What kinds of birds can you find in Joshua Tree 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 Joshua Tree.
#1. California Scrub-Jay
- Aphelocoma californica
- Medium-sized crestless jay.
- Both sexes have blue heads, wings, and tails. A white throat outlined with a blue necklace.
You will find these common and beautiful birds scattered around Joshua Tree National Park.
California 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.
California Scrub-Jay Range Map
Both males and females are VERY vocal. Researchers have identified more than 20 different types of calls that are used. Make sure to listen closely when visiting Joshua Tree as you may hear a California Scrub-Jay before seeing one!
#2: Costa’s Hummingbird
How To Identify:
- Males: Their large, iridescent purple gorget makes them easy to identify, as it covers their head, along with flaring out along the sides of their neck like an overgrown mustache.
- Females: Females have a white throat and underparts, along with a green back and head. Look for white-tips on the green tail feathers. Both sexes appear compact with a short tail.
I “mustache” you a question? Have you ever seen a hummingbird quite like this one?
Costa’s Hummingbirds have a limited range in California. But luckily, these gorgeous birds are common to see in Joshua Tree National Park.
Costa’s Hummingbird Range Map
Males have a spirited mating display used to attract females. They typically perform a series of dives and loops in front of the female in hopes of impressing her, and they even position themselves at the correct angle to the sun to show their violet plumage!
- Researchers have found that Costa’s Hummingbirds need to visit up to 1,800 flowers per day to obtain enough energy to sustain themselves.
- Costa’s Hummingbirds are shyer than other larger species. In hopes of attracting them to your yard, try offering multiple feeders to give them a place to feed away from these more aggressive hummingbirds.
#3. 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 sparrow in Joshua Tree National Park! 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.
#4. Northern Mockingbird
- Mimus polyglottos
- Medium-sized grey songbird with a LONG, slender tail.
- Distinctive white wing patches that are visible when in flight.
These birds are HARD to miss in Joshua Tree National Park!
First, Northern Mockingbirds LOVE to sing, and they almost never stop. Sometimes they will even sing through the entire night.
Northern Mockingbird Range Map
In addition, Northern Mockingbirds have bold personalities. For example, it’s common for them to harass other birds by flying slowly around them and then approaching with their wings up, showing off their white wing patches.
These grey birds are common in backyards, but they rarely eat from bird feeders. Nonetheless, I have heard from many people complaining that mockingbirds are scaring away the other birds from their feeders, even though mockingbirds don’t even eat from feeders themselves!
#5. Mourning Dove
- Zenaida macroura
- A mostly grayish dove with large black spots on the wings and a long thin tail.
- Look for pinkish legs, a black bill, and a distinctive blue eye-ring.
- Males and females look the same.
Mourning Doves are one of the most familiar birds in Joshua Tree National Park.
Look for them perched all over the park. They are also commonly seen on the ground, where they do most of their feeding.
Mourning Dove Range Map
Mourning Doves are common visitors to bird feeding stations! To attract them, try putting out their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower seeds.
It’s common to hear Mourning Doves in Joshua Tree.
Listen for a low “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” In fact, this mournful sound is how the dove got its name! Many people commonly mistake this sound for an owl. (Press PLAY above!)
#6. 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 Joshua Tree, 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.
#7. 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 Joshua Tree 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 Joshua Tree. 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.
#8. Gambel’s Quail
- Callipepla gambelii
- Their distinctive crests and scale-like feathers on their undersides make Gambel’s Quail easily identifiable.
- These birds showcase bluish-gray plumage over most of their bodies, while males boast copper-colored feathers atop their heads, black faces, and white stripes above their eyes.
- They possess relatively short, rounded wings and long, featherless legs.
Gambel’s Quail are typically found living together in Joshua Tree.
They hang out in groups near bushes and cactuses, eating seeds and other plant matter. These birds like to run more than fly, so you might see them running between hiding spots or sitting on low bushes to keep an eye out for predators.
The best time to spot Gambel’s Quails is during the cooler times of early morning and late afternoon.
Gambel’s Quail Range Map
#9. Cactus Wren
Cactus Wrens are common in the deserts, which is why they love Joshua Tree National Park. Look for a rather large birds with a long tail and long bill, but short rounded wings. They are beautiful birds with their distinctive bright white eyebrow, brown spotted belly, and a brown and white streaked back.
These birds are known for their active and bold personalities. If you spend enough time in their range, you are almost guaranteed to see them as they are always up to something. They can be found doing any number of things, such as singing from the top of a cactus, chasing each other around, mobbing predators that come to close, and fanning their tails.
Cactus Wren Range Map
Cactus Wrens are true desert birds and don’t need to drink water, since they can obtain all their moisture from the insects, spiders, and fruit that they eat. It’s also common for them to take a dust bath on the dry, dusty ground before heading to their nightly roost.
If you’re in the desert and you hear a noise that sounds like a car won’t start, you may be hearing a Cactus Wren. These birds omit a loud, harsh, raspy series of “guah guah guah” notes, which gains in speed towards the end of the four-second song.
#10. Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most prevalent birds of prey in Joshua Tree 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!)
Which of these birds have you seen before in Joshua Tree National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in Joshua Tree 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!