Yellowstone Birds

Nearly 300 different bird species have been sighted in Yellowstone over the years. Here we name some birds with personality that are common to the central plateaus, first birds of the forest and then those of the lakeshore. Some of these species are also seen in the river valley and mountain pass ecosystems. In the forests and along the rivers You’re in for a treat if you find an American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus formerly called water ouzel) feeding on insects in cold mountain streams. Author Owen Wister observed in 1887 that the spectacle of a little gray bird, like a fat catbird, skimming along the river like a bullet and suddenly dropping below the surface Gray jay (left) & Clark’s nutcracker (right) where it was shallow, and walking along the bottom with its tail sticking out in the air, filled me with such elation that I forgot the geysers and watched him. This year-round resident sometimes sings like a canary. In the case of the gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) and the Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), it’s the birds that are in for a treat. Whenever you sit down for a picnic, your meal will be of interest to one of these camp robbers.

The mountain chickadee (Parus gambeli) is heard more often than seen. It’s a tiny, roly-poly, light gray bird with a black head and white line over the eye. It’s most common song goes fee-bee-bee, with the first note higher than the others; sometimes it will vary this and surprise you. The black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus) is also found here. The male mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoidus) flashes by you wearing the most intense shade of sky blue imaginable, while his mate makes do with a bit of blue on her otherwise brown body. Bluebirds, a little smaller than robins, build their nests in snags. For a few years, a colony of cliff swallows (Hirundo pyrrhonota) made their distinctive jug-shaped mud-and-stick nests under the eaves of the Old Faithful Visitor Center. More recently, fine-meshed netting has discouraged some of the nesters. This small, square-tailed, and buff-rumped swallow also nests on the back side of Soda Butte in the Lamar Valley. Common ravens (Corvus corax), purplish black, large relatives of the very common crow, show up in droves to feast on carrion. They can be over 2 feet (60 cm) long and have a large beak and an annoying croak. They’re very intelligent birds that can mimic human speech and learn amazingly complex behaviors, such as opening the zippers on a backpack. In and around the rivers and small lakes are many types of duck, perhaps the easiest to spot being the male mallard (Anasplatyrhynchos), with his iridescent green head, white neck-ring, yellow beak, and blue on the wing feathers, while the female is mottled brown with orange beak and feet and some blue feathers.

Great blue heron & Sandhill crane The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) likes to fish along the Madison and Firehole rivers and near Fishing Bridge. Its blue-gray feathers include some stringy ones in the breast area. As long as 4 feet (1.2 m), the heron flies and often stands with its neck in an S shape. The sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), although similar to the heron, flies with its neck outstretched. It is a duller shade of gray and a little smaller than the heron and has a red patch over the eye. It hunts rodents, insects, and seeds in the meadows and has a bugling call. The most regal of all Yellowstone’s birds is the trumpeter swan (Cyg-nus buccinator). Male cobs may be 5 feet (1.5 m) long with a wingspan of 7 feet (2 m), and the female pens are a little smaller. Trumpeter swan and cygnets These snow white swans with coal black bills dabble (that is, go bottom up) for aquatic plants. Some trumpeter swans have nested along the Madison River. Others nest in neighboring refuges, such as the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Montana, home to E. B. White’s Louis, the remarkable mute swan in The Trumpet of the Swan. Fewer than 30 adults live in the park year-round, despite strong efforts to help them increase.

Yellowstone Birds Photo Gallery

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