Beaks by the Peaks, Birdwatching in Grand Teton

Beaks by the Peaks, Birdwatching in Grand Teton

While Yellowstone is amazing and has the unique aspect of geysers, if you are just interested in wildlife, and can’t BEAR me talking about geysers, here are some wildlife posts just for you, fresh from Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton National Park is an incredible wildlife hotspot, with everything from bears to Baird’s sparrows (a small and quite cute little bird). Since the park is large and has lots of wildlife viewing spots, it might be best to take a guided tour early on in order to learn where to go to find the wildlife you’re looking for. Just remember, I don’t want to sound like your mother, but don’t be the tourist who tries to take a selfie with a bear, and don’t forget to both respect the wildlife and to bring bear spray.


So, to start things out, I would like to mention a few details, just so you know. If you decide to take the same tour we did, the tour company is Ecotour Adventures, and we had to wake up really early to start the tour. Now, for the more interesting parts. Our guide for our bird-focused tour, Tyler, was extremely knowledgeable about the local birds, and although I get the sense he doesn’t get to do many bird tours, he is very good at them. Our tour was extremely successful, and we got to see tons of different species of birds. Part of our key to success on the birding tour was the fact that we didn’t stop for any other wildlife, and literally ignored a moose to attempt to find a sapsucker (a type of woodpecker). Also, I have an important tip for wildlife watching in Grand Teton, if anyone asks you what you are looking at, tell them that you’re birdwatching, even if you aren’t. And, unless the person you’re telling knows our guide, Tyler, they will probably just drive off without asking any more questions. This trick is quite effective at driving off tourists, and if anyone stays, they deserve to see what you’re looking at.

The first place we went on our birding tour tour was the fish hatchery outside of town. This seemed like an odd place to look for birds, but Tyler explained that not only was there a pond nearby, some fishing birds liked to raid the hatchery for a free meal. When we showed up, the pond was empty except for a few waterfowl, but there was a kingfisher nearby. This kingfisher was holding a fish fresh from the hatchery pool, still flopping in its beak. It sat on the pole of a nearby fence for a little while, then flew off, still carrying the huge fish in its beak.


After the hatchery, we traveled out into the plains, looking for a good place to stop and see sage grouse. On the way out to the sagebrush, we saw some pronghorns, which look a lot like goats, but are actually a type of sheep. They are also extremely fast, to the point where they have almost no land predators. One of their few predators happens to have the advantage of flight (large eagles). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any being chased, but they were still super pretty, and had awesome horns and eyelashes. When we reached the sagebrush, we were rewarded with tons of sparrows, of multiple different types, and a super pretty meadowlark. Shortly after getting out of the car in a grouse spot, we saw a horned lark. It was quite pretty, but the really cool part was the sage thrasher that showed up on a ridge not far from us. Tyler was quite intrigued, as he had never seen one around this area. By the end of the grouse outing, we still hadn’t seen any grouse, but we did see a green-tailed towhee, which was Tyler’s favorite bird. Not only is it rather rare to see a green bird, this one was somehow cute and elegant at the same time. It was a small brown and gray bird with a long, green tail. After the sagebrush areas, we got onto a dirt side road on our way back to the main loop. Before we reached the main road, though, a northern harrier skimmed by, then disappeared into the distance like a gray phantom. Northern Harriers are extremely elusive, especially the males (which are light gray, and are often known as the “gray ghost”) so we got quite lucky to see one.


Horned Lark
Green-Tailed Towhee


The next place we went was a secret spot that Tyler had found. We went into the forest, with the beautiful trees rising like giant spears into the sky. This trail had tons of birds on it, with everything from the yellow warbler to the harry woodpecker, and even some Swainson’s hawks flying outside the forest. The harry woodpecker was a rather bedraggled bird, with some very messy feathers, but it was cool to see it all the same. We thought we heard an owl at one point, but after entering a clearing in search of it, we discovered that it was a stellar’s jay making an owl-like noise. Even though I had my hopes up that we had found an owl in the forest, I have to hand it to that jay, it was an incredible mimic! It could even fool me and Tyler (I consider us to both be relatively competent birders). You may have noticed that I tried not to give a comprehensive description of this forest area. That is because it is Tyler’s secret, and I doubt he would like it if I just told you where it is.

Hairy Woodpecker

The last spot Tyler took us, which was home to some awesome birds, is the marsh outside downtown Jackson. It might seem like a strange place to look, considering that it was at the edge of town, across from a restaurant with a moose statue outside, but this marsh is home to yellow-headed blackbirds, which are extremely pretty birds with butter-yellow heads. The marsh is also home to red-winged blackbirds, which are extremely pretty, and some types of marsh warblers (we heard them, but never saw them, maybe you could be lucky enough to find one)! There were also hordes of Canada Geese and quite a few magpies!

Red-Winged Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird


While you might go to Grand Teton National Park for the bears or the moose, the place has a ton of unique birds too. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the moose situation soon, but until then, you should definitely check out the birds of the area. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and find a sage grouse! I certainly wish I did, but it was great even without them!