My 14 Best Bird Watching Spots in Utah You Should Try

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases with no additional costs for you.

Utah is a terrific state for birds because it is in the Central flyway of bird migration. The state has recorded 460 species of birds at various times during the year. It is not always easy to know the top places to find birds, so I have compiled this list for you.

The best bird watching spots in Utah are in the south at Lytle Ranch Preserve and Tonaquint and the Great Salt Lake Basin at Zion and Antelope Island State Parks. Other good spots for bird watching include mountainous places such as Big Cottonwood Canyon and Mirror Lake.

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

Lytle Ranch PreserveCommon Black-Hawk and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers
Fish Springs National Wildlife RefugeTundra Swan and Short-eared Owl
Zion National ParkSpotted Owl and California Condor
Ouray National Wildlife RefugeWilson’s Phalarope and Forster’s Tern
Antelope Island State ParkEared Grebe and Sage Thrasher
Farmington Bay Wildlife Management AreaBald Eagle and Black Tern
Bear River Migratory Bird RefugeBlack-necked Stilts and White-faced Ibis
Quail Creek State ParkYellow-billed Loon and White-winged Scoter
Mirror LakeGolden Eagle and Hammond’s Flycatcher
Big Cottonwood CanyonCalliope Hummingbird and Dusky Grouse
Pariette WetlandsAmerican Bittern and Gadwall
Desert LakeSandhill Crane and Greater Yellowlegs
Tonaquint Nature CenterAbert’s Towhee and Ruby-crowned Kinglets
Utah Lake State ParkPacific Wren and Mountain Bluebird
Best Places to Bird Watch in Utah

Read on to find out more about my top choices for bird watching spots in the state of Utah.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Utah
Best Bird Watching Spots in Utah

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 Utah

A diversity of habitats and topography provides lots of places for birds to feed, rest, and breed. Utah has a range of habitats, including deserts, forests, mountains, and wetlands. This is very important for migrants as well, who need a safe place to rest and feed before continuing their journey.

1. Lytle Ranch Preserve

This area is part of the Mojave desert and is located in the southwest region of Utah. Natural springs here provide water, creating an oasis in the desert. Access is controlled by Brigham Young University, whom you need to contact if you are planning a visit.

A complete checklist of the 272 bird species is also available for you to use. Keep an eye out for Common Black-Hawk, which breeds in the preserve.

Some other birds you can find here include Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Phainopeplas, Costa’s Hummingbirds, Lazuli Buntings, Summer Tanagers, and Hooded and Scott’s Orioles. 

2. Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge

This is an excellent refuge out in the desert, but you must ensure you are well-supplied before making this trip.

It is a long drive on roads that are not all paved, and the optimal time for a visit is between fall and spring. You should find out more information to plan a safe trip. 

This refuge is on the southern border of the Great Salt Lake Desert. Fish Springs is a 17,992-acre refuge consisting of wetlands with the surrounding vegetation. The refuge was established for waterfowl conservation and as a stopover for migrating species.

Birds you can see here include the Trumpeter Swan, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Tundra Swan. Also, keep an eye out for the rare Reddish Egret; Short-eared Owl and Prairie Falcon are also found here.

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. Zion National Park

This park combines the elements from the Mojave desert, the Colorado Plateau, and the Great Basin. It is a must-visit park for bird watchers because there is a chance of seeing the endangered California Condor around the cliffs.

The Spotted Owl is another bird to look out for. These are in the wooded canyons of the park. Other bird species to find here include American Dipper in the river, Painted Redstart, Pinyon Jay, and White-throated Swift, among others.

4. Ouray National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge encompasses 16 miles along the Green River and includes cottonwood trees, grasslands, marshes, and wetlands. 

Watch for birds like Wilson’s Phalarope, Forster’s Tern, Gadwall, Western Grebe, Virginia Rail, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Clark’s Grebe during spring and summer, and Yellow-headed Blackbird.

You can find Northern Harriers, Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Forster’s Terns, Say’s Phoebes, and Black-headed Grosbeaks in the grasslands.

5. Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake is where thousands of birds stop over during migration. Wilson’s Phalarope, Eared Grebe, Western Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, and Bonaparte’s Gull can all be found in or on the lake edge.

Birds such as the Sage Thrasher, Horned Lark, Brewer’s Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow can be found in the nearby vegetation.

6. Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area

This is another birding hotspot found on the Great Salt Lake. Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area has 252 species of birds recorded. Many habitats here include salt marshes, saltwater, freshwater, and mud flats.

You can see the following birds: Northern Harrier, Tundra Swan, Bufflehead, Herring Gull, Eared Grebe, American Wigeon, California Quail, Bald Eagle, and Barn Owl.

There are a couple of roads and trails in the area that you can take, but some areas may be closed when birds are busy nesting. 

Winter is optimal for seeing hundreds of Bald Eagles and birds like the American Pipit, Sandhill Crane, Snowy Plover, Forster, and Black Terns. You can also see thousands of Tundra Swans migrating through here in December and in March.

TOP TIP: Read this Complete Guide to discover the best season for bird watching in your area. This article discusses bird wings and how different they all are!

7. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Bear River Refuge is on the northern side of the Great Salt Lake. This area is 80,000 acres and consists of open water areas, marshes, and mud flats. You can drive on a 12-mile loop that goes through the refuge.

The area attracts many bird species, including Black-necked Stilts and White-faced Ibis. These ibises actually nest in the refuge. 

Other birds that visit and feed here include American White Pelicans, Soras, Short-eared Owls, Horned Larks, and Rough-legged Hawks. You can find more information when you visit the visitors center in the refuge, which has maps and further details on the wildlife and trails.

8. Quail Creek State Park

This is found in the southwestern state and includes a 600-acre man-made reservoir. Over 200 species have been observed in the park, and there is a checklist you can use.

You can find waterfowl like the Eurasian Wigeon, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Pacific Loon, and Yellow-billed Loon. A rare Long-tailed Jaeger even turned up in the area one October.  

Shorebirds like Baird’s Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher are also seen here often. The riparian vegetation is also full of birds, such as Lucy’s Warbler and Pacific Wren. The Canyon Wren and Rock Wren can also be found on the cliffs.

9. Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is accessed by way of the Mirror Lake scenic byway. However, this road is closed in winter, so plan your trip in spring or summer. The road passes through the Uinta Mountains and continues to a campground at 10,400 feet. 

It is a great place to see high-elevation birds that are not always easy to find elsewhere. Birds you can find at Mirror Lake include the American three-toed Woodpecker, Golden Eagle, Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Steller’s Jay.

10. Big Cottonwood Canyon

One of the canyons in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is excellent for bird watching, with 140 species recorded here. This is a high-elevation area that is just south of Salt Lake City. 

In Big Cottonwood Canyon, you can find birds such as Dusky Grouse, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Calliope Hummingbird, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. American Dippers are found in the streams of the area. A list of bird species recorded here can be used on your trip.

Like other high-elevation areas in Utah, some roads are closed in winter, limiting your access to the entire area, so a summer trip may be best. Guardsman’s Pass, in particular, is only open from June to November, so keep this in mind when planning your visit to the canyon.

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):

11. Pariette Wetlands

This oasis in the Uinta basin consists of 25 man-made ponds, a river, and a marshy area. Over 100 species of birds have been recorded here, so it is a good spot for bird watching. The area is carefully managed for waterfowl and uses a series of diversion systems to keep water moving.

Thousands of waterfowl use these wetlands, including such birds as Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, and Mallards.

You are also likely to see White-faced Ibis, and if you look carefully, you may spot an American Bittern. The bittern is a common wading bird but is well-camouflaged when not moving. 

12. Desert Lake

This lake is 3 miles outside of the town of Elmo. The lake is in the desert and provides a good spot for water birds. 

The birds you can find here include Ruddy Ducks, Canvasbacks, American Wigeons, Buffleheads, Sandhill Cranes, and Greater Yellowlegs. There are several places around the lake that you can use as viewing sites to look into the lake and surrounding areas.

13. Tonaquint Nature Center

This nature center is located in the city of St. George, southwestern Utah, close to the Arizona border. This urban park includes the St. Clara River and surrounding marshland. This area is affluent in birds, with 238 species recorded here.

You can find birds like Abert’s Towhees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers, Ring-necked Ducks, and Soras.

The nature center also offers various educational programs at different times of the year, so it is a good idea to contact the center if you are interested in any events. They even offer nature camps during the summer.

14. Utah Lake State Park

Utah Lake State Park has beautiful scenery with a large lake surrounded by mountains. The area is popular with fishermen and bird watchers. You can also camp in a tent or use the RV site to stay overnight.  

You can find over 230 species of birds at Utah Lake State Park. Birds observed here include Mountain Bluebird, Pacific Wren, Loggerhead Shrike, and Clark’s Grebe. You can access and print a bird checklist for Utah Lake State Park.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Utah

You can bird watch at various locations in Utah at any time of the year. There are certain seasons, though, when you will have the best chances of seeing lots of eagles and migrating waterfowl.

Migrating waterfowl and cranesFall to Spring
Bald EaglesWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Utah

The Utah State Bird

California Gull - State Bird of Utah
California Gull – State Bird of Utah

The California Gull, Larus californicus, is the state bird of Utah. The gull is a large bird with white wings, a yellow beak with a dark ring at the tip, gray wings with black-tipped primaries, and a black tail.

This gull occurs in various habitats, including the sea, inland waters, estuaries, and farmlands. The California gull is very common in Utah, found around the state’s inland waters.

Bird Watching Laws in Utah

In Utah, taking or possessing any part of an indigenous bird species is illegal. This includes transporting or selling any part of such a bird, including the eggs and nests.

It is also illegal to injure or interfere with (in any way) a Bald Eagle or Golden Eagle. This falls under the Bald and Eagle Protection Act

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.


Utah is a scenically breathtaking state with impressive mountains and canyons, but a range of vegetation and wetlands attract many birds.

You can find unusual higher-elevation birds in many of the spots on my list, and many of the top places are located in the Great Salt Lake region. Utah should be on your top list of states to bird watch in.

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.

Recent Posts