Information for Birders
of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Because of its outstanding habitat diversity, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a unique and exciting place to birdwatch. A total of 232 bird species have been recorded at Red Rock Lakes and in the Centennial Valley.
Popular Birding Spots
Bird diversity is highest where several habitat types are found together. One of the best birding spots on the Refuge is the Upper Red Rock Lake Campground. This site has large open water, mudflats, aspens, willows, grass, sagebrush uplands, and stands of evergreen trees all nearby. Other popular places to birdwatch include the Lower Structure, Idlewild, Odell Creek to Sparrow Pond, between Shambo Pond and the Upper Lake Campground, along Elk Lake Road, and Pintail Ditch West.
Of the 232 bird species recorded here, 53 are considered rare or accidental. This means they are observed very infrequently in restricted habitat or are outside of their normal range here. In the past two years rare birds such as great egret, whooping crane, wood duck, turkey vulture, dunlin, northern mockingbird, northern parula, black-and-white warbler, northern oriole, rose-breasted grosbeak, and grasshopper sparrow have been seen. Another bird considered rare here that does nott normally get many oohs and aahs elsewhere is the rock dove!
Because our winters are harsh, only a small percentage of species found on the Refuge stay through the winter. Our year-round residents include belted kingfisher, American dipper, northern goshawk, golden and bald eagles, dusky and ruffed grouse, great gray and great horned owls, hairy and downy woodpeckers, Stellars jay, black-billed magpie, Clarks nutcracker, common raven, black-capped and mountain chickadees, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, pine grosbeak, red crossbill, and pine siskin.
Some birds winter here but leave in the spring to breed in the north. Our winter birds include northern shrike, rough-legged hawk, snow bunting, American tree sparrow, common redpoll, and rosy finch.
Several waterfowl species stay here in the winter on small ponds fed by warm springs. This includes waterfowl such as the trumpeter swan, Canada goose, mallard, common and Barrows goldeneye, American wigeon, bufflehead, and hooded merganser.
Winter swans and ducks
Canada geese on Shambo Pond
Grasslands and Sagebrush
The Refuges grasslands have low bird diversity, which is typical of most grasslands. Only seven bird species are seen regularly in our grasslands. The most common grassland birds are the long-billed curlew, willet, sandhill crane, western meadowlark, horned lark, Savannah sparrow, and vesper sparrow. In areas of sagebrush, particularly on the northern side of the Refuge, watch for sage grouse, sage thrasher, vesper sparrow, and Brewers sparrow. Also using the grasslands are raptors such as short-eared owl, red-tailed hawk, Swainsons hawk, American kestrel, prairie falcon, and northern harrier.
Riparian habitats, along creeks and rivers, and willow bogs tend to be more diverse than the grasslands. In the willows, look for spotted sandpiper, Wilson's snipe, willow flycatcher, house wren, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, Wilsons warbler, Lincoln's sparrow, and song sparrow.
The Refuge has several kinds of woodland habitats and a variety of birds associated with them. In the trees, keep an eye and ear out for western wood-pewee, olive-sided flycatcher, chickadees, nuthatches, Townsends solitaire, kinglets, warbling vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, western tanager, red crossbill, Cassins finch, dark-eyed junco, chipping sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow.
Wetlands and Mudflats
The areas along the edges of our lakes and
ponds are fascinating areas to look for birds. Here is the best place to find marsh birds
and shorebirds such as sora, American avocet, killdeer, marbled godwit, willet, spotted
sandpiper, Wilsons phalarope, marsh wren, yellow-headed blackbird, and red-winged
blackbird. These are also excellent areas from which to see the many species of waterfowl
on the Refuge including trumpeter swan, lesser scaup, redhead, canvasback, ruddy duck, mallard, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, northern shoveler, gadwall, northern pintail, and American wigeon.
Many people ask about the bird boxes on the fence posts along the road. These are bluebird boxes maintained by the Refuge. Birds using these boxes are primarily mountain bluebirds and tree swallows, birds which normally nest in cavities in trees. Our mountain bluebird population, unlike other bluebird species, has been thriving. There is abundant natural nesting habitat for them in the old aspen stands along the base of the Centennial Mountains. The mountain bluebirds do sometimes have to compete with European starlings and tree swallows for nest sites. Our starling population is relatively small but has been increasing the past few years. We do not have western bluebirds nesting on the Refuge. Our elevation is higher than what western bluebirds normally prefer.