Top Ten Birding Destinations in Idaho

Top Ten Birding Destinations in Idaho

Full of lush scenic landscapes and gem-colored lakes cut by rugged mountain peaks, Idaho is an oasis for migrating and wintering birds. The territory ranges from national forests and crystal-blue alpine lakes to high desert seas of sagebrush. With a vast network of destinations and protected lands, spectacular birding can be found in just about any direction. Let the adventure begin and choose from a variety of experiences, from climbing a mountain to find Rosy-finches or once-in-a-lifetime rare species to stopping at a marsh to view breeding plumage waterfowl or just enjoying the bird life amidst natural beauty. Idaho is full of endless possibilities and thousands of miles of protected wilderness and outdoor recreation areas. Consider checking out the Idaho Birding Trail, a complete guide updated to feature more than 250 visitor sites spanning over 2,000 miles.

Here are ten places to go birding in Idaho, with some featured on the trail.

1. Camas National Wildlife Refuge

In the quiet farming community of Jefferson country, discover Camas National Wildlife Refuge, home to several migratory bird species. This 10,500-acre refuge tops the bird lists in the state, with over 260 species. Waterfowl and raptors are prevalent and fan favorites, but sagebrush birds and nesting songbirds can also be found here. Head to the north end of the refuge near the headquarters to view the primary songbird habitat or the extensive marshes to the south that house various waterfowl species. It is also the most productive site in the state for vagrant warblers.

Enjoy a scenic drive through the refuge and tour the 3.5-mile-long auto-tour route or travel around the refuge's seven-mile-long loop, full of wildlife. The route passes by both wetland and upland areas. A few of the breeding birds that frequent the site include the Trumpeter Swan, ten or more species of ducks, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Greater Sage-Grouse, Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Sandhill Crane, Long-billed Curlew, Wilson's Phalarope, Franklin's Gull, Short-eared Owl, American Avocet, Peregrine Falcon, Sage Thrasher, Western Tanager, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. For more information on local bird populations, take advantage of the refuge office two miles west of Interstate 15 for advice and brochures.

2. Hagerman Wildlife Management Area

Located alongside the Snake River in south-central Idaho, Hagerman Wildlife Management Area remains a haven for waterfowl, upland game birds, and other wildlife and plants native to this region. An estimated 40,000+ ducks and geese enter the WMA in winter to enjoy the pleasant 58-degree water temperatures from numerous geothermal hot springs that keep the river and various ponds free of ice. In addition, the relatively mild climate and the expansive corn fields in the surrounding area attract hundreds of thousands of winter waterfowl.

Find the main entrance off Highway 30, south of Hagerman, leading straight into the state fish hatchery. Take the opportunity to explore trailheads in and around the area and catch a glimpse of the thousands of ducks that winter here. Find everything from Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans, Golden Eagle, and Common Bald Eagle to occasional rare gulls such as Herring, Thayer's, and even Lesser Black-backed. Enjoy the incredible topography full of open-water ponds, wetlands, and sagebrush. Just under a mile away, head north for access to wetland habitat and a small portion of woodlands, attracting several beautiful migrant songbirds.

Hagerman is primarily known for large flocks of wintering ducks and nesting waterbirds. Hagerman's extensive list of breeding-season species includes several ducks, Virginia Rail, California Quail, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Black-necked Stilt, Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Marsh Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Yellow-headed Blackbird.

3. American Falls

A popular destination for birding enthusiasts, American Falls, is ideally situated along the Canada-Mexico migration flyway, bringing a variety of species to the area. Find excellent birding opportunities year-round at the reservoir, seasonal mudflats, and riparian habitats.

Sites near this town, just west of Pocatello, offer various birding opportunities, including access to raptors, waterfowl, and shorebirds. In such a small radius, it's possible to explore seasonal mudflats, reservoirs, and riparian habitats. Wander down to the shore of American Falls Reservoir northeast of town and check out Willow Bay and Seagull Bay in the fall to look for geese, ducks, loons, American White Pelicans, terns, and gulls. When mudflats are present come late summer, many waders and shorebirds can be found, including Black-necked Stilt, White-faced Ibis, American Avocet, Willet, and Baird's Sandpiper.

Consider heading towards the Snake River, below the dam, the cemetery on the east bank, or the fish hatchery on the west bank for stellar views of waterbirds, Bald Eagle, and varied songbirds. For even more birding, wander down to the fish hatchery to discover a nature trail full of abundant vegetation providing bird shelter to a species list of more than 150. The best time to visit is during late summer and early fall due to the number of migrant shorebirds.

4. Market Lake Wildlife Management Area

This 5,000-acre plot of land, located just north of the community of Roberts, is an all-time favorite destination for Idaho birders. It houses large seasonal flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds, including birds that nest in the wetlands and sagebrush grasslands. Head north toward the end of the Main Marsh to explore paths that lead through fascinating shelter belts and migrant songbird habitats.

During the spring migration season, spot Tundra Swan, Ross's Goose, Great White-fronted Geese, and upwards of 50,000+/- Snow Geese. Come winter; the refuge is quick to host a number of Bald Eagles, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, and occasionally Northern Shrike. Impressive breeding birds also reside here and include the Trumpeter Swan, four species of grebes, the American White Pelican, the White-faced Ibis, the Northern Harrier, the Virginia Rail, Short-eared Owl, Sora, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sandhill Crane, Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet, Willet, Franklin's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Forster's Tern, Black-necked Stilt, Bullock's Oriole, and Marsh Wren.

5. Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area

Located along the Snake River in Southwest Boise, this 485,000-acre stretch of land is home to one of North America's largest concentrations of nesting birds of prey. In spring, up to 800 pairs of hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons visit the conservation area to mate and tend to their young. Fall is an equally exceptional time to visit, as the raptors can be caught soaring in the air and hunting.

A couple hundred raptors breed along 81 miles of the Snake River Canyon, including as many as 200 pairs of Prairie Falcons, the highest nesting grouping in the world for this species. Other species breeding here include the Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, California Quail, Say's Phoebe, Common Raven, Horned Lark, White-throated Swift, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, and as many as seven species of owls. Much of this conservation area is rugged, remote, and roadless, preserving the natural habitat.

Visitors can check out overlooks by driving down Swan Falls Road south from Kuna, leading to a canyon overlook at Dedication Point and another just three miles further. Come summer, the Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, and American Kestrel can be found near the roadsides.

6. C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area

Just 50 miles southeast of Boise lies the C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area, accommodating the largest cumulative species counts in Idaho. Positioned on the Pacific Flyway, this extensive land and beautiful reservoir hosts massive numbers of residing and migrating waterfowl present during migration and winter periods. Tens of thousands of waterfowl can be found here throughout the year, including California Quail, Clark's Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, Osprey, Black-necked Stilt, Forster's Tern, American Avocet, Franklin's Gull, Caspian Tern, Willow Flycatcher, Cliff Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Snow Geese, Trumpeter Swans, loons, Golden Eagle, and Rough-legged Hawk.

To reach the area, head west from the town of Bruneau on Highway 78. Just two miles after the Highway 51 intersection, turn north at Jacks Creek to reach the reservoir and enjoy excellent birding along the road. Jack's Creek Area, in particular, has incredible songbird and shorebird habitats. Head back to Highway 78, continuing west 1.6 miles, and turn north at the Cottonwood sign to reach another great birding spot at the reservoir. Find several other access points that can be explored with a local map.

7. Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge

This 11,300-acre refuge just west of Nampa is known to be one of the region's best birding destinations and is centered on 9,000-acre Lake Lowell. It is a massive breeding ground for migratory birds and wildlife alike. The refuge comprises the Snake River Islands, which embodies 104 islands. Take in some of the most serene natural landscapes and enjoy excellent birding opportunities along the 29-mile-long driving tour that follows the perimeter of Lake Lowell. Consider checking out the refuge headquarters on the north shore for more information and maps.

The refuge's bird population is spread out year-round. At various times in spring, the season brings out resident Canada geese, Bald eagles, osprey, and great-horned owls, among other species. Summer welcomes in western grebes and, later on, mallards and wood ducks; many species of shorebirds come here, too; among them are usually Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Wilson's Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope, Marbled Godwit, Baird's Sandpiper, and Western Sandpiper. Upwards of tens of thousands of waterfowl may be found on and around Lake Lowell during migration season, with the largest duck populations in December. Find several Snow Goose, Canada Geese, and Mallard with species including but not limited to the Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, and Common Merganser.

8. Harriman State Park

Located just under 20 miles from the Montana and Wyoming borders, this incredible park is surrounded by a 16,000-acre wildlife refuge. The land is classified as part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with a mix of grassland, coniferous forest, and lakes. Harriman tops the charts with a bird species list reaching close to 200.

The highlight of the park is the wintering population of Trumpeter Swan that can be seen year-round. Nesting waterbirds include several duck species, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Red-necked Grebe, American White Pelican, Long-billed Curlew, and Caspian Tern. Find a number of other stunning waterfowl species, including Barrow's Goldeneye. Explore the fields, forestland, and sandy lakeshores for breeding Bald Eagle, Osprey, Red-naped Sapsucker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red Crossbill, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Western Tanager, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Vesper Sparrow, and Pine Siskin. Rare sights include the Gray Jay flocking to the area in winter and the Great Gray Owl.

9. Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area

A birding hotspot, the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area is close to Market Lake WMA and Camas National Wildlife Refuge, just under 20 miles from each other. To get to the site, follow the network of golden farm roads north of Highway 33 to find this stunning lake showcased by open skies. The beautiful lake, surrounding marshland, and semi-arid environment attract a remarkable variety of land and water birds to the area.

Geese, Trumpeter Swans, and around 20 species of duck reside here seasonally, including several nesting duck species. White-faced Ibis, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, shorebirds, and gulls also inhabit the lake. Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Rough-legged Hawk emerge in winter, while Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Short-eared Owl nest. Greater Sage-Grouse and Sandhill Crane are seen occasionally, and nesting passerines include Eastern Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Horned Lark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole.

10. World Center For Birds Of Prey

Dedicated to conserving raptors worldwide, the World Center for Birds of Prey stands as the headquarters for The Peregrine Fund in Boise. Aside from spectacular events, the center offers incredible educational programming onsite and panoramic views of the Treasure Valley from the interpretive trail and gazebo. Experience up close and live bird demonstrations and interactive exhibits for all ages. Come September; the center invites the public to participate in the "Fall Flights" series every weekend until November. Also, in September, the World Center for Birds of Prey puts on an annual Public Condor Release where visitors can witness captive-bred California Condors being released into the wild.

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