What kinds of birds can you find in Glacier 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 250 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 Glacier National Park.
#1. Common Merganser
How to identify:
- A fairly large duck that has a long, slender orange bill with a black tip and dark eyes.
- Breeding males have a largely white body, a black back, and a mallard-like green head.
- Females and non-breeding males sport a cinnamon-colored head and a grayish-white body.
Due to their thin bill, Common Mergansers stand out fairly easily from most other water birds in Glacier National Park. Their favorite food is fish, which they catch with the help of their serrated bill, but they also indulge in aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and worms.
Common Merganser Range Map
Common Mergansers are so good at fishing that many other ducks try to steal from them when they surface. In fact, it’s common to see flocks of seagulls following them, hoping to snatch an easy meal. Even Bald Eagles have been known to rob them of their hard-earned fish!
Naturally, these ducks nest in tree cavities that woodpeckers have carved out. Interestingly, newborn ducklings are only about a day old when they leap from the entrance to the ground, at which point the mother will lead them to water, and they catch all their own food immediately.
#2. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar birds in Glacier National Park!
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats. These thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they are abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit.
These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue color eggs. American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, which is a familiar sound in spring. (Listen below)
Many people describe the sound as sounding like the bird is saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”
#3. Spruce Grouse
- Canachites canadensis
- Male Spruce Grouse display an attractive brown-black plumage adorned with clean white spots, complemented by a striking red comb above their eyes during courtship displays.
- Females exhibit intricate scaling in shades of brown, buff, and white.
The Spruce Grouse is a stylish species typically found in evergreen forests in Glacier National Park. These chicken-like birds primarily consume the needles of fir, spruce, and pine trees, resulting in an aromatic diet that makes them taste unappealing to many hunters.
Spruce Grouse have gained a reputation for their docility around humans, earning them the nickname “fool hens.” However, this behavior proves advantageous for birdwatchers seeking excellent opportunities to observe them up close.
Spruce Grouse Range Map
The Spruce Grouse has the remarkable ability to store up to 10% of its body weight in its crop, a specialized pouch located between the throat and stomach. This unique adaptation enables the bird to safely hold its food and digest it at a later time, which is especially useful during long and cold nights.
#4. American Dipper
- Cinclus mexicanus
- A compact, dark gray bird with hints of brown on its head.
- Its eyelids have white feathers that create a flash of white when it blinks.
The American Dipper is North America’s only aquatic songbird.
To find these birds in Glacier National Park, look around rocks and logs in fast-moving streams. Their dipping motion stands out despite their plain feathers. In fact, they can even walk underneath the water!
American Dipper Range Map
Dippers fly near the water, staying close to the river. Look for nests on rocks or under bridges. It’s a dead giveaway for a nest if you see white-splattered rocks.
The name “dipper” comes from its long legs, which it uses to bob its entire body up and down while feeding on the riverbed of fast-moving, rocky streams.
Their song is both melodic and lengthy. Listen below!
#5. Canada Jay / Gray Jay
- Perisoreus canadensis
- Paler grey on the belly. Darker gray on the backs.
- White cheeks, throat, and forehead.
- Short beak and a long tail.
It’s hard to describe a Canada Jay other than “cute.” These grey birds are smart and adapt easily to their surroundings, which allows them to consume almost anything.
Seriously, they have been observed eating the following weird things: ticks off the back of a moose, baby bats, amphibians, and baby birds, in addition to more normal foods like invertebrates, seeds, and berries.
Canada Jay Range Map
Another fascinating fact about them is that they raise their babies during late winter! Interestingly, they don’t attempt to raise a second brood of babies in May or June, which is when most other bird species have babies, and conditions seem more favorable.
So do you call this bird a Canada Jay or a Gray Jay?
Well, the correct name is now Canada Jay, as the name was changed in 2018 by the American Ornithological Society from the Gray Jay. But old habits die hard, and many birders in the United States still refer to this bold corvid as a Gray Jay.
#6. Bald Eagle
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
The Bald Eagle is one of the most recognizable birds in Glacier National Park!
But did you know that the “Bald” portion of their name has nothing to do with not having feathers on their head? As you can clearly see, these eagles have white feathers covering their entire face with no bald spots anywhere. Their name actually stems from an Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch” and refers to their bright white heads.
While almost everyone knows what a full-grown Bald Eagle looks like, trying to correctly identify juvenile birds is tricky. These eagles don’t get their characteristic white head and dark brown body until they are FIVE YEARS OLD. Until then, these birds have all sorts of different plumages and streaky browns and whites on their bodies. Even their beak changes color! It takes A LOT of practice and experience to identify young Bald Eagles properly!
Bald Eagle Range Map
The reason that Bald Eagles are found around water is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.
Did you know that Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world?
Their nests start “small,” but eagles add new layers each year. The biggest one EVER found was 10 feet wide (3 meters) and 20 feet tall (6 meters) and weighed in at 3 tons! Bald Eagles would keep adding to their nests each year, but what happens is that the structures get so heavy they eventually fall out of the tree, and the birds have to start over.
The Bald Eagle probably doesn’t sound like what you think. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles. In fact, movie directors are so unimpressed with the sounds a Bald Eagle makes, it’s common for them to use the call of a Red-tailed Hawk instead for dramatic effect!
Press PLAY above to hear a Bald Eagle!
#7. Steller’s Jay
- Cyanocitta stelleri
- Larger bird with a black head, rounded wings, and long tail. A tall black crest on the crown of the head helps identify them.
- Both sexes are half black, half blue on their wings, belly, and tail.
You will find the Steller’s Jay in Glacier National Park in evergreen forests. These bold birds often visit parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
Steller’s Jay Range Map
Steller’s Jays are very intelligent, bold, and noisy. They are known to even rob other nests for food, attacking or killing small adult birds like nuthatches or juncos.
Males and sometimes females have calls that sound like “shaack, shaack, shaack,” shooka, shooka.” Listen below.
Even though Ospreys are not hawks, they certainly look similar to one. Many people think they are looking at some species of hawk when they first observe an Osprey in Glacier National Park. These raptors have also been given nicknames, such as Sea Hawk, River Hawk, and Fish Hawk, which hint at the association between an Osprey and a hawk.
Osprey Range Map
When you think of an Osprey, you should think of fish because that is what these birds eat 99% of the time. Even an Osprey’s talons are perfectly adapted for catching fish. If you take a close look, you will see they are extremely curved and even intersect when fully closed, which makes them perfectly designed for holding onto slippery fish!
Even more interesting, their outer toe is reversible, which allows them to rotate the toe so they can have two in front and two in back. Only Ospreys and owls have this unique ability, which allows them to be more efficient hunters.
And these guys don’t just skim the surface and grab their prey near the top like an eagle. Ospreys hit the water HARD and plunge right in to assure themselves of a catch. Amazingly, they can then take off while submerged and with a fish in their talons!
Listen for Ospreys next time you are around a large body of water or river in Glacier National Park. Their alarm call is a series of short high-pitched whistles that descend in pitch. The noise has been compared to a teapot taken off a stove.
#9. Black-billed Magpie
- Pica hudsonia
- A large black and white bird with a long tail.
- In the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.
It’s hard to miss these bold birds in Glacier National Park!
Black-billed Magpies demand your attention. They are very social, noisy, and comfortable living amongst people and are commonly seen in smaller towns. Naturally, they live in open grasslands and plains and tend to avoid dense forests.
Black-billed Magpie Range Map
Being part of the Corvid family, Black-billed Magpies are incredibly intelligent. One interesting behavior is that they seem to have funerals when they discover a deceased magpie. Individual birds will begin calling loudly to attract more magpies, eventually having as many as 40 birds gathered for 10-15 minutes before flying away silently.
#10. Common Loon
- Long bodies with a strong, thick dagger-like bill. They sit low in the water.
- Breeding adults have a black head and a black and white checkerboard back.
- Nonbreeding adults are much duller and have a uniformly grayish back and head.
Common Loons are one of my FAVORITE birds found in Glacier National Park.
These gorgeous birds are insanely strong and fast swimmers and routinely catch fish in high-speed underwater chases. In fact, they have even adapted solid bones (most bird bones are hollow), which makes it easier to dive since they are less buoyant.
Common Loon Range Map
To help prevent other birds from stealing their food, Common Loons typically swallow their prize while still underwater. And to ensure the slippery fish doesn’t escape once caught, loons have rear-facing projections inside their mouth that sink in and provide a tight grip.
One of my favorite things about these birds is the wonderful, eerie sounds they make. Listen for a repertoire of vocalizations, which all signify something. LISTEN BELOW!
For example, their tremolo calls are used when alarmed. Yodeling is given by males to announce their territories. And their famous haunting wail calls help mated pairs locate each other.
Which of these birds have you seen before in Glacier National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in Glacier 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!