Cactus wrens
Cactus wrens perching in a Joshua tree.

Barbara Michel, NPS

Over 200 species of birds have been spotted at Mojave National Preserve! Though a few species are able to live here permanently, most species are deterred by the area’s extreme summer temperatures, lack of water, and sparse vegetation. The best time to observe birds in the Mojave National Preserve is in the spring and fall, when neotropical migrants are moving from their winter homes in central America to their summer homes farther north. During migration season, a variable abundance of diverse species can be found, especially around springs and wooded areas. A few notable species are outlined below.

View our spreadsheet of all known bird species in Mojave National Preserve (22.7 KB).

Ravens: Ravens are notorious as a portend of ill fortune in fables. In reality, they pose a grave threat to baby desert tortoises. Highly intelligent, opportunistic birds, ravens feed on rodents, carrion and baby desert tortoises. More development has led to an increase in trash and a raven population explosion.

Cactus wren: Known for usurping the nests and removing the eggs of other birds,the Cactus Wren is found in the southern areas of California and Nevada and the central sections of Texas and Mexico.

Roadrunner: Roadrunners run upwards of 15 miles per hour and dine on lizards and snakes. They can be heard "cooing" in the desert bush and chaparral where they reside. Unique "zyodactyl" feet with two toes pointing forward and two backward make them stand out among many other bird species.

Golden eagle: Golden eagles range from sea level to several thousand feet, preying upon rodents and sometimes baby tortoises. More closely related to the Red-tailed Hawk than the Bald Eagle, the Golden Eagle often returns to the same nest annually, reaching maturity at approximately 5 years of age.

Red-tailed hawk: Weighing 2-4 pounds, the red-tailed is the largest hawk. Armed with keen eyesight considered 8 times more powerful than that of humans and a wing span that can reach 56 inches, it lives on rodents, rabbits, snakes, and lizards.

Male and female Gambel's quail
Male and female Gambel's quail

Photo Dave Hursey/NPS

Gambel's quail: These desert dwelling birds are often seen in Mojave National Preserve. They can best be viewed near washes and other water sources. Populations can vary from year to year depending on drought or drier than normal years. Females can lay 10-12 eggs in a nest. Incubation is 21-24 days. They are gregarious birds that run-in flocks called coveys. The species is named after William Gambel who was an explorer and ornithologist of the southwest in the 1800's

Learn more about birds and birding throughout the National Park Service.
A brown and white Red-tailed hawk perched on top of a spiky green Joshua tree.
Carnivores and insectivores like this Red-tailed hawk have seen greater population declines than herbivores, possibly because it’s more difficult for them to increase their food intake in order to get enough water.

B Michel, NPS

Current Challenges For Our Desert Birds

What changes has your family seen since 1904? According to a recently published study in Science magazine, our desert bird and small mammal populations have also seen big changes. We recommend reading the full paper, but here’s a brief summary:

  • In 1904, biologists surveyed 61 sites throughout the Mojave Desert (mostly Southern California and Nevada). They took detailed notes of species they encountered. A century later, surveyors went out to the same sites.
  • Good news: small mammals are doing well! Occupancy of the majority of sites did not change.
  • Bad news: birds are not doing so well. The authors of the paper describe a “collapse” of the bird community. On average, 20.9 fewer bird species per site were found.
  • The bird population declines are attributed to climate change. In the time between surveys, average Mojave temperatures increased by about 3.5°F. The Mojave Desert also receives about 10-20% less annual precipitation than it used to.
  • Mammals tend to stay cool underground when the sun is hot. In contrast, most birds are exposed to hot air and sunlight during the day.
  • Most birds lower their body temperature by evaporative cooling through their mouths (like panting dogs). They can’t cool themselves if they don’t have enough water.
  • Not all birds don’t drink water – some species only get water through their food. As temperatures rise, the birds need to find more and more food in order to get enough water to survive.
  • There is a correlation between the amount of water a desert bird needs to stay cool and the decline of its population in the last 100 years.
  • As the climate continues to warm, birds will likely face continuing and increasing survival challenges in the Mojave Desert.

Last updated: December 29, 2023

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