Water Birds

While from diverse orders and families, these birds have in common their habitat: water. Some, such as the dipper, are found only along the park's many rivers, never in the forest or subalpine meadows. Other water birds, like mallards, appear only seasonally, stopping by at park lakes while migrating.


Dippers - Passeriformes, Family Cinclidae

A grey bird rests on a rock next to a stream.
American Dipper

NPS Photo

American Dipper
Cinclus mexicanus

Habitat: rivers, streams
Seasons: uncommon year-round
Size: length 7.5 in (17.7 cm), wingspan 11 in (28 cm)
American Dipper Calls

Found only along fast-flowing rivers and streams, American dippers are unremarkable dark grey birds with short tails and long legs. However, they are easy to recognize from their bobbing up-and-down behavior. Dippers are the only song bird that regularly swims, following a creek downstream, before flying back up and starting over in their quest for food.


Kingfishers - Order Coraciiformes, Family Alcedinidae

A blue-white bird perches on a branch.
Belted Kingfisher (female)

2013 Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Belted Kingfisher
Megaceryle alcyon

Habitat: rivers, lakes
Seasons: occasional spring-fall
Size: length 13 in (33 cm), wingspan 20 in (50.8 cm)
Belted Kingfisher Calls

Belted kingfishers have slate blue backs, wings and heads, with white collars and bellies. Both sexes have dark blue breast bands, while females have an additional red band below, and red along the flanks. They have large heads with shaggy crests and long, heavy bills.


Sandpipers - Order Charadriiformes, Family Scolopacidae

A spotted and plain brown sandpiper.
A breeding Spotted Sandpiper (top) and juvenile (bottom).

NPS Photos

Spotted Sandpiper
Actitis macularia

Habitat: lakes
Seasons: uncommon spring-fall
Size: length 7.5 in (19 cm), wingspan 15 in (38 cm)
Spotted Sandpiper Calls

Spotted sandpipers have dark spots on their throats, breasts and belly only when they are breeding. Otherwise they are white with brown down the sides of the breast, and brown on the head, back, and wings. They have short wings with white wing stripes, and long tails. Spotted sandpipers have a distinctive bobbing motion as they forage along lake shores.


Waterfowl - Order Anseriformes, Family Anatidae

Two adult geese and several fluffy goslings in a marshy pond.
Canada Geese and goslings.

NPS Photo

Canada Goose
Branta canadensis

Habitat: lakes
Seasons: occasional spring/fall
Size: length 25-45 in (63-114 cm), wingspan 43-60 in (109-152 cm)
Canada Goose Calls

Canada geese have long black necks and faces, with white patches on the cheeks, and pale breasts. Body color is a dappled brown, with black rumps and black and white tails. They have black legs and feet, and black bills. This widespread goose has several subspecies of various sizes. Canada geese are relatively rare in the park outside of migrating populations, but a pair is known to breed in the Longmire Meadow.

A duck with a bold green head.
Mallard (male, breeding)

1999 Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Anas platyrhynchos

Habitat: lakes
Seasons: occasional spring-fall
Size: length 23 in (58.4 cm), wingspan 35 in (89 cm)
Mallard Calls

Female and nonbreeding male mallards have brown patterned bodies with pale heads, orange bills, and dark eye-lines. Both sexes have white wing bars framing irridescent blue panels on the wings. Male breeding mallards have dark irridescent green heads, with a white neck band, brown breast, and pale body.

A colorful and drab duck in a turbulent river.
Harlequin Ducks

© 2012 Don Getty

Harlequin Duck
Histrionicus histrionicus

Habitat: rivers
Seasons: occasional spring/summer
Size: length 16.5 in (42 cm), wingspan 26 in (66 cm)
Harlequin Duck Calls

Male harlequin ducks are flashy with blue bodies broken by a pattern of crisp white spots edged in black on the head, neck, and wings, and white bands on the shoulders. They have brown-orange stripes on the crest and brown-orange flanks. Females are a more subtle brown-grey overall, with white on the face and round white spots on the cheeks. Harlequin ducks have small round heads, small bills, and long tails. They fly up rivers in the park, and can be found in turbulent water.


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Last updated: January 21, 2021

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