Finding Feathered Friends

A birding paradise, particularly during the spring and fall migrations, Rocky Mountain National Park makes a great destination for avid birders or families wishing to enjoy nature's best "I spy" game. More than 280 species have been identified, a fact that helped the park earn its Global Important Bird Area designation in 2000.

Winter presents an interesting time for birding in the national park. It's quiet with fewer visitors but still plenty of bird activity. During this time, birders might encounter a shrike or an owl. Even rosy finches, nuthatches and rough-legged hawks remain active when the snow flies. Because of limited access in winter, most birding happens in the park's lower elevations rather than above treeline, in the tundra. Mallards, teal, swans and other waterfowl reward hearty birders willing to brave the cold.

Other year-round birds include white-tailed ptarmigan, blue grouse, wild turkey, sharp-shinned hawk, prairie falcon, northern flicker, downy woodpecker and pygmy owl. Winter offers an unhurried, uncrowded time to visit, although birders should be prepared with winter hiking or snowshoe gear. Bird watching in the park is very much a do-it-yourself activity until bird-related programs begin in the spring. Good year-round birding areas include Upper Beaver Meadows, Cub Lake, Moraine Park and Fern Lake.

By March, raptors begin nesting in Lumpy Ridge, forcing closure of this area. Still, birders with binoculars can observe peregrine falcons, goshawks, red-tailed hawks and other graceful birds of prey in their nests.

Then, with snow still on the ground, but the temperatures warming, hundreds of birds begin returning by mid-April and the park begins the spring bird walks and talks. It's important to be aware of other animals that might be nearby, primarily elk. Spring is calving season and cows may become aggressively protective of their young.

The spring migration lasts until the end of May when breeding season begins. During this time, in the Cub Lake area, birders often spot wrens, tanagers, magpies and waterfowl as they flyover toward Moraine Park. Near the Alluvial Fan, bluebirds, violet green swallows, woodpeckers and the occasional great horned owls nest. Grassy nesters start showing themselves as well: flycatchers, hummingbirds, bluebirds and woodpeckers. All told, winter and spring make great seasons to sight many of the species on any birder's list.

For more information on birding in the Estes Park, please visit our Birding section.

For more information on the birds you may find in Rocky Mountain National Park, please visit The Official Rocky Mountain National Park Birding Page. Locate the listed areas of the park on the Rocky Mountain National Park map.