Great Blue Heron fishing in the river above the falls.
Great Blue Heron

National Park Service

Great Falls Park is a haven for birds, and a popular birdwatching place. Over 150 species can be observed in the park throughout the year. These species include songbirds, ducks, and the occasional osprey and bald eagle.

In the spring and summer, great blue herons fish around the falls. Fish are their favorite prey, although these tall birds will eat water snakes when they can catch them. Another fishing bird, often seen diving for fish below the falls, is the double crested cormorant. Occasionally, a bald eagle is observed flying over the park. Osprey and gulls will sometimes wander up the Gorge.

Red tailed hawks are a common sight. Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and red shouldered hawks are found here as well. Small mammals and birds make up the bulk of their diets.

While hiking through the woods, listen for woodpeckers. Pileated, hairy, downy, and red-bellied are four species that can be spotted in the park. Birdwatchers can look for smaller birds, such as blue jays, Baltimore orioles, mourning doves, goldfinches, cardinals, robins, and thirty five different species of warblers.

Join us for the annual Christmas Bird Count Sunday, December 17, 2023 at 8:00 am, main parking lot.

Discover more about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count at: Audubon Christmas Bird Count | Audubon

Bird Walk - Volunteer Guided - Every Sunday 8:00 am. Meet in the Main Parking Lot.

All those with an interest in the natural world - beginning and experienced birders alike - are welcome including youth, minors need to be accompanied by a responsible adult. No dogs, please.
The walk does not take place when the park is closed, during extreme weather conditions, or if the park opening is delayed. Updates for weather closures are posted on the Great Falls Park Facebook page and via voice message at 703-757-3101.

A medium sized bird photographed from behind has its head turned to the right and a long, narrow, pointed beak sits at the top of a small tangle of tree twigs, captioned Northern Flicker copyright Janis Stone.
Northern Flicker

copyright Janis Stone

Bird Count December 3, 2023 36 species
+ 1 taxa

Canada Goose 35 Mallard 16 American Black Duck 3 Ring-necked Duck 12 Bufflehead 19 Common Merganser 1 Ring-billed Gull 7 Double-crested Cormorant 1 Great Blue Heron 1 Black Vulture 6 Red-tailed Hawk 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2 Red-bellied Woodpecker 6 Downy Woodpecker 9 Pileated Woodpecker 3 Northern Flicker 10 Blue Jay 5 American Crow 1 Fish Crow 2 crow sp. 2
A small mostly brown bird with small white spots along its wings and belly perched on a tree limb captioned Winter Wren copyright Seth Honig.
Winter Wren

copyright Seth Honig

Carolina Chickadee 12 Tufted Titmouse 19 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4 Golden-crowned Kinglet 3 White-breasted Nuthatch 12 Brown Creeper 5 Winter Wren 1 Carolina Wren 12 Eastern Bluebird 14 Hermit Thrush 2 heard American Robin 2 Cedar Waxwing 14 Dark-eyed Junco 18 White-throated Sparrow 30 Song Sparrow 3 Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 Northern Cardinal 8

eBird Checklist - 3 Dec 2023 - Great Falls Park - 36 species (+1 other taxa)
A turkey vulture in flight
Turkey vulture in flight

National Park Service

What are those big, black birds circling over the falls?

Not just one, but two different species of vultures. These scavengers are an important part of nature's clean up crew. Featherless heads make it easy for the birds to keep clean as they tear apart carrion. Strong stomach acids allow the vultures to eat carrion without getting sick.

The larger of the two, the turkey vulture, boasts a wingspan of six feet. It has a red head, a dark brownish black body, and the undersides of its broad wings are a silvery grey. Turkey vultures will defecate on their legs in the summertime to help cool off. They do not have many predators, but if startled or cornered, will vomit if they have eaten recently. Turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell.

Black vultures are smaller, with a four to five foot wingspan. White wingtips make them easy to tell apart from the larger turkey vultures in flight. On the ground, look for the grey head and black plumage. Like the turkey vultures, these scavengers also defecate on their legs to cool off. Black vultures are social birds and can often be seen foraging in groups. Since they lack a keen sense of smell, black vultures will follow turkey vultures to carcasses. A group of black vultures is able to drive the larger turkey vulture away from a carcass.

Vultures are more commonly seen at Great Falls than bald eagles. Adult bald eagles are easy to spot, as they are the only large bird of prey at Great Falls that has the classic solid white head and tail. Immature bald eagles have mottled brown and white plumage.

Last updated: December 8, 2023

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Great Falls Park
c/o Turkey Run Park
George Washington Memorial Parkway

McLean, VA 22101


703 757-3101
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