Raptors and Songbirds

Records of bird sightings have been kept in Yellowstone since its establishment in 1872. These records document nearly 300 species of birds to date, including raptors, songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Approximately 150 species nest in the park. The variation in elevation and broad array of habitat types found within Yellowstone contribute to the relatively high diversity. Many of the birds are migratory species. The Yellowstone Bird Program monitors a small portion of its breeding bird species to gather information on reproduction, abundance, and habitat use. Long-term monitoring efforts help inform park staff of potential shifts in ecosystem function, e.g., climate change effects, for Yellowstone’s bird community and may guide future conservation of the park’s birds and their habitats.

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Bald eagle flying over Yellowstone Lake with a cutthroat trout. NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Yellowstone supports 19 breeding raptor species, with additional species during migrations and seasonal movements. Park biologists monitor bald eagles, golden eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons were previously listed as endangered and threatened species, and the park has continued monitoring since their delisting. The osprey is monitored because of the decline of one of their primary food sources, the cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake. The park monitors golden eagles as they are affected by expanding energy development and increasing human activity across the U.S. Other species that occur in the park, such as American kestrels and Swainson’s hawks, are of growing conservation concern throughout their ranges in the United States.


Western Tanager. NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Songbirds and woodpeckers, or passerine and near passerine species, comprise the majority of bird species in Yellowstone National Park.

Across North America, many songbird species are declining or imperiled due to habitat loss or fragmentation, changing climate and fire regimes, and invasive species. Recent estimates suggest that we have lost as many as 3.2 billion songbirds since the 1970s. To assess songbird populations in the park and document the current status in the face of unknown future management and climate change impacts, the Yellowstone Bird Program monitors songbirds across seasons and habitat types using a variety of survey methods: through counts in willow stands, recently burned forests, mature forests, and grasslands/sagebrush steppe; the North American Breeding Bird Survey; fall migration surveys; and a summer and early fall banding station.

Banding Station

Park biologist releasing a spotted towhee. NPS / Jacob W. Frank

While songbird counts can provide good estimates for songbird diversity and abundance, they do not provide any information about measures of demography, i.e., reproduction and survival. To improve our understanding of songbird demography in the park, the bird program began annual operations of a mist[1]netting and songbird banding station in 2018, located in a willow-lined riparian corridor on the northern range. During the breeding season, researchers participated in the international MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) program, operated by the Institute for Bird Populations. To help assess use of riparian habitats by juvenile and migrating songbirds, staff continued banding operations into the fall, through late September. In 2022, staff captured 155 new birds belonging to 30 different species during the breeding season. Twenty-nine individuals banded between 2018 and 2022 were recaptured at least one time across all banding sessions in 2022. The most commonly captured species in the breeding season were yellow warbler(Setophaga petechia) and warbling vireo (Vireo gilvus).