What kinds of birds can you find in Death Valley National Park?
This question is hard to answer because of the vast number of birds found in the park. Did you know there have been over 340 species recorded here? As you can imagine, there was no way to include this many birds in the below article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Below I have listed the TEN birds you are most likely to find while visiting Death Valley.
#1. Common Raven
- Corvus corax
- Large bird that is completely black, including its eyes and bill.
- The bill is hefty and thick.
- In flight, look for their wedge-shaped tail.
Ravens are one of the SMARTEST birds in Death Valley National Park!
Their intelligence makes them efficient predators, and it’s common for ravens to team up to get food, such as stealing eggs from nests or attacking larger prey.
Common Raven Range Map
Since they are so smart and adaptable, Common Ravens are found in many habitats in Death Valley. Look for them living near the edges of towns. But ravens also have no problem living far away from civilization.
Common Ravens are impressive vocalists that make many different types of calls, from harsh grating calls to shrill alarm sounds. But the most common sound you will hear in the wild is a gurgling croak that rises in pitch.
Interestingly, they can mimic the sounds of many other bird species and even humans if raised in captivity.
#2. Great-tailed Grackle
- Quiscalus mexicanus
- These blackbirds are fairly large, slender, and have long legs,
- Males are iridescent and completely black. Look for their bright yellow eyes and long V-shaped tail.
- Females are about half the size of males. Their upperparts are dark brown, while below, they feature paler brown plumage.
Great-tailed Grackles are brash blackbirds in Death Valley National Park that are often found in large flocks. It’s common to see them near people looking for easy food.
Great-tailed Grackle Range Map
Their range has spread over the past century because of their fondness for agricultural areas and urban areas. In fact, they are one of the fastest expanding species in North America!
Interestingly, it’s common for “sex-biased” populations of Great-tailed Grackles to occur where female birds greatly outnumber males. This happens for two reasons.
- #1. Females have a higher survival rate in the nest since they are smaller and require less food.
- #2. On average, females live longer than males.
Because of their wide array of vocalizations, it’s hard to describe the sounds that these blackbirds make! Descriptions of their whistles, squeals, and rattles include everything from “sweet, tinkling notes” to “rusty gate hinges.” Regardless, Great-tailed Grackles can sure make a lot of loud noises, especially when they gather in enormous flocks numbering in the tens of thousands!
#3. Eurasian Collared-Dove
- Streptopelia decaocto
- A mostly sandy gray bird with a long, square-tipped tail.
- As the name suggests, look for a black collar on the back of the neck.
Interestingly, these grey birds are NOT native to Death Valley National Park.
Unfortunately, somebody introduced Eurasian Collared-Doves to the Bahamas in the 1970s, and since then, they have rapidly spread. In fact, their population is still spreading!
Eurasian Collared-Dove Range Map
One of the reasons they colonized here so quickly is due to their comfort level with humans. They have thrived being around bird feeders and in urban and suburban areas. It’s common to see them on the ground or platform feeders eating grains and seeds.
How do you tell them apart from Mourning Doves?
At first glance, Eurasian Collared-Doves look very similar to Mourning Doves. Here’s how to tell them apart:
- Mourning Doves are smaller and have black dots on their wings.
- Eurasian Collared-Doves are larger and have a black crescent around their neck.
#4. Rock Wren
Rock Wrens are pale brown birds that have a long tail and thin bill. If you look closely, you can small white speckles on their back and wings. Males and females look similar. Behavior-wise, it’s common to see them quickly bobbing up and down.
These birds are naturally found in rocky, arid areas, which is why they love Death Valley National Park.
Rock Wren Range Map
Incredibly, Rock Wrens are not known to drink water. Instead, they get all of their moisture from their food, which consists of insects and spiders. They mostly hunt on the ground, probing around and under objects for prey with their thin bill.
Rock Wrens are prolific singers! They have a large repertoire of songs, which can consist of 100 or more tunes! Interestingly, they can learn new sounds from other individuals. Listen for a mixture of buzzing trills and other musical phrases. When they are not singing, you may hear their common call, which sounds like “tic-keer.”
#5. Greater Roadrunner
- Geococcyx californianus
- Stands at a height of around 25-30 cm and is the largest cuckoo species in the Americas.
- Its upper body is predominantly brown with black streaks and occasionally features pink spots.
- Roadrunners possess distinctive X-shaped footprints with four toes each: two toes point forward, while the other two points backward.
When people hear “Roadrunner,” they immediately think of the iconic “beep, beep” of Warner Brothers’ cartoon Roadrunner!
But the Greater Roadrunner is an impressive bird that is built for speed! It can outpace humans, conquer rattlesnakes, and flourish in the challenging environments of the Desert Southwest.
They have developed various adaptations to thrive in the harsh conditions of the desert. For example, like seabirds, they release a concentrated salt solution through glands near their eyes, conserving water rather than excreting it through their kidneys.
Greater Roadrunner Range Map
In addition, their diet consists of moisture-rich prey such as mammals and reptiles, which provides them with the water they need in the desert.
To spot Greater Roadrunners in Death Valley, venture along quiet roads in open landscapes. Their sudden appearance is often surprising as they swiftly emerge from shrub cover or dash across roads.
Listen for their dovelike, low-pitched cooing, typically uttered from a raised perch.
#6. Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most prevalent birds of prey in Death Valley National Park!
These large raptors are often seen soaring in the sky or perched on a fence post. The color of a Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage can be anything from nearly white to virtually black, so coloration is not a reliable indicator. The best way to identify them is by looking for their characteristic red tail. 🙂
Red-tailed Hawk Range Map
These hawks are highly adaptable, and there is no real description of their preferred habitats because they seem to be comfortable everywhere.
Red-tailed Hawks have impressive calls that are easily identified.
In fact, people are so enamored with their screams it’s common for directors to use the sounds of a Red-tailed Hawk to replace Bald Eagles that appear in movies. In case you have never heard one, Bald Eagles don’t make sounds that live up to their appearance (putting it nicely!)
#7: Anna’s Hummingbird
How To Identify:
- Males: They are best known for their beautiful iridescent pinkish-red heads. Underparts are a mix between gray and green. Tail and back are dark green. Most of the time, a broken white eye-ring is visible.
- Females: Duller than the males, with a green cap and body. Their tail has a white tip. Many birds have a patch of metallic purple or red on their throat.
These jeweled beauties are tiny birds that are no larger than a ping-pong ball and weigh about the same as a nickel.
Anna’s are different from most hummers since they don’t migrate much, if at all. These tiny birds are year-round residents in Death Valley.
Anna’s Hummingbird Range Map
- Anna’s Hummingbirds are known for their thrilling mating displays. The male starts by hovering in front of his chosen female for a few seconds. Then he flies straight up to heights of 130 feet (40m), concluding with him diving straight down and giving a loud squeak within a few feet of his target.
- In addition to nectar, these hummingbirds consume a wide variety of insects. Their favorites are smaller bugs, such as whiteflies, midges, and leafhoppers. They will even pluck insects off that are caught in spider webs!
- Anna’s Hummingbirds enjoy supplementing their diet with tree sap. When available, they will eat sugary sap that is leaking out of holes made by sapsuckers.
To help locate these hummingbirds, listen for a long song that often lasts ten seconds or more. The song starts with a series of buzzes, which is then followed by a pleasant-sounding whistle. The entire sequence can last more than ten seconds and typically finishes with some chip notes. Personally, it’s hard to believe these noises are coming from a pretty little hummingbird!
#8. Black-throated Sparrow
- Amphispiza bilineata
- Both sexes are similar. Grayish brown upperparts, white underparts, and a black-like bib on their chest.
- Head has a dark gray cap, white stripe on the cheeks and above the eyes.
- Long rounded tipped tail edged with white.
Black-throated Sparrows have arguably the most striking appearance of any small bird in Death Valley! Look for them in dry scrubby areas and canyons. They are often seen hopping around on the ground to eat seeds and insects.
Black-throated Sparrow Range Map
These sparrows don’t put up with birds coming into their territory during the breeding season. Instead, they fluff up their feathers, chirp, and chase the other birds away if they don’t leave. But after breeding season, they calm down and tolerate other species.
Black-throated Sparrows have a song with two clear notes followed by a buzzing trill. Listen below.
#9. Turkey Vulture
- Cathartes aura
The Turkey Vulture, also known as the Turkey Buzzard, is an incredibly common bird in Death Valley National Park. They are relatively easy to identify, as they are all black, with a bald red head and a pinkish bill. The name derives from their loose resemblance to a Wild Turkey.
Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot these vultures while they are flying. Look for a large raptor soaring in the sky making wobbly circles, whose wings are raised high enough to look like the letter “V.” It’s thought that this flying style helps them glide at low altitudes, which keeps them close to the ground to smell for food.
Turkey Vulture Range Map
Turkey Vultures use their highly developed sense of smell to locate carrion. Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can detect dead meat from 8 miles (13 km) away. These birds actually prefer to eat fresh food, and they try to get to animals as quickly as possible after their death.
These birds are dark, and they absorb heat easily. To cool themselves off, they defecate on their legs to cool the blood and help them moderate their body temperature. Let’s just collectively say “Ewww!” and move on!
Look for Turkey Vultures wherever you can find dead animals.
As you can imagine, they are often seen along roadsides eating animals that have been hit by cars. They are also frequently observed soaring the skies in the open countryside.
When these raptors are frightened, they can be so full of meat that they cannot rapidly fly away. In this case, you may see them projectile vomit what they’ve eaten to lose weight and escape. If they target the predator’s face, the material can be blinding. Bear in mind that even if they miss, they are vultures that are eating rotting meat, so just try to imagine the odor.
#10. House Sparrow
- Males have gray crowns, black bib, white cheeks, and chestnut on the sides of their face and neck. Their backs are predominantly brown with black streaks.
- Females are a dull brown color with streaks of black on their backs. Their underparts are light brown. They can be distinguished by the tan line that extends behind their eye.
House Sparrows are an invasive species (originally from the Middle East) and now one of the most abundant and widespread birds in Death Valley (and California)!
Range Map – House Sparrow
House Sparrows compete with many native birds for nest cavities. Unfortunately, these invasive species tend to win more times than not.
In most urban and suburban areas it’s INCREDIBLY COMMON to see House Sparrows. They owe their success to their ability to adapt and live near humans. Unlike most other birds, they love grains and are commonly seen eating bread and popcorn at amusement parks, sporting events, etc. At your bird feeders, they especially love eating cracked corn, millet, and milo.
House Sparrows can be heard across the entire planet. In fact, pay attention the next time you’re watching the news in another country. Listen for a simple song that includes lots of “cheep” notes.
Which of these birds have you seen before in Death Valley National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in Death Valley National Park, check out these guides!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!