What kinds of birds can you find in Grand Canyon 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 200 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 the Grand Canyon.
#1. California Condor
- Gymnogyps californianus
California Condors are the LARGEST bird in Grand Canyon National Park! These vultures are predominantly black, except the underwing, which is white. Make sure to check out their heads, which range in color from yellow to orange to pink to purple to blue and to red. Their eyes are a startlingly deep red.
One of the rarest species of birds on the planet, the California Condor went extinct in the wild in 1987 when all of the remaining birds were captured. These birds were then raised and bred in safe environments with the hope of releasing the offspring back into the wild.
To increase numbers, biologists needed to encourage females to lay a second egg, since condors only produce ONE egg naturally. To accomplish this feat, the first egg laid was removed and raised by humans who used puppets to mimic the parents!
California Condor Range Map
Luckily, the program worked, and condors were released back into the wild in California in 1991 and Arizona in 1996. Since then, they have slowly been increasing their numbers. In March 2020, there were 337 birds in the wild and 181 in captive breeding programs. California has 200, Arizona & Utah combine for 90, and Baja California & Mexico have another 39.
So why has the California Condor population declined so drastically?
Condors used to be found in large numbers throughout the entire southwest and west coast, but these birds have had to deal with many obstacles. In the past, they have been poisoned and poached by people who feared these completely harmless birds. One of the primary types of poisoning is lead, which happens when people shoot other animals for sport and don’t collect the bodies, which then the condors eat.
As the human population grew out west, habitat loss also contributed heavily to the loss of condors. Combine these issues with the fact that these vultures only have one young per nest and a late age for sexual maturity, and you have the perfect recipe for a species in trouble.
California Condors have exceptional gliding abilities, riding thermals at almost no energy expenditure, they can soar up to nearly 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) high. The frontline of their wings are almost entirely straight, and the “finger-feathers” on the wingtips allow them to be extremely sensitive to thermals. They can spot a meal at great distances and have been known to fly 150 miles (240 km) in a single search for food.
#2. 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 the Grand Canyon!
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 Grand Canyon National Park. Look for them living near the edges of towns, especially near people. 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.
#3. Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
- Aphelocoma woodhouseii
- Long bird with a long tail and stout bill.
- Both sexes are light blue and gray on top, have a grayish belly, and a white throat.
You will find these mostly blue birds in Grand Canyon National Park in woodlands of pine and juniper or dry shrublands.
Woodhouse Scrub-Jay Range Map
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are known to stand on the backs of mule deer. They do this to help the mule deer by picking ticks and parasites and eating them. The mule deer don’t mind and will stand still and put their ears up to assist in their efforts.
Males and females both sing light, pleasant songs lasting up to five minutes. Listen below.
#4. Western Bluebird
- Sialia Mexicana
- Males are vibrant blue with rusty chest. Blue throat and gray belly.
- Females look similar, but the colors are more subdued.
Look for these bluebirds in the Grand Canyon at the edge of forests or open woodlands. Western Bluebirds are not often found in meadows and fields. Instead, these birds opt for the woods. Their favorite habitat seems to be areas that have been logged or burned, as these places are open but still contain many trees.
These bluebirds tend to stay close to the ground to fly down quickly to catch insects, which are their favorite food. They can usually be found perched on low limbs, signs, and fence posts. Western Bluebirds even stay low to the ground while flying!
Western Bluebird Range Map
This bluebird species only nests in enclosed cavities. Competition is high for these limited spots, and they regularly compete with nuthatches, House Wrens, European Starlings, House Sparrows, swallows, and even other Western Bluebirds.
You should try listening for Western Bluebirds next time you are out. These birds make a soft call, which phonetically often sounds like “kew” repeated several times. Press PLAY to hear a Western Bluebird!
#5. Turkey Vulture
- Cathartes aura
The Turkey Vulture, also known as the Turkey Buzzard, is incredibly common in Grand Canyon 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.
#6. 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 evergreen forests. These bold birds, which are half blue, often visit parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
Steller’s Jay Range Map
This jay is very intelligent, bold, and noisy. You can attract this species to your backyard feeders by providing peanuts or larger seeds and suet.
The Steller’s Jays are often nest robbers. They have even been known to attack or kill small adult birds like nuthatches or juncos.
Males and sometimes females have calls that sound like “shaack, shaack, shaack,” shooka, shooka.” Listen below.
#7. White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatches are common to see in the Grand Canyon. Look for a compact bird with no neck, a short tail, and a long pointy bill. Color-wise, they have distinctive white cheeks and chest, along with a blue-gray back.
Both sexes look the same, except that males have a black cap on the top of their heads, where females display a lighter, more gray crown.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
What sounds do White-breasted Nuthatches make?
These birds are incredibly vocal AND make distinctive noises that are relatively easy to identify! In late winter and spring, males sing a nasally, rapid “wha-wha-wha” song that lasts around 2-3 seconds. (Press PLAY above to hear an example)
Do you know how nuthatches got their name? These birds commonly jam acorns and nuts into tree bark. From there, they hammer the food with their sharp bills to “hatch” out the seed!
#8. Mountain Chickadee
If you want to find Mountain Chickadees in Grand Canyon National Park, look for small birds with black heads and distinctive white eyebrows, which makes them fairly easy to identify.
Like other chickadee species, these birds are agile and curious. They are most often seen flitting from tree to tree in coniferous forests, searching for insects, spiders, seeds, and nuts.
Mountain Chickadee Range Map
Listen for them singing a 3-4 note descending whistle “fee-bee-bay” or “fee-bee-fee-bee.” Some people think it sounds like they are saying “cheeseburger!” Press PLAY below to hear a Mountain Chickadee!
#9. 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.
Rock Wren Range Map
These wrens are found in rocky, arid areas of the Grand Canyon.
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.”
Press PLAY above to hear a Rock Wren!
#10. Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most prevalent birds of prey in the Grand Canyon!
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!)
Which of these birds have you seen before in Grand Canyon National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in the Grand Canyon, 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!