With five major national parks, six national forests, and more than 40 state parks and recreation areas, Utah has more than 37 million acres of protected and public lands in its borders. Inside those millions of acres are a wide range of diverse habitats, from alpine forests and mountain meadows to scrub canyons, sprawling wetlands, sage plateaus, and open deserts. This habitat diversity and Utah’s prime position on the Central North American migration flyway make it an ideal birding destination, with more than 460 bird species recorded in the Beehive State. Whether you are a native Utahan, a new migrant to the area, or just planning a birding visit, you won’t want to miss these 30 best birds to watch for in Utah.
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The Clark’s grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii) is an uncommon but breeding resident of northern Utah during the summer. These birds prefer freshwater marshes and are often seen with the more common western grebes. Look for the brighter yellow bill and more extensive white on the face to tell Clark’s grebes and western grebes apart.
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The largest of the North American buteos, the ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) is found year-round in southern and western Utah but spreads throughout the northern part of the state in the summer. This bird’s large, yellow feet and the dark feathering on its legs that creates distinctive “bloomers” can help birders identify it in flight.
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Though not a resident bird in Utah, the snow goose (Chen caerulescens) moves through the state in huge numbers in late winter, inspiring local festivals to witness its tremendous flocks. Not only will Utah birders see plenty of these all-white geese, but the rare blue morph is also present in the flocks and is great to add to one’s life list.
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The tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) nests in the Arctic, but birders in Utah can see them in the northern part of the state during the winter months. This is the furthest inland these birds stay as seasonal residents, and they’re easily distinguished from migrating trumpeter swans by their smaller size and more colorful bills.Continue to 5 of 30 below.
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A colorful shorebird, the white-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) prefers marsh habitats and is easy to see in northern Utah during the summer, particularly around the Great Salt Lake. Though very similar to the glossy ibis found in Florida and throughout the coastal southeast, these birds do not have overlapping ranges.
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The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a year-round resident in extreme northern and northeastern Utah, where it relies on undisturbed sagebrush flats and plateau habitats. These birds are highly sought after by birders, and visiting a mating lek when the birds are dancing in spring is the best option for seeing them.
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The snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) breeds in northern Utah on alkali flats around the Great Salt Lake. The bird’s dark, broken “necklace” marking is a good identification characteristic but these plovers can still be difficult to see because of its light-colored plumage that is ideal camouflage for beach and marsh habitats.
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The Wilson’s phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) is a colorful and energetic shorebird. Found on brackish lakes with rich insect life, these birds breed in tremendous flocks in northern Utah. Birders should also note its fast spinning behavior while foraging. Unlike many birds, female Wilson’s phalaropes are more colorful than males.Continue to 9 of 30 below.
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Large and majestic, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is found year-round in Utah in the open, wilderness areas of the state, as well as in mountain canyons. These solitary raptors can be difficult to spot, but once birders see them soaring and the sun glinting off their metallic head and nape, golden eagles are unforgettable.
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Several owl species can be seen in Utah, and the northern pygmy-owl (Glaucidium gnoma) is one of the easiest to spot because it is regularly active during the day and can be recognized by its long tail and distinctive eye spots on the back of the head. Small but mighty, these owls prefer mountain forest habitats and are year-round residents throughout Utah.
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Native in Asia and the Middle East, the chukar (Alectoris chukar) was introduced in the western United States as a game bird, and it has made itself at home in the dry, rocky canyons and scrub desert habitats of Utah. It is a year-round resident, and its bold colors and markings make chukars some of the easiest partridges to identify.
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Often a surprise to birders who don’t expect to see it so far from its namesake state, the California quail (Callipepla californica) is widespread in central Utah year-round. Large coveys of these plump, chicken-like birds can even be seen in suburban areas and are easy to attract to yards where thicket-like cover and ground feeders are available.Continue to 13 of 30 below.
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Formerly known as the western scrub-jay before the species was split in 2016, the Woodhouse’s scrub-jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii) is a curious and intelligent bird found year-round in all of Utah. These birds prefer pinyon pine forests but are opportunistic and will visit feeders if peanuts, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn are offered.
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Another widespread western jay, the Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is darker than the eastern blue jay and is easily recognized by its rich coloration and jaunty crest as well as its harsh voice. These birds are an alpine species and stay in the mountains, and are found year-round in Utah but are absent from the state’s northwestern corner.
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The American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) is a year-round Utah resident in mountain canyons where fast, active rivers and streams are abundant. Relatively plain, these birds are energetic in the water, dipping, diving, and even flying underwater as they forage. They nest under banks and stay in family groups in late summer and early fall.
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The Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is a hardy corvid found year-round in all of Utah’s mountainous areas. These birds stay at higher elevations and are often seen near the tree line, though they do move to slightly lower altitudes in winter. They are easy to find at campsites, where savvy nutcrackers will rob campers of any treats they can snag.Continue to 17 of 30 below.
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The bold head stripes of the mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) are easy to recognize, and these spritely birds are found in all but extreme western Utah year-round. They are higher elevation birds and prefer pine habitats, where they often mix with other small birds such as kinglets, nuthatches, titmice, and creepers.
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The juniper titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi) is one of the plainest titmouse species but is still a target species for birders visiting Utah. Find this energetic bird year-round throughout the state, though they’re more common in southern Utah. These birds prefer dense juniper and pinyon pine forests that are generally drier than other habitats.
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One of several notable woodpecker species that can be seen in Utah, the red-naped sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) is one of the more colorful woodpeckers and can be found throughout the state in the summer. These birds prefer aspen and pine forests with larger, more mature trees, and are easy to spot in Utah’s broad forests.
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Brilliantly colored, the violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) is widespread throughout the Rocky Mountain region in summer, including all of Utah. Look for these green, purple, and white swallows in river-carved mountain canyons and other riparian areas where their colors flash in the sun as they dart and dive while foraging for insects.Continue to 21 of 30 below.
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A richly colored wren with a plain white throat, the canyon wren (Catherpes mexicanus) is a year-round Utah resident in rocky canyons. These birds forage among the rocks, probing their long bills into cracks and crevices as they seek out insects and larvae. Identify these wrens carefully, however, as they can look similar to the paler rock wren.
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Another alpine species, the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides) is a summer visitor to all of Utah, where it can be seen in alpine meadows and prairie habitats. Watch for these bluebirds perched on posts or branches before they drop down to snatch insects on the ground. In extreme southern Utah, mountain bluebirds may be seen year-round.
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One of the most colorful mountain finches, the black rosy-finch (Leucosticte atrata) is relatively dark overall but shows pink on the wings and gray on the head. These birds are easiest to see in winter when they will readily visit feeding stations in Utah’s northern mountains, often mixed with the more common gray-crowned rosy-finch.
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The broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) is one of the most common summer hummingbirds in Utah, and its rich, red throat is a key identification feature. These hummingbirds make buzzy, metallic trills with their wings, and are often heard before they are seen. Fortunately, they’re easy to attract to hummingbird feeders.Continue to 25 of 30 below.
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Widely recognized as one of the most aggressive hummingbird species, the rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) migrates through Utah in late summer when mountain meadows are blooming with nectar-rich flowers. They readily come to feeders and will vigorously guard prime feeding spots, chasing other hummingbirds away.
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The green-tailed towhee (Pipilo chlorurus) is aptly named for its green tail, but don’t miss its rusty cap, greenish wings, or white throat when looking for this summer Utah visitor. These birds prefer low, brushy thickets and chaparral habitats, often along streams, and are more common in the northern half of the state but can be seen in southern Utah as well.
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One of Utah’s most colorful songbirds, the western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) is a summer visitor and is more common in the state’s eastern conifer forests than in the drier, more barren western half of the state. Males with their red heads are more brightly colored than females, but both genders are great to see and can even be spotted in urban and suburban areas.
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The plumbeous vireo (Vireo plumbeus) is easily recognized by its gray plumage, two white wing bars, and thick white “spectacles” that mark the face. These birds are summer Utah residents, generally in forested mountain canyons with pine and oak trees. They’re easiest to identify in spring and summer when their freshly molted plumage is most distinct.Continue to 29 of 30 below.
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Black-Throated Gray Warbler
One of the more distinctive warblers to visit Utah in the summer, the black-throated gray warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) has pied plumage with a yellow spot on the lores. These birds prefer dry foothill regions with scrub vegetation as well as oak and juniper trees and are less common in the extreme northern part of the state.
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Though widespread throughout the west in the summer, the California gull (Larus californicus) has a special place in the hearts of Utahans as the official state bird. These gulls are seen year-round in northern Utah in marshes and both urban and suburban parks, often mixing with other gulls including the ring-billed gull in winter and the Franklin’s gull in summer.
These 30 fantastic birds of Utah are only the start of the great birds to see in the Beehive State, but if Utah isn't on your birding travel list, try these other amazing destinations for more great birds.