Yellowstone Wildlife Field Guide: Birds

Happily, many species of birds in Yellowstone today are success stories, having come back from zero or very low population levels just a few decades ago. Good examples are the osprey, bald eagle, and most recently, the peregrine falcon.

Happily, many species of birds in Yellowstone today are success stories, having come back from zero or very low population levels just a few decades ago. Good examples are the osprey, bald eagle, and most recently, the peregrine falcon. When we talk about not approaching wildlife, we are talking about birds, too. Adult birds, especially ground nesters, will sometimes abandon their nest at the approach of humans, leaving the eggs or young exposed—not only to weather, but to hungry predators.

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Yellowstone Wildlife Black-billed Magpie
Michael Sample

Black-Billed Magpie

The magpie is a most beautiful scavenger and thief, boasting a striking black and white coat with long black tail feathers. sometimes the black appears as an iridescent green or blue color. These birds have a loud, raucous call, a rather nasal-sounding “mag!mag!” magpies are common in certain local areas, from sagebrush meadows, to mixed forests, to willow and alder thickets near riparian zones.

Yellowstone Wildlife Gray Jay

Gray Jay

This jay is a bold, gray-colored bird of the forest, about 10 inches long, with a raspy call. Gray jays have been called “camp robbers” for their habit of stealing food from campsites and picnic tables. It is important that you do not feed these birds. It is unlawful to do so, and human food can be unhealthy for them. over time, handouts can leave these birds less able to thrive in the wild.

Yellowstone Wildlife Raven


Ravens are found in a wide variety of habitats all months of the year. Look for ravens on cliffs and talus slopes, in aspen and douglas-fir forests, and on open reaches of grass and sage. These large, soar- ing birds, which will eat nearly anything, like to build their bulky nests on the cliff faces. ravens are very assertive; do not feed them, and secure your food and valuables when they are nearby.

Yellowstone Wildlife Osprey
Michael Sample


This is a magnificent raptor nearly 2 feet long, with white underpart and a broad, black stripe passing through the eye and down either side of the neck. living entirely on fish, the osprey is never far from lakes and rivers; the area around the Grand canyon of the Yellowstone river is an especially good.

Yellowstone Wildlife Canada Goose
Michael Sample

Canadian Geese

These large birds with black heads and white cheeks have a distinct “honking” call, long considered one of the great sounds of the wilderness. before migrating in fall, adult canada geese molt their feathers, leaving them unable to fly for several weeks. look for these wonderful birds along rivers and lakeshores throughout the park.

Yellowstone Wildlife Mallard
Michael Sample

Mallard Ducks

The striking, iridescent-green head (sometimes with a purplish cast) is the telling feature of this common duck, found in the park through- out the year. look for mallards feeding in the shallow waters of Yellowstone’s ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Yellowstone Wildlife Trumpeter Swan
Michael Sample

Trumpeter Swans

This beautiful, snow-white bird with its straight neck and black beak, very nearly became extinct in the first half of the twentieth century; heroic restoration efforts made at red rock lakes national wildlife refuge in extreme southwest Montana kept them from the brink of extinction, but their numbers and low productivity remain a concern for wildlife managers. trumpeter swans nest in the park, but seem easiest to spot during autumn months. look for them along the Madison River, in small kettle ponds along the northeast Entrance road east of Tower-Roosevelt, and in Hayden Valley.

Yellowstone Wildlife White Pelican

White Pelican

Pelicans nest in the park; look for them in hayden Valley and at Yellowstone lake, where they can sometimes be seen swimming abreast, pushing insects, fish, and crustaceans ahead of them and then scooping them into their pouches.

Yellowstone Wildlife Bald Eagle
Erwin/Peggy Bauer

Bald Eagles

Though bald eagles are found in a variety of habitats, they are often spotted along waterways. These birds are not common in the park except in winter, when you can Hayden Valleys. It takes four to five years for young eagles to acquire their distinctive white head feathers.

Yellowstone Wildlife Mountain Bluebird
Erwin/Peggy Bauer

Mountain Bluebirds

Usually seen in aspen forests, as well as in grasslands and meadows below treeline, males wear a stunning coat of sky blue feathers with a white belly, while females show blue only on the rump, tail, and wings. mountain bluebirds feed on insects, and often nest in old woodpecker holes.

Photos by Erwin and Peggy Bauer; Michael Sample

The nonprofit Yellowstone Association educates Yellowstone National Park visitors by offering trip planners, books, videos, and guided classes through Yellowstone Park by our field institute.