower neck.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey vultures are often seen soaring in the sky, teetering on the wind. While they're brown up close, they often appear black from a distance, with very tiny heads. When flying, they can be identified by their wings, which fan out at the ends and have silvery flight feathers when seen from below. Turkey vultures are thought to locate food by scent. They eat mainly carrion (dead animals), and have incredibly strong stomach acids to kill harmful bacteria. Because they lack a syrinx (the bird version of a voice box) their vocalizations are limited to grunting and hissing. While their habits may seem gross, these scavengers serve an important role as part of nature's clean-up crew.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Peregrines are a medium-sized bird of prey, roughly the size of a crow. While both sexes are identical, the female can be a third larger than the male. Like many raptors, these previously-endangered birds suffered from the the effects of pesticides in the 1900s. Today, they're widespread, but generally uncommon. Peregrines prey mostly on other birds, such as doves and pigeons. They hunt by catching birds midair, in a spectacular dive, called a "stoop." During stoops, peregrines can reach speeds up to 200 mph (322 kph). They nest on high, remote cliff ledges in Dinosaur's canyons. To protect them, several places in the monument are closed to visitors during nesting season. See the Superintendent's Compendium for more information.
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
While sandhill cranes are uncommon throughout the monument, they're often spotted along the road leading into the Utah side of the park. Visitors typically hear their loud trilling calls more often than seeing the birds themselves. They're easily recognized by their large size, long necks, and beautiful gray feathers, which droop around the rear to form a "bustle." Adults have golden eyes, white cheeks, and a crown of red skin on the head. Sandhill cranes prefer open fields, grasslands, prairies, and wetlands for both breeding and foraging. These migratory birds mate for life, and court their partners with elaborate dance routines during the mating season.
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
This is the most widespread breeding sandpiper in all of North America. They're about the size of a robin, with a white breast, brown back, and orange bill. In winter, the breast is plain white, but during the breeding season, it's spotted. While many spotted sandpipers have only one mate, sometimes the females will breed with several males and lay eggs for each of them. Males do the bulk of the parenting, while females establish and defend territory. These shorebirds prefer wetlands, and are most commonly found in riparian areas and along the rivers in Dinosaur National Monument.
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)
These gorgeous birds add a pop of color to Dinosaur's arid landscape. Male mountain bluebirds are a vivid blue that gradiates to white where the legs meet the body. Females are gray, often with a few blue feathers in the wings and tail. Mountain bluebirds are insect eaters. They traditionally nest in tree cavities, but also take kindly to backyard nesting boxes. Females often overlook a male's appearance and singing ability, choosing a mate based solely on the location and quality of his nesting habitat. They prefer wide open landscapes, like prairies and sagebrush steppe, so the monument provides ideal habitat for them.
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
These handsome birds are especially partial to berries. With so many juniper trees in Dinosaur National Monument, it's no surprise that cedar waxwings come here to munch on juniper berries. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing, though. Some cedar waxwings have actually gotten drunk or even died from eating overripe berries that have started to ferment. In summer, these birds are lean, supplementing their diet with insects. In winter, they rely on fat stores to help them survive. Cedar waxwings look similar to bohemian waxwings. However, cedars have yellow bellies, and lack the brown bottoms and white-tipped primary coverts that bohemians have.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
This large raptor is the national bird of the United States, but it has been important to many Native American groups for far longer. Despite the name, adults have white-feathered heads with yellow bills, a brown body, and a white tail. Juvenile bald eagles are mottled brown, closely resembling golden eagles. However, they have more sporadic mottling under their wings, whereas golden eagles have more localized patches of white. Like other raptors, bald eagle populations declined in the 1900s due to pestisides thinning their eggshells. Thanks to nationwide conservation efforts, they've made a comeback. Today, they're sometimes seen around the monument, looking for meals to scavenge.
Last updated: March 20, 2022