Nestled within the Grand Canyon lies a birding haven where more than 450 bird species have been spotted. This iconic destination, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, also holds the distinction of being celebrated as a Globally Important Bird Area. Beyond its geological wonders, the Grand Canyon serves as a crucial stopover for migrating birds during the spring and fall. Whether captivated by the iconic California Condor soaring high above or the majestic elk that grace the canyon’s landscape, the Grand Canyon’s wildlife promises to enhance your visit with memorable moments. Join us as we explore the world of birding in the Grand Canyon.
What Birds to Watch for in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon delights with its bird diversity, hosting some of the rarest species globally, such as the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Mexican Spotted Owls, California Condor, Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, and the Yuma Clapper Rail. Beyond birds, your birding adventure might reveal additional wildlife, including coyotes, bighorn sheep, cougar, mule deer, bobcats, elk, chuckwallas, and more. Moreover, you’ll likely encounter common bird of prey sightings, from the petite Pygmy Owl to the colossal California Condor, spanning hawks, eagles, falcons, ospreys, and owls. These raptors show remarkable hunting skills, such as bald eagles and ospreys catching fish from the Colorado River, falcons pursuing smaller prey, and hawks and golden eagles effortlessly soaring the thermals and scanning the ground below.
Pick up a species checklist from the Grand Canyon Conservancy via NPS.gov or stores in the national park to track your sightings. Some of the rarest and most captivating birds you might encounter include:
The Grand Canyon shelters the endangered California Condor, with fewer than 450 magnificent birds in the wild. Witnessing them gracefully soar through the canyon’s depths is an extraordinary experience. With wingspans exceeding nine feet, they utilize thermals to glide at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Look for them perched in the tall conifer trees, nesting on the cliffs, or roosting in snags.
The iconic national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle, boasts a distinctive white head and tail, complemented by a brown body and wingspans ranging from 5.9 to 7.5 feet. Spot them within approximately a mile of the Colorado River, perched on the edges of cliffs, atop rocky pinnacles, and amidst the trees.
Mexican Spotted Owls
These elusive owls inhabit the quieter corners of the park. Their distinct hoots and silent flight add to the allure for birding enthusiasts. Seek them roosting in rocky canyons during the day, with your best chances of encountering them as they commence their foraging activities at sunset and under the cover of darkness throughout the night.
Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
Easily recognized by their vibrant yellow bills, these migratory birds are a visual delight as they scour vegetation and water sources, like the Colorado River, for insects. They perch motionless on tree branches, scanning the foliage for their next meal.
Yuma Clapper Rail
With patience and keen observation, you may spot the secretive Yuma Clapper Rail with its long orange bill along the Colorado River’s banks. These marsh birds adapt well to the canyon’s unique ecosystems but depend on living near water for survival.
Where to Spot Birds in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon National Park offers many locations to explore its rich bird diversity. Here are some of the prime spots to immerse yourself in the world of birdwatching:
Hike to Shoshone Point
Distance: 2.1 miles
Time: Approximately 45 minutes
This family-friendly 2.1-mile out-and-back trail leads you through a serene ponderosa pine forest to a picturesque picnic area at Shoshone Point. The trail treats you to breathtaking sunset views, making it a splendid choice for nature enthusiasts. Common bird sightings include the Common Rave, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and the Turkey Vulture. Leashed dogs are welcome, allowing the whole family to enjoy the adventure.
Hike the Grand Canyon Greenway
Time: About 1 hour and 40 minutes
Stroll along the Grand Canyon Greenway, a generally easy 5-mile route, beginning at the Visitor Center and winding through the Village Loop. This pathway offers a scenic journey with the steel arch bridge over Glen Canyon Dam in view. Along the way, you’ll often encounter elk, adding to the wildlife sightings. There are pedestrian walkways on both sides, providing fantastic views of the dam and the Colorado River below.
Trek the Cliff Spring Trail
Distance: 1 mile
Time: Around 35 minutes
For a unique perspective on the Grand Canyon’s beauty, try the moderate 1-mile out-and-back Cliff Spring Trail. As you hike, you’ll admire a side canyon from within rather than just from above. The path leads to a seeping spring and offers a well-shaded route. In the first five minutes, you’ll come across a granary structure, walk beneath massive cliff overhangs, witness hanging gardens, and discover a picturesque canyon view. Beyond the spring, be cautious of loose rocks on the terrain.
Hike from South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point
Distance: 1.8 miles
Time: Average of 1 hour and 15 minutes
Embark on the moderately challenging South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. This trail takes you below the rim of the Grand Canyon, offering extraordinary views. For the ascent, it’s advisable to use hiking poles. The journey promises to be truly rewarding, with stunning vistas awaiting you.
South Rim Viewpoints
Along the paved South Rim, bird enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities for spotting their feathered friends. Some notable locations include Mather Point, offering views of majestic California Condors that have begun nesting and roosting along the cliffs, Grand Canyon Village, and Lookout Studio near Grand Canyon Village, known for bird of prey sightings.
Drive the House Rock Valley Road
To catch a glimpse of the iconic California Condor, head north to House Rock Valley Road, situated between Lees Ferry and Jacob Lake, north of U.S. 98A. A few miles along this road, you’ll find signs and viewpoints that provide a vantage point for observing the condor release site high above the cliffs to the east. For more information about the condor-release program, head to The Peregrine Fund website.
Take the Scenic Desert View Drive
For a picturesque drive and birding experience, take Arizona State Route 64, known as Desert View Drive. This 23-mile scenic road connects Desert View with Grand Canyon Village and is located near the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. Along this route, you’ll discover six captivating canyon viewpoints, the historic Desert View Watchtower, and the ancient Tusayan Pueblo Site, making it a prime location for birdwatching against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon’s stunning landscapes.
Book a Mule Ride into the Canyon
Some mule ride tours, like the one to Phantom Ranch, take you down into the canyon, offering a time-honored way to reach the Colorado River while enjoying a guided experience.
Cruise the Colorado River on a Boat Tour
Many visitors opt for a boat trip down the Colorado River. These guided trips provide a unique perspective of the Grand Canyon’s geological wonders and take you into the beating heart of the canyon, where many wildlife forage for food and sip water.
Best Time of Day for Bird Watching
While you can encounter wildlife throughout the day, the best times for bird watching are during the tranquil moments of dawn when birds are the most active. Consider equipping yourself with binoculars, a spotting scope, or a telephoto lens for an up-close view.
When to Go Bird Watching in the Grand Canyon
For the ultimate birding experience, plan your visit during the spring and fall when numerous bird species migrate north or south, ensuring the highest diversity of birds in the Grand Canyon.
Where to Stay Near the Grand Canyon
To make the most of your birding adventure, consider staying at Under Canvas Grand Canyon, situated on 160 acres of secluded piñon and juniper forest just 25 minutes from the South Rim entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Voted one of the ‘Best Resort Hotels in Arizona’ by Travel + Leisure and featured in Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘Top 15 Resorts in the U.S. – Southwest,’ Under Canvas offers upscale accommodations that immerse you in the natural beauty of the region.
So, grab your binoculars, pack your sense of wonder, and book your stay at Under Canvas Grand Canyon for an opportunity to explore the rich bird diversity in this natural wonderland.