Common Birds of the Rocky Mountains

There are more than 800 species of birds in North America.  The Rocky Mountains are home to hundreds of birds, some of which stay all year and others migrate short or long distances.  These birds range in size from a small hummingbird up to a large turkey vulture.

Birds are a great animal to know because they are more easily found than the big mammals.  If you are observant you will almost always see or hear birds no matter the season or weather.

Here are some of the more common birds you may encounter in the Rocky Mountains.

American Crow

american crow, common birdsDiet:  Omnivore.

Lifespan:  Up to 20 years.

Appearance:  Black, about 18 inches tall (smaller than a Raven).

Nest:  Platform nest on trees.

Fun Facts:  This is one of the smartest birds, for example they follow ducks to catch fish, eat from outdoor dog dishes, and follow adult birds to their nests to eat their eggs.

Black Capped Chickadee

bird black capped chickadee small, birds, commonDiet:  Insects, seeds, and berries.

Lifespan:  2 1/2 years.

Appearance:  4 1/2 to 6 inches long.  Gray and white back, beige belly and a black head.

Nest:  Small cavity in a tree 5 – 20 feet off the ground.

Fun Facts:  They hide seeds and other food to eat later, and are able to remember a thousand different spots. They usually do not migrate but stay in the same area all year.  During cold weather they roost in tree cavities with many other Chickadees to keep warm.

Clarks Nutcracker

bird clarks nutcracker, birds, commonDiet:  Omnivore, mainly pine seeds.

Lifespan:  Up to 15 years.

Appearance:  About 11 inches tall – medium sized bird.

Nest:  Platform nest on a pine tree.

Fun Facts:  This bird has an incredible memory, possibly the best of all birds.  It stores thousand of seeds in the fall and can find most of them to eat during the winter.  Those seeds it forgets grow into new trees.  This bird can store up to 90 seeds in a pouch behind its tongue.

Cliff Swallow

bird cliff swallow tight, birds, commonDiet:  Insects.

Lifespan:  Up to 5 years.

Appearance:  5 inches tall – a small bird.

Nest:  Gourd shaped, mud nest.

Fun Facts:  They build their nests in cliff faces with lots of other swallow nests around them.  They are acrobatic fliers, as they catch insects to eat while flying in the air.

Great Horned Owl

bird great horned owl, birds, commonDiet:  Carnivore.

Lifespan: Up to 13 years.

Appearance:  Up to 24 inches tall.  They have feathers on top of their head that look like horns.

Nest:  Takes over squirrel or other birds nests.

Fun Facts:  Owls create both scat and pellets.  Scat comes out of their bottom like most animals, but pellets come out of their mouths.  When owls eat mice and rodents they swallow the entire animal including it’s bones.  An owl’s stomach can’t digest the bones.  Rather the bones and hair all become a ball or tightly packed pellet in the stomach.  Many hours after eating the owl will spit up this pellet, which means it is ready to eat again.


bird magpie tight, birdsDiet:  Omnivore.

Lifespan:  Up to 3 1/2 years.

Appearance:  Up to 20 inches tall.  Their tail is longer than their body.

Nest:  Large dome nest of sticks with cup on inside.

Fun Facts:  They are smart and are quick to take advantage of any situation they can in order to eat some food.  This includes waiting till campers or hikers are not paying attention and flying in to steal some food.

Red Tailed Hawk

bird red tailed hawk flying, birdsDiet:  Carnivore (small animals such as rodents and rabbits).

Lifespan:  Up to 21 years.

Appearance:  Up to 20 inches tall.  They have a red/brick colored tail.

Nest:  Big platform nest located on tops of trees or poles.

Fun Facts:  They are made for flying.  Despite their large size, they weigh less than five pounds.  A similarly sized dog would weigh ten times that.

Turkey Vulture

bird turkey vulture good, birdsDiet:  Carnivore – only dead animals.

Lifespan:  Up to 10 years.

Appearance:  Up to 32 inches tall with a 6 foot wingspan.  When their wings are open they have what look like fingers on the tips of their wings.

Nest:  No nest or a small mud nest on a cliff or in a cave.

Fun Facts:  Turkey Vultures soar high in the sky, circling on thermals (pockets of rising hot air).  While flying, they use their excellent sense of smell to find carcasses.

Western Scrub Jay

bird western scrub jay small, birdsDiet:  Omnivore – small animals, nuts, berries, and birds’ eggs.

Lifespan:  Up to 9 years.

Appearance:  About 11 inches tall.

Nest:  Cup nest low in a tree (6-14 feet off ground).

Fun Facts:  Western Scrub Jays have a sneaky side.  Sometimes they will watch other birds hiding acorns or seeds and then they will steal them after the birds leave.  Then before they hide the acorns themselves, they look around to make sure no other bird is watching them.