Birding and Wildlife
Have a Big Year in Utah!
Utah is a birder's paradise, offering a spectacular array of habitats ranging from sub-alpine mountain, forest, sage-steppe, upland, lake, wetland and high elevation desert, all reachable within a single day. This rich ecology is home to over 430 bird species and is critically important to the Western Hemisphere's migration scheme.
Many people aren’t aware that the Great Salt Lake and its wetlands are a major staging area for millions of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, housing a large percentage of the world's population of many species during their spring and fall migrations. With unequalled habitat and viewing vistas, Utah is truly "for the birds" and those who love them!
• More than 430 species of birdlife have been recorded in Utah, including specialty birds like the California Condor and Black Rosy-Finch.
• Great Salt Lake is a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site, so designated for its importance as a staging area for millions of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds from the Arctic tundra to the tip of South America.
• Utah is home to three national wildlife refuges and a dozen other sites deemed "major birding locations" by Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources. Northern Utah's Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is one of the best-known birding sites in the country.
• Utah's State Bird, the California Gull, attained fame when it arrived in great numbers at the first Mormon settlement near Great Salt Lake in the summer of 1848 and devoured a locust swarm that threatened the pioneers' first crop.
• Learn more about the Great Salt Lake Audubon or the annual Great Salt Lake Bird Festival (May).
Top Utah Birding Sites
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Located at the northern tip of Great Salt Lake, many birding enthusiasts consider the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge a top-ten site in the world. The 75,000-acre refuge is the migratory stop for millions of migrating birds, including the American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, White-faced Ibis and Snowy Plover. The Wildlife Education Center offers a schedule of family programs, and refuge tours may be available by request prior to your visit.
Eccles Wildlife Education Center
The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Wildlife Education Center lies on the edge of Farmington Bay and one of America’s richest wetlands. The center, sitting on the Robert N. Hasenyager Great Salt Lake Nature Reserve, is a prime habitat for songbirds, shorebirds and migrating waterfowl that spend the summer feeding and nesting in marshes, mudflats, ponds and grasslands in the surrounding wetland. (Read: Songbirds, Shorebirds and Migrating Birds, Oh My!)
Antelope Island State Park and Causeway
Spectacular birding, free-range bison and convenient wildlife viewing on craggy Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake are accessible via a scenic causeway from Syracuse, north of Salt Lake. Several trails popular with hikers and mountain bikers traverse the mountainous island and the park serves as a great launch point to explore the Great Salt Lake by boat or kayak. Excellent birding year-round, but especially prolific during spring and fall migrations during which you'll check dozens of birds off your list. The largest island in the Great Salt Lake is also home to a roaming herd of 500 bison as well as mule deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, coyote
Mirror Lake Scenic Byway
From Kamas, the road winds along the picturesque Provo River through farm and ranch lands and rises to heavily forested, mountain terrain, accented by meadows and rugged peaks. The views from Bald Mountain Pass are breathtaking, across endless miles of forest and ridgelines. The Uinta Mountains and surrounding national forest lands support a variety of wildlife, frequently seen along the highway. Throughout the summer months, watch the trees for wrens, bluebirds, warblers, hummingbirds, sparrows, thrushes and the occasional American Pipit and Townsend's Solitaire. Also keep your eyes open for other common wild animals in Utah – mule deer, elk, moose, black bear, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, river otter, raptors, and cougar.
Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1959, the refuge encompasses 17,992 acres of marshland. Skirting the southern boundary of the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake Desert, the remote springs serve as an oasis for the most-used central route across the United States for westward-bound emigrants. Water is supplied by five major springs, which makes this refuge the perfect habitat for migrating wetland birds to stop and replenish before moving on. Mid-spring and late September are the peak times for viewing.
Scott M. Matheson Preserve
A great stop on your Arches National Park-area itinerary, the Scott M. Matheson Preserve is 875 acres of wetlands near Moab where birders have recorded some 225 species of birds. Riparian species are common in this desert oasis but there is wide species variation throughout the year, especially during migrations and the winter.
More Utah Birding Information
Click here for a printable one-sheet (PDF) with a full list of birding sites, annual events like Delta's Snow Goose Festival and additional information about birding in Utah. To enhance your experience, the Great Salt Lake Audubon helped create a Birding Utah app that features maps and searchable details for more than 150 birding areas.
Discover Utah's Wildlife
On quiet early morning drives to Bryce Canyon National Park along the Paunsaugunt Plateau, mule deer graze in the high-alpine environment. The varied habitats of Zion National Park alone host more than 78 species of mammals and 44 species of reptiles (along with nearly 300 species of birds). Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is one of the best areas for spotting wild animals in Utah, including magnificent bighorn sheep — an animal that is also quite impressive when spotted against the red rock landscapes of Southern Utah. Few outdoor experiences match hikes among the free-roaming bison herd of Antelope Island State Park. Stately moose wander the hillside around Park City while intrepid pikas scurry about the scree of the Cottonwoods Canyons gathering vegetation.
The state’s wildlife viewing and recreation opportunities are many, which make Utah an exceptional and varied destination to experience the extremes of animal adaptation found in its mountain ranges, rivers, high basin-and-range deserts, redrock plateau canyonlands, and ancient-lake alluvial valleys. In total, more than 600 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish reside among the extremes of Utah’s varied landscapes and climates.
(Source: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest)
• Give the wildlife their space. Use those binoculars!
• Avoid disturbing nesting and denning areas, rookeries, and calving grounds. If the parent is forced to flee, the young become vulnerable to predators and the elements.
• If you find what you believe to be an orphaned or sick animal, leave it alone. Often the parents are hidden close by and waiting quietly for you to leave.
• Restrain your pet at all times.
• Do not feed wildlife. Animals that become habituated to handouts can eventually become nuisances, losing their instinctive fears. Often the only way to take care of the "nuisance" animal is extermination.
• Learn to recognize signs of alarm and leave if an animal shows them. Watch for raised ears, skittish movements, or alarm calls.
Top Wildlife Viewing Areas
In addition to the birding sites listed above, here are a few of the more unique ways to see wild animals in Utah, from a sleigh ride among elk to treks among desert tortoise.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources maintains state-of-the-art elk handling habitats at Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area, near Logan, Utah, on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. In addition to population research, the Ranch promotes year-round wildlife viewing and provides opportunities for seasonal hunting on most of the 14,000 acres, fishing on 15 miles of trout-filled streams and other outdoor adventures. Elk-viewing rides at Hardware Ranch WMA generally run from the middle of December until March on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
Ouray National Wildlife Refuge
The 12,000-acre Ouray National Wildlife Refuge marshland includes 12 miles on the Green River, which supports waterfowl, songbirds, and other wildlife. A 12-mile self-guided auto tour winds through a variety of refuge habitats and wildlife viewing areas.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary / Angel Canyon
The largest no-kill animal shelter in the U.S. sits on 33,000 acres in a majestic redrock canyon. Nearly 30,000 annual visitors tour the campus that is home to nearly 2,000 animal “residents” at any given time. Tours are available when scheduled ahead of time. You may encounter many animal species in the canyon, including mule deer, coyote, roadrunner, desert bighorn, bobcat, red fox, and tarantula.
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
The approximately 45,000 acres of public land feature more than 130 miles of non-motorized recreation trails (hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trail riding). Red Cliffs NRA (or the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve) is located at the transition between three ecosystems: the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau. This creates a unique mixture of plants and animals from all of these regions, including plants found nowhere else on earth. Created to protect the desert tortoise, it also provides a secure habitat to help save other sensitive reptiles, birds, and mammals against a backdrop of spectacular scenery perfect for photo opportunities.
San Juan River
Floating on the river offers a unique view of desert bighorn sheep perched on the cliff faces. Peregrine falcon and other raptors may be viewed soaring above the canyon walls. See mule deer, jackrabbit, coyote, and antelope on the sagebrush flats of Hatch Point.
Click here for a printable one-sheet (PDF) with additional information about Utah wildlife and where to experience it.