What kinds of birds can you find in Rocky Mountain 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 Rocky Mountain National Park.
#1. 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 and 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.
#2. 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 Rocky Mountain 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.
#3. Clark’s Nutcracker
- Nucifraga columbiana
- Medium-sized grey bird with a long, dagger-like black bill and black wings.
- While in flight, you can see bright white tail feathers, along with white feathers at the end of their wings.
It’s fairly easy to spot one of these birds in Rocky Mountain National Park as long as you head to the correct habitat. Look for Clark’s Nutcrackers in coniferous forests in the mountains!
Their long beak is used to rip into pinecones to remove the seeds, which are mostly taken away to store and consume later. It’s estimated that Clark’s Nutcrackers stash away thousands of seeds each summer, which provides them food through winter. Amazingly, these intelligent birds remember where most pine seeds are hidden!
Clark’s Nutcracker Range Map
In fact, they hide so much food they are able to breed as early as January or February and rely ONLY on their cached food supply. As you can imagine, it is incredibly cold high up in the mountains during this time of year, so nothing is growing yet.
#4: Broad-tailed Hummingbird
How To Identify:
- Males: Adults have a white breast, buffy flanks, and green covering their head, back, and tail. Look for their iridescent red throat.
- Females: Similar to other types of hummingbirds, females are larger than males. They have a lightly speckled throat, white upper breast, and a brownish belly. Head and back are green.
These hummingbirds are a bird of mountain meadows and open woodlands. They typically breed at elevations between 5,000 and 10,500 feet.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds only stay in Rocky Mountain National Park for a few months, from late May to early August.
Males put on impressive aerial displays to attract females. The show begins with the male climbing high into the sky and then diving towards the ground, pulling up right in front of the bird he is trying to attract. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are promiscuous, and they may mate with many individuals during a breeding season.
- These birds live up to 10,500 feet high in the mountains, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, even in summer. To survive these cold nights, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds enter what is called a state of torpor, where they slow their heart rate down and drop their body temperature until the sun comes up!
- To obtain protein, Broad-tailed’s will eat insects wherever they can find them! That could be catching bugs in mid-air, gleaning off leaves, or even stealing them off a spider web!
- When available, they will sometimes drink sap that is leaking from trees that have been drilled by Red-naped Sapsuckers.
How to identify:
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rump with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely the most common water birds in Rocky Mountain National Park!
Mallard Range Map
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.
#6. Mountain Chickadee
If you want to find Mountain Chickadees in Rocky Mountain National Park, look for small birds in the mountains 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!
#7. 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.
#8. Wild Turkey
- Meleagris gallopavo
- Wild Turkeys are large and have dark body feathers.
- Adult males sometimes are called toms or gobblers and have a large, featherless, reddish head.
- Female birds, known as hens, have feathers that are duller overall, in shades of brown and gray.
Everyone knows what this popular bird looks like in Rocky Mountain N.P.!
Wild Turkeys can’t be confused with any other animal. Many people even think they look like little dinosaurs as they strut around.
To find Wild Turkeys, wake up early in the morning, and you will often find them foraging in clearings and along roadsides. Luckily, they typically aren’t shy and are often spotted while driving.
Wild Turkey Range Map
Believe it or not, despite their hefty size, Wild Turkeys can fly! It surprises many people when they come across them roosting high in a tree. In addition, these talented birds can also swim by folding their wings, extending their tails, and using their legs to propel themselves.
Interestingly, only male turkeys make the famous gobble call. This sound is used to announce themselves to females while competing with other males for the ladies’ attention. LISTEN BELOW:
#9. Mountain Bluebird
- Sialia currucoides
- Males are covered with beautiful sky-blue feathers on their heads, back, and wings.
- Females are a bit trickier since they are primarily gray-brown, with tinges of blue on their tails and wings.
There are not many things more beautiful than seeing one of these birds while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. 🙂
In Colorado, look for Mountain Bluebirds in open areas. As their name suggests, Mountain Bluebirds are observed at elevations up to 12,500 feet during the breeding season. However, once winter arrives, they typically fly down to lower elevations.
Mountain Bluebird Range Map
Mountain Bluebirds feast on insects during warm months and switch their diet to primary berries in winter. But unlike other bluebird species, they are excellent aerial hunters and routinely grab insects out of mid-air!
Finding a suitable nesting location is crucial for female Mountain Bluebirds; they rarely care about anything else. She chooses her mate almost solely based on the quality of his nesting cavity, ignoring things like looks, singing skills, and flying ability!
Next time you are in a mountain valley or meadow, keep your ears open and listen for a Mountain Bluebird! Press PLAY below.
#10. Pygmy Nuthatch
These tiny birds are incredibly active and described as little bundles of energy!
You can find Pygmy Nuthatches in Rocky Mountain National Park in long-needled pine forests, especially Ponderosa Pines. They are most common in areas that have avoided heavy logging since they rely upon older trees with cavities to raise their young.
Pygmy Nuthatch Range Map
Pygmy Nuthatches are extremely social birds and known as cooperative breeders. Many breeding pairs get help from other males, which are commonly the females’ sons from prior years! These “helper” birds assist with defending the nest and feeding the incubating female and hatchlings.
These birds travel together often, and they almost always roost together. One biologist observed as many as 100 gather together in the same cavity!
The most common call you will hear them make is described as a noisy, rapid “tee-dee, tee-dee.”
Which of these birds have you seen before in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in Rocky Mountain 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!