Birding in Utah

While I'm here in Salt Lake City I've been trying to get in as much birding as possible. Utah is a wonderful place to go birdwatching because there is still so much open land in the state. Both deserts and mountains are accessible, as well as the Great Salt Lake and various National Parks such as Canyonlands, Great Basin, Zion, Bryce, Escalante, Capitol Reef, Moab, and Lake Powell.

Bryce Canyon 2011, copyright Jennie Burns

If you're interested in birding you will definitely want to get in touch with the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society. They host regular bird walks in Salt Lake and Utah counties, and also plan weekend birding trips to Southern Utah or the West Desert. These guys are serious and can bird for hours at a time, although you can come and go as you please. On a recent trip to Utah Lake with the Audubon Society, amid ducks, geese, displaying sage grouse, yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, and a raptor here and there, a heated debate over sparrow identification (specifically, whether what they were seeing was or wasn't a grasshopper sparrow) was the highlight of the trip for many of the birders.

Some of the birding hotspots visited by the Audubon Society are Farmington Bay (home of dozens of bald eagles at certain times of the year), the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Swaner, Utah Lake, and the Great Salt Lake via Antelope Island State Park (a shorebird and owl sanctuary). They also host evening owl walks at Memory Grove, Millcreek Canyon or Neff's Canyon.

If you have kids in tow, or want a guaranteed bird sighting, there's always the Tracy Aviary at Liberty Park. Tracy Aviary maintains a growing collection of approximately 400 birds representing more than 100 species, many of which are considered rare or endangered. There are daily bird shows and volunteer opportunities for those of you who want to get up-close and personal. Some of the birds that you are bound to see at the Aviary are peafowl, vultures, pelicans, cranes, condors, flamingos, hawks, ibis and night-herons. They just opened a new owl forest exhibit in which owl sightings are a guarantee. Visit their website for more information.

The Hogle Zoo hosts an amazing daily bird show during the summer. And some of their birds are pretty spectacular. Parrots perform tricks, a Stellar Sea Eagle (one of the biggest birds of prey in the world) takes a bath on command, while raptors zoom past spectators in flight displays. It is well worth the $7 zoo entrance fee.

If you're looking for some volunteer work that makes a difference, you might want to work with RINS, or Raptor Inventory Nest Survey, an all-volunteer organization that works closely with the BLM and Hawkwatch International to take survey data of raptors, their habitat and prey in the Salt Lake and surrounding areas. Volunteers are assigned quadrants and work throughout the summer identifying what raptors they see in their quads, what prey they notice, what plants are dominant, which birds are nesting and how many nests are in the area. This work is intensive and requires time dedication, along with knowledge of raptor and plant identification techniques, GPS skills, map-reading skills, and a lot of patience. The data collected by RINS volunteers is used constantly by state agencies and is the contributing factor to the state's knowledge of raptor trends as well as trends of many other species in the area that depend on raptors. I recently started working with RINS and enjoy the work immensely. Not only do I love being out in the middle of the west desert in the sunshine, but have seen more raptors and eagles than I ever had before.

Red-tailed hawk 2011, copyright Jennie Burns

And lastly, it's fun to bird in your nearby park or backyard. A simple bird feeder can provide all-day entertainment for a birder. Colorful orioles, tanagers, thrushes and woodpeckers, as well as the more obscure raptors, can be common sightings in your neighborhood park if you're a resident of Salt Lake City.

American Kestrel 2011, copyright Jennie Burns


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