Birding in Southern Idaho

Nestled in the vistas of the Southeast Idaho mountain ranges, discover lush green valleys blanketed with purple sage and overgrown wetlands. Comprised of some of the country's most extensive stretches of unspoiled land, Idaho is a hub for wildlife enthusiasts and birding in particular. The state's vast network of protected wilderness and outdoor recreation areas connect to an extensive birding trail that spans 2,000+/- miles and includes 175 different sites. Uncover a network of birdwatching clubs, Audubon Society chapters, the World Center for Birds of Prey, and more.

Depending on the region, Idaho's bird population ranges from golden eagles to sandhill cranes and just about everything in between. Species can be grouped into several locations: 1. Panhandle Birding Sites, 2. Central Idaho Birding Sites, 3. Southwestern Idaho Birding Sites, and 4. Southeastern Idaho Birding Sites. Open and remote areas are generally home to larger bird species, including bald eagles, hawks, impressive peregrine falcons, and more than a dozen other raptors. Plains and Canyons along the Snake River serve as a mecca for raptor biologists and birders from around the world drawn to the state's hawks, eagles, falcons, and hundreds of other bird species.

With more than a dozen locations, Southern Idaho remains one of the best regions to view resident and migratory bird populations. With plenty of space to call home, Bear Lake and Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge top the charts of the forty-five birding sites in Southeast Idaho.

Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge is home to arguably one of the largest nesting concentrations of sandhill cranes and plenty of Franklin's gulls, trumpeter swans, ducks, and geese. Avid birders may also be interested in exploring the Bear River area between Preston and Downey, the bird sanctuary at Sterling, or even the Snake River area between American Falls and Massacre Rocks State Park.

Southern Idaho Birding by County 

American Falls & Power County

A haven for birdwatchers, American Falls & Power County, follows the route along the Canada-Mexico migration flyway, bringing a variety of species to the area. In the radius of these relatively small towns, find excellent birding opportunities year-round at the reservoir, seasonal mudflats, and riparian habitats. The area around the reservoir and nearby Massacre Rocks State Park has recorded more than 200+/- species of birds alone. As the seasons change, Fall remains one of the best times to check out geese, ducks, loons, American White Pelican, gulls, and terns around Willow Bay and Seagull Bay. Come late summer; birders may find many waders and shorebirds, including but not limited to White-faced Ibis, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, and Baird's Sandpiper enjoying the mudflats.

Outdoor enthusiasts may enjoy visiting the American Falls Fish Hatchery, complete with a nature trail. The hatchery's lush vegetation provides excellent bird shelters and houses more than 150+/- species. Continue the adventure and find additional birding locations to spot waterbirds, Bald Eagles, and various songbirds along the cemetery on the east bank and in and around the fish hatchery on the west bank.

American Falls Birding Festival

Whether you enjoy getting out in nature or wildlife viewing, there is something for just about everyone at the American Falls Birding Festival. The Festival takes place around the beginning of spring migration and invites the community to view a wide variety of birds typically found in Southeastern Idaho. Check out Massacre State Park or the American Falls Reservoir for excellent birdwatching opportunities, or embark on a guided excursion to visit the AF Fish Hatchery Audubon Trail and the American Falls Marina Trail.

American Falls Willow Bay

Closest Town: American Falls

Best Season to Visit: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Upland Birds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Marshes, Lakes, Ponds, Riverine Riparian

American Falls Fish Hatchery

Closest Town: American Falls

Best Season to Visit: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Upland Birds, Waterbirds,

Waterfowl

Habitat: Marshes, Lakes, Ponds, Riverine Riparian

Montpelier & Bear Lake Valley

With plenty to explore and visit in the beautiful valley, Southeastern Idaho will leave a lasting impression. Traveling south down US Highway 89 from Montpelier, catch glimpses of the west side of the turquoise-blue Bear Lake and the incredible wildlife inhabiting the area. Home to the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the reserve showcases impressive Sandhill Cranes, Herons, Snowy Egret, White Pelicans, and various ducks and geese species that reside in the marshland. Whether new to the hobby or an avid birder, refuges provide some of the best opportunities to view birds in their natural habits. The combination of accessible trails, roads, structures, accessible facilities, and knowledgeable staff can make locating year-round or seasonal birdlife easier.

Below are a few locations and a variety of species to check out...

Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Closest Town: Montpelier

Best Season to Visit: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Upland Birds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Marshes, Lakes, Ponds, Grasslands

Bear Lake

Closest Town: Montpelier

Best Season to Visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Upland Birds, Waterbirds,

Waterfowl

Habitat: Forest, Farmland, Marshes, Lakes, Ponds, Conifers & Aspens

Elk Valley Marsh

Closest Town: Montpelier

Best Season to Visit: Spring, Summer

Common Species: Waterfowl

Habitat: Remote, High-Altitude, Marsh, Grassland, Aspen

Soda Springs & Caribou County

Located in Soda Springs & Caribou, Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge lies just 30 miles north of Soda Springs, Idaho. The area is part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to protect and restore habitat for nesting waterfowl. This incredible high-elevation 22,000-acre bulrush marsh hosts North America's largest breeding population of sandhill cranes. As many as 200+/- pairs tend to nest in the refuge in early April. The sanctuary is also a home and resting place for many other species, including Franklin's gulls, which prefer to nest in colonies up to 40,000. The marsh is also a significant producer of Canadian geese and several duck and large hawk species.

Every season provides different birding opportunities; however, May and June offer the most stunning variety of wildlife. The cranes gather for annual southward migration from late September to early October. As many as 3,000+/- cranes may occupy the marsh during the migration. From Soda Springs, travel north on Idaho 34 for about 33 miles. The turn-off is marked with a sign leading you to a gravel road that circles the marsh to provide excellent viewing opportunities.

Below are a few locations and a variety of species to check out...

Gray's Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Closest Town: Watan

Best Season to Visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Grasslands, Marshes, Lakes, Ponds

Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area

Closest Town: Soda Springs

Best Season to Visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Agriculture, Sage, Shrub

Hilda Thompson Wetlands Project

Closest Town: Soda Springs

Best Season to Visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Upland Birds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Sagebrush steppe

Preston & Franklin County

With a focus on preserving the wildlife in the area's mountains, fields, and nearby reservoirs, Preston & Franklin counties lend way to a plethora of birding opportunities. Journey into the lush valley surrounded by the Caribou National Forest with Oxford Peak and the Bannock Range in the background and find Oxford Slough Waterfowl Production Area. The area provides valuable foraging habitat for species such as cranes, geese, Franklin's gulls, and white-faced ibis and nesting habitat for many shorebird species.

Below are a few locations and a variety of species to check out...

Glendale Reservoir

Closest Town: Preston

Best Season to Visit: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Riparian, Marshes, Lakes, Ponds

Oxford Slough Area

Closest Town: Preston

Best Season to Visit: Spring, Summer

Common Species: Raptors, Shorebirds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Grasslands, Marshlands, Lakes, Ponds

Oneida Narrows Reserve

Closest Town: Preston

Best Season to Visit: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Upland birds, Waterbirds, Waterfowl

Habitat: Marshes, Lakes, Ponds, Riparian

Pocatello & Chubbuck

Head toward Pocatello and discover sites that shelter various birds, including waterfowl, raptors, and shorebirds. South of Pocatello, check out Mink Creek Road, which makes its way into the Caribou National Forest, full of picnic areas, trails, and other sites that offer mid- and high-elevation bird sightings. Ideally, this is a late spring into fall trip before winter weather sets in.

Shortly after entering the Caribou forest, explore Kinney Creek Trail or Cherry Springs Nature Area to view breeding birds, including but not limited to Ruffed Grouse, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Common Poorwill, Red-naped Sapsucker, Willow Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Juniper Titmouse, Mountain Bluebird, MacGillivray's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Scrub-Jay, Fox Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Lesser Goldfinch. Continue along the road, taking the east fork 1.5 miles after entering the national forest. In areas near the Scout Mountain campground, there's a chance for Dusky Grouse, Flammulated Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Hammond's Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, and Pine Siskin.

Below are a few locations and a variety of species to check out...

Mink Creek Subloop

Closest Town: Pocatello

Best Season to Visit: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Common Species: Songbirds, Upland Birds

Habitat: Low elevation, Mixed conifer, Sage, Shrub

For more resources and information, be sure to check out...

Friends of Camas National Wildlife Refuge

Idaho Birding Trail

Southeast Idaho Bird Watching Guide

National Audubon Society

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