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Birdzilla Adventures – Yellowstone

grand canyon of the yellowestone

While the birds were not as visible as we would have liked, the scenery was magnificent.

This is a brief report on a quick trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.   It was basically a 4-day scouting trip to identify good birding locations, places to stay and places to eat.

There are relatively few eBird Hotspots in the Yellowstone National Park, and all are listed under Yellowstone, Wyoming as of August of 2014.

I could not find any eBird hot spots for the Grand Teton National Park.

Yellowstone National Park

Over a 4-day period we drove all of the main roads in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons plus many of the side roads.  In general, we found the birding very slow.  Little singing or calling, even in the early morning.  It rained most of the final two days of the trip which might have hampered the activity.

The Common Raven was by far the most visible bird, and the only species we saw that would “hang around” humans in hope of a snack.  Feeding animals, including birds, is not allowed in either park.

We stayed at the Lodge at Flag Ranch, 2 miles south of the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  This location made it a long drive to the northern end of Yellowstone but placed us on the north end of Grand Teton National Park.  The Lodge offers camp sites and cabins of various prices ranges.  Top of the line cabins were about $300 a night.  Lodging and service were excellent.  The staff will help with planning day trips and the food service was excellent.

Birding around the lodge

The area around the lodge offered some birding opportunities.

The Snake River is a short walk from the camp grounds.  Shrubby areas before the river yielded a nice collection of sparrows, including Song, Lincoln’s,  Fox and White-crowned.   A single Clark’s Nutcracker was a fly-by.  Northern Flickers were seen several times.  I thought I heard a Pileated Woodpecker call, rare in the park, but it could have been a flicker.  Yellow and Wilson’s Warblers were in the area and singing. Gray Catbirds were also common.  A single Steller’s Jay was seen at a distance.  Barn and Bank Swallows were seen along the river. Also scared up a family of Mallards and a couple of juncos.

House Finch, House Sparrow (only one), Brewer’s Blackbird and Barn Swallows were seen around the lodge itself.

I road I really wanted to check out is called Grassy Lake Road and starts right at Flag Ranch.  It leads back to a couple of small lakes and more isolated areas.  It was a gravel road, however, and the rains had filled the pot holes to the point I was not comfortable taking the road a great distance.  It might have excellent potential.

In Yellowstone

Two areas in Yellowstone are known for wildlife viewing, Hayden Valley, near the center of the park, and Lamar Valley near the north east of the park.  Thunderstorms and rain limited birding on our one visit to the Lamar Valley.  Hayden Valley always yielded Canada Goose, Mallard, Common Raven and Great Blue Heron, but not much else.

Chickadees were heard calling in several areas but many of the expected species were not seen.

In addition to driving and hiking we took 2 hour boat tips on Yellowstone Lake and Jackson Lake.  Osprey and Bald Eagles were seen on both trips as well as small groups of goldeneyes (too distant to determine the species), a single Bufflehead and several groups of Eared Grebes.  What appeared to be two California Gulls were seen at a distance.

Two Common Mergansers were spotted swimming in the Yellowstone River.

The only Black-billed Magpie we saw was in the town of Jackson, searching for food near one of the restaurants.


Birds in the Grand Tetons

Birding results were much the same in the Grand Tetons.  The best birding location was at a spot called Dornans, very near the Park Headquarters, and about 5 minutes from the Jackson Airport.  Food, fuel and gift shops are in the small area.

One end of the parking lot overlooked a small, brushy area which bordered the Snake River.  We birded the area (mid-afternoon) for about an hour, with the following results:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Osprey
  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Green-tailed Towhee
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Emp. Species
  • Sandhill Cranes
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Hummingbird species  – probably Broad-tailed
  • Tree Swallow and probable Northern Rough-Winged and Violet-green Swallows.


Wrap Up

Overall we were very disappointed by both the number and diversity of species.   Maybe it was the time of year or the two days of bad weather.   Many species that we would have known by their song or call did not make their presence known.  It was almost eerily quite in the mornings, when we expected to hear much more.

We did like the location of the Flag Ranch (Gateway Lodge) although it makes a long drive to the north eastern part of the park.  Lodging inside the park, reservations required month’s in advance, would provide easier access to many areas of the park.  Lodging just outside the western entrance of the park might also be preferred.

Rental Car Tip
If renting a car at the Jackson Airport, the rental car companies will offer to pay for the gas when you return the car, a common option.  In most instances it will be better to fill up yourself before returning the car.  Dornan’s, mentioned above, is only about 5 minutes north of the airport.  Fill up there and watch for animals and birds along the way.  We spotted Bald Eagle from the Jackson Airport Terminal building.


Bison were a fairly common site in the park.


Smaller critters were common and had to learn to avoid the larger guys.

common ravens

Common Ravens were the most obvious birds in the park.

lake jackson marina

Marina at Lake Jackson

sam captain

We spent 2 hours cruising both Yellowstone and Jackson Lakes.  The birds were few. White Pelican, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Common Goldeneye, Eared Grebes, Bufflehead and probably California Gull were all we could come up with.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneyes


This is a view of the habitat from the Dorans parking lot. A pair of Green-tailed Towhees were chasing each other across the field. The Snake River is behind the tree line.


This is the historic ferry that first offered convenient access across the Snake River.  It is hidden below the trees in the photograph above.

(All photos © Sam or Janebell Crowe)

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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