My 14 Best Bird Watching Spots in Idaho You Should Try

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At least 433 species of birds have been recorded in the state of Idaho. The state has many bird habitats, such as sagebrush, wetlands, and forests. This article describes the best spots that you should go to see birds in Idaho. 

The best bird watching spots in Idaho are those that form part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, so at Harriman and Henrys Lake State Parks. Other good spots occur at reservoirs and along wetlands, for instance, at American Falls and Lake Cascade State Park.

A table giving the most interesting birds you can see at each of my top 14 birding spots in Idaho:

Hagerman Wildlife Management AreaCaspian Tern and Ruddy Duck
Camas National Wildlife RefugeGreater Sage-Grouse and Sandhill Crane
American Falls ReservoirAmerican White Pelican and Trumpeter Swan
Market Lake Wildlife Management AreaBlack-necked Stilt and Ring-billed Gull
Mink Creek Recreation AreaFlammulated Owl and Calliope Hummingbird
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation AreaPrairie Falcon and Golden Eagle
Harriman State ParkTrumpeter Swan and Osprey
Deer Flat National Wildlife RefugeBald Eagle and Common Merganser
Mud Lake Wildlife Management AreaEared Grebe and Sage Grouse
C. J. Strike Wildlife Management AreaRough-legged Hawks and Western Grebes
City of Rocks National ReserveBurrowing Owl and Virginia’s Warbler
Henrys Lake State ParkFranklin’s Gull and Long-billed Curlew
Lake Cascade State ParkWestern Grebe and Great Gray Owl
Eagle Island State ParkCommon Yellowthroat and Wilson’s Phalarope
Best Places to Bird Watch in Idaho

Read further to learn more information on each of my top bird watching spots in Idaho, including the types of birds and species you most likely will find in each spot.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Idaho
Best Bird Watching Spots in Idaho

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Idaho

Besides the bird watching spots I like, there is also a bird watching trail in Idaho, where you can see many different bird species. It is worth investigating a few places besides my top birding spots. 

1. Hagerman Wildlife Management Area

This 880-acre wildlife area is located in south-central Idaho along the Snake River. There are wetlands present in the area, which attract many waterfowl. The Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls have been seen here before.

The Hagerman Wildlife Management Area was initially formed as a conservation area for waterfowl to provide a suitable habitat for overwintering ducks, geese, teals, and many other birds.

Ducks you can see here include Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks, and Redheads. You can also see Green-winged and Cinnamon Teals and Canada Geese.

In the grasses and other vegetation surrounding the ponds, you can look for Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Northern Harriers.

Harriers are usually seen flying low over the marsh and grassy areas. Several birds breed in the area, including Caspian Tern, Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail, and Yellow-breasted Chat.

2. Camas National Wildlife Refuge 

This refuge is in the southeastern part of Idaho, with 10,500 acres in area. This is a must-visit site, with a record of 260 bird species. You can find an assortment of waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, and others in the refuge.

You can also take a good car route that passes through upland and wetland areas. While on the car route and out in the refuge on foot, you should keep an eye out for these species: Greater Sage-Grouse, American Bittern, Sandhill Crane, Sage Thrasher, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Black-crowned Night=Heron.

Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit this refuge to see a lot of Sandhill Cranes and migrating songbirds. Winter is an excellent time to see Bald Eagles in the refuge.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

3. American Falls Reservoir

American Falls Reservoir is a good bird watching spot, with as many as 200 species recorded here. Besides the open water, mudflats, riparian willows, bottomland cottonwood forests, and nearby agricultural areas provide bird habitats.

In winter, you can find thousands of waterfowl on the open water—other bird species. There occur here, such as Bald Eagles, American White Pelicans, and Trumpeter Swans.

Shorebird species include the American Golden Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Baird’s Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Godwit. The Sandhill Cranes also visit the reservoir each year.

4. Market Lake Wildlife Management Area

I like visiting this wildlife area to see shorebirds and waterfowl. The area is 5,000 acres in size and consists of wetlands and sagebrush grasslands.

The birds you can see here include White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron, American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt, Ring-billed Gull, and Forster’s Tern.

Check the shoreline and reeds for secretive species such as the Sora and Virginia Rail. You can find Bullock Orioles, Short-eared Owls, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds on the land. 

TOP TIP: Many bird species fly in flocks for safety. Find out which birds these are and discover many other interesting bird facts in this article. Some bird species fly along with boats. Find out the fascinating reason here.

5. Mink Creek Recreation Area

This area occurs in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. This conservation area has high elevations, so a spring, summer, and fall trip is best. 

There are several trails and picnic areas at Mink Creek, specifically at Cherry Springs Nature Area, where you can look for birds.

Birds you can see in the area include the following: Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Tanager, and Black-headed Grosbeak.

Higher up along the road running through the Mink Creek area, you can find birds like Flammulated Owls and Northern Pygmy-Owls. Other species recorded in the area include Hammond’s Flycatcher and Mountain Chickadee.

6. Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area

This conservation area is known for its raptors. It is a 485,000-acre area that is comprised of cliffs and canyons surrounding the Snake River. The area is found south of Boise, Idaho.

You can find a high density of birds of prey here, including the Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Merlin, Cooper’s Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Osprey, and Prairie Falcon.

The area has the highest number of Prairie Falcon nests in the world. You can use a current bird species checklist when bird watching in the area.

Other birds besides raptors can be seen here. Passerines such as American Goldfinches, American Tree Sparrows, and House Wrens can be found. You can also see Sand Martins and Violet-green Swallows.

7. Harriman State Park

This region is considered a part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Harriman State Park has a mixture of grasslands, wetlands, and coniferous forests. 

Close to 190 species of birds have been recorded in this 16,000-acre refuge. It was established initially to conserve waterfowl and consists of many trails and lakes. 

Trumpeter Swans and Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks can be found here. Red-necked Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, and Caspian Terns can be spotted on the lakes in the refuge. Keep an eye out for Ospreys, Bald Eagles, and Great Blue Herons.

Other birds are also found here on land, including the Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin. A Great Gray Owl has been seen in the park recently.

8. Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge

Deer Flat is 11,300 acres in size and is located in the southwestern part of Idaho; the large area of the refuge means you should stop at the headquarters to get a map to help you find your way around. The refuge includes Lake Lowell and surrounding vegetation.

A couple of trails go through sagebrush, along the lake, and through forests. You can expect to see birds in the refuge, including the Common Merganser, Mallard, American Wigeon, and Snow Goose.

Species that nest in the park include California Quail, Clark’s Grebe, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole, Bald Eagle, and Osprey. 

9. Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area

This area is in southeastern Idaho and is 11,468 acres in size. The area includes a lake that provides a habitat for waterfowl. You can see Eared Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, American White Pelicans here, and Trumpeter Swans.

In the uplands area, you can also find birds like Ring-necked Pheasants, Sage Grouse, and Gray Partridges. Horned Larks and Eastern Kingbirds can also be found in the vegetation surrounding the lake. 

Winter brings several raptors to the area, including Rough-legged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Golden Eagles. Short-eared Owls nest in the area, as do many other birds, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Bullocks Orioles.

10. C. J. Strike Wildlife Management Area

This management area is south of Boise and is one of my favorite bird watching spots. However, note that some parts of the area are closed during winter to avoid disturbing nesting birds. 

Several migrating songbirds can be found here, including Yellow Warblers. Look out for Willow Flycatchers and Cliff Swallows as well.

Rough-legged Hawks and Trumpeter Swans are common in winter here. You can find Clark and Western Grebes on the open water in the area, and you can see American White Pelicans and Ospreys.

11. City of Rocks National Reserve

This reserve is just north of the Utah border in south-central Idaho. You can find at least 180 species of birds here. The area consists of rocky cliffs and a high desert. This means you can find some unusual species adapted to this reserve’s harsh conditions.

Birds you can find here include the Pinyon Jay, Burrowing Owl, Golden Eagle, Virginia’s Warbler, Red-naped Sapsucker, Plumbeous Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, Prairie Falcon, and Sage Grouse.

You can also see Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins in the refuge. A checklist is available for the area you can use on your bird watching trip here.

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

12. Henrys Lake State Park

This is a 585-acre park that is found about 15 miles west of Yellowstone Park. Henrys Lake State Park is exceptional for waterfowl and shorebirds. Other types of birds can also be seen in the vegetation surrounding the lake.

People have seen over 1000 Franklin’s Gulls here and many other birds like Long-billed Curlews, Trumpeter Swans, Greater Sage Grouse, and Black-crowned Night Herons.

13. Lake Cascade State Park

This park covers 27,000 acres and includes a lake. The park is located 75 miles north of Boise. The Western Grebe is present and nests in this park in large numbers. Another special bird you can see that nest here is the Great Gray Owl.

You can find many other birds at Lake Cascade State Park, including Common Loons, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, and American White Pelicans. 

14. Eagle Island State Park

The Boise River borders this park; it is 545 acres in size. The birds you can see here include Wood Ducks, Ospreys, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue-winged Teal, and Wilson’s Phalaropes. The Yellowthroats and Yellow-rumped Warblers can be found in the vegetation surrounding the lake.

Raptors such as the American Kestrel, Swainson’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed Hawk can also be found in Eagle Island State Park.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Idaho

You can bird watch at any time of the year in Idaho, but you will find that some types of birds are more common during certain seasons. 

Songbirds and Sandhill CranesSpring
Bald Eagles and WaterfowlWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Idaho

The Idaho State Bird

Mountain Bluebird - The Idaho State Bird
Mountain Bluebird – The Idaho State Bird

The Idaho State Bird is the Mountain Bluebird. The males of this species are turquoise blue all over the body, while the females are also blue on top but have lighter grayish-brown underparts and a slightly orange-tinged throat. 

The Mountain Bluebird feeds on fruit and also small arthropods, including insects. They nest in nest boxes or natural cavities in trees. They are conspicuous birds because they sit and sing from a bare branch or other exposed perch.

Bird Watching Laws in Idaho

It would be best if you obeyed all laws, including federal laws, about wild indigenous birdlife. You cannot remove the eggs, chicks, or any part of a wild bird.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Idaho is a great state to bird watch in because of the variety of habitats available. Such habitats include open grassland, forests, cliffs, lakes, sagebrush, and deserts. It is also a good place for migrating waterfowl and nesting Bald Eagles. I recommend Idaho as a state to visit for bird watching.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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