With birding, which is the endeavor of actively seeking birds as opposed to birdwatching, Idaho might not be the first place to think of doing so. In fact, Idaho’s state bird is the Mountain Bluebird, which was adopted in 1931. Yet The Gem State sparkles with many opportunities for ornithophiles to see winged wildlife at rest or in motion.
With the Idaho Birding Trail, it’s now easier to become aware of locations across Idaho for birdwatching thanks to this information network. This project was launched in 2005, and the state house passed a resolution the following year, recognizing it as the state’s official birding trail. Since that time, the online version of Idaho Birding Trail has been updated to now feature more than 250 visitor sites. There’s also more help in reaching them with the addition of new GPS coordinates and eBird information. Those who log onto the trail’s website can click on an interactive map that is categorized by the state’s Northern, East-Central, Southwest, and Southeast regions.
Here are ten places to go birding in Idaho, with some of them featured on the trail.
10 Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival
Every fall and spring, Idaho becomes the place to be for seeing thousands of sandhill cranes as they take a rest from their migratory route. Bird watchers who are big fans of cranes should consider connecting with other aficionados at the Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival in Teton Valley. Taking place for its fifth year in 2022, the weeklong festival celebrates the migration of sandhill cranes and is scheduled from September 12 through September 17. During that week, bird-loving festival goers can pre-register for activities ranging from naturalist-led morning tours that circumvent crane habitats, to the film screening of a documentary on conservation efforts in America’s heartland. Aside from the festival, there are a number of places that birdwatchers can go to see sandhill cranes.
9 World Center For Birds Of Prey
As the headquarters for The Peregrine Fund, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise carries out the fund’s mission of conserving raptors all around the world. In September, the center welcomes the public to their “Fall Flights” series held every weekend until November. Staff at the center will bring their education birds outside for navigated flight demonstrations. Hawks, owls, and falcons will soar and swoop amid the seated crowd. Tickets must be purchased in advance to attend these events. Also, in September, the World Center for Birds of Prey puts on an annual Public Condor Release where also people can come to witness captive-bred California Condors being released into the wild. Events aside, the center can be visited during scheduled hours and offers another education programming onsite.
8 Lucky Peak State Park
Ten miles east of Boise in Ada County, Lucky Peak State Park is known for many outdoorsy activities, but it also is the location of the Intermountain Bird Observatory. The observatory is a non-profit academic research and community outreach program of Boise State University that benefits conservation through a trifecta of research, education, and community engagement. At Lucky Peak State Park, the 24/7 observatory’s main research site is open daily to the public during fall migration between July 16 and October 28. Visitors can watch the observatory’s workers catch and band bird species, including songbirds, hawks, and owls.
7 Grays Lake Wildlife Refuge
In Southeast Idaho, this refuge not only protects a portion of Grays Lake, which is a large bulrush marsh that supports what is known as the largest breeding population of sandhill cranes in North America. Also, according to its website, the National Wildlife Refuge System has recorded almost 250 species of birds at the Grays Lake Wildlife Refuge, with 100 of them known to nest within its perimeters. Along with sandhill cranes, other bird species involve waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. The Grays Lake Wildlife Refuge is also a nesting habitat for colonial birds, in particular, a big mixed colony of white-faced ibis and Franklin’s gulls.
6 Morley Nelson Snake River Birds Of Prey National Conservation Area
South of Boise, this rugged conservation area overseen by the Bureau of Land Management is boasted as being home to one of the greatest concentrations of nesting birds of prey in North America. During springtime, it’s said that some 800 pairs of hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons come to the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in order to mate and tend to their young. Yet the fall is an impressive time to come here, as the raptors can be seen soaring in the air and also on the hunt.
5 Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge
Also, in northern Idaho and beside the Selkirk Mountains, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is a place for more than 300 species of wildlife, of which 223 species of birds have been seen here. They come at different times of the year, too. According to the refuge’s website, bald eagles circle around in fall on the hunt for prey and linger on in winter. Springtime brings in more bird species, including Tundra swans and Canadian geese, but later in the season, songbirds and waterfowl come to nest.
4 Hagerman Wildlife Management Area
Also referred to as Hangerman WFA, this preserve is quite a ducky. According to their website, more than 40,000 ducks and geese come upon the WMA for the wintertime. In fact, this preserve was created to provide a habitat for waterfowl and upland game birds, along with other wildlife and plants native to this region in 1the 1940s. According to their website, parts of this WMA are closed off to the public during winter and spring to protect the inhabiting birds. The topography is cool, too, with open-water ponds, wetlands, and sagebrush.
3 Camas National Wildlife Refuge
In a farming community within southeastern Idaho, Camas National Wildlife Refuge has birding as one of its biggest public activities. It’s due to this refuge welcoming a number of migratory birds. Depending on how much time you have, you can drive a short or long route. For those in a time crunch, drive on a 3.5-mile-long auto-tour route; if you have an hour to spare, drive around the refuge’s seven-mile long loop, where you can see a larger amount of wildlife. On their website, the Friends of Camas has compiled a list of waterfowl that can be seen at Camas National Wildlife Refuge, including the Great White-fronted Goose, Trumpeter Swan, American Wigeon, and Blue-winged Teal.
2 Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge
Founded by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge is on land encompassing Lake Lowell and is a breeding ground for migratory birds and wildlife. Along with the lake, the refuge is also made up of the Snake River Islands, which embodies 104 islands. The refuge’s bird population is spread out year-round. At various times in spring, the season brings out resident Canada geese, Bald eagles, osprey, and great-horned owls, among other species. Summer welcomes in western grebes and later on mallards and wood ducks; many species of shorebirds come here, too. Fall starts to see migration patterns change, and then winter sees a rise in the refuge’s duck population. Mallards are many, but there are other species, such as green-winged teal and a variety of geese.
1 C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area
This large land and reservoir area southwest of Boise is where huge numbers of residing and migrating waterfowl are present during their migration and winter periods. It is positioned on the Pacific Flyway. According to Audubon's website, the bird species at the C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area include Snow Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, and dabbling ducks; during winter, it’s possible to see loons, Golden Eagle and Rough-legged Hawk.