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Bird Watching > A Beeautiful Way
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Birds of the Lake Tahoe Basin
There are many bird species in the
Lake Tahoe Basin. Here is an introduction to the birds most
often seen at Lake Tahoe. (Reprinted with permission of
our friends at USDA.)
male Western Tanager is one of the most colorful birds in
the Lake Tahoe Basin. His red head, bright yellow body with
black on the back, wings, and tail, makes him a very eye-catching
of the four forms of Dark-Eyed Junco, the Oregon Junco is
one of the most abundant and easily recognized birds in
the Sierra forest. These small birds have solid black heads
and white stripes on either side of their tails and are
often seen eating seeds on the forest floor.
bird is often found in cattail and tule marshes. No other
Lake Tahoe Basin bird has such a distinctive yellow head
and black body. It is generally spotted in the Pope Marsh
area during early spring.
type of duck is considered a "puddle duck" because it typically
prefers shallow water such as creeks, ponds, and marshes.
The male Mallard is easy to spot because of his glossy green
head and narrow white collar. Usually you can see the ducks
flying south in formation for the winter.
is the most common goose in North America. It has a black
head and neck with a distinctive white "chinstrap" stretching
from ear to ear. Elevated nesting platforms installed in
the Pope Marsh area in 1976 have greatly improved nesting
success. These long-necked, noisy birds are very abundant
during the summer and are readily viewed by visitors.
The most common bird in the Tahoe Basin is the Mountain
Chickadee. These small plump birds have a black cap, black
bib under their chin and a white line over each eye. Chickadees
are very acrobatic, swinging from the tips and undersides
of branches as they hunt for insects and seeds. They have
a very distinctive three note whistle.
anyone who spends time in the forest will meet the noisy
Steller's Jay. This pigeon-sized bird with deep blue wings,
tail, and breast, is hard to miss. Often this jay becomes
quite bold, sometimes stealing bread crusts from tables
where people are picnicking.
eagle can occasionally be seen during the winter months
at Lake Tahoe. The majestic adult Bald Eagle, with a wing
span reaching seven feet, can easily be identified because
of its white head and tail. Often mistaken for an eagle,
the Osprey is a summer resident of the Basin. It is sometimes
referred to as a Fish Hawk because it feeds only on fish.
Adults are brown with tawny on the back of the head and
neck; tail faintly banded. Juveniles have white patches
at base of primaries, white tail with a distinct dark terminal
band. It takes four years to acquire adult plumage. The
golden eagle is a solitary bird, which can be found in remote
areas. They do not congregate in large numbers during the
winter. Being a great hunter, the golden eagle seldom eats
carrion. Its hunting territory extends up to 162 square
miles (260 square km).
Woodpeckers are usually found in mature mixed woods around
campgrounds and picnic areas. This robin-sized bird can
be recognized by the vertical white stripe on its black
back, and its long bill. Like most woodpeckers, the Hairy
Woodpecker feeds on tree boring insects, berries, acorns
and sap. These woodpeckers are very often confused with
Downy Woodpeckers which have the same markings but are smaller
in size and have a shorter bill.
California Gull, often spotted at Lake Tahoe beaches, is
the same gull seen on Pacific Ocean beaches and is commonly
referred to as a seagull. Typical of most gulls, the California
Gull is a true scavenger, feeding on garbage, insects, plant
material and fish. Another gull is the Ring-billed Gull
which has a black stripe around its bill. Although not as
common as the California Gull, it too is often seen at Tahoe
Robin is a summer visitor in the Lake Tahoe Basin, appearing
soon after the snow melts. Its brick-red breast, yellow
bill and gray back makes identification easy. It is a very
common bird, frequently observed hopping across lawns or
small openings in the forest searching for worms and insects.
large heavy set hawk with broad wings, the adult Red-Tailed
Hawk is dark brown above and light below with a reddish
tail. These hawks habitually soar in wide circles and can
easily be seen on clear days, seemingly to enjoy the view,
when actually they are hunting for rats, mice, rabbits,
or an occasional small reptile.
Birding at Fallen Leaf Lake Near South Lake
Fallen Leaf Lake offers a variety of birds and
nice trails for birders. The best time of the year for birding
at Lake Tahoe is from April to July.
Mount Tallac (9,735 ft.) and nearby Taylor Creek
are marvelous habitats for specialty birds, including Blue
Grouse, Pygmy Nuthatch, Osprey, Western Tanager, Calliope
Hummingbird, and in the winter, Bald Eagle. Also, a lot of
types of woodpeckers, such as the Hairy Woodpecker and the
White-headed Woodpecker, live there along with a wide variety
of terns, sparrows, warblers and finches.
Just ask anybody who has ever lived in South
Lake Tahoe about the numerous woodpeckers there. You may get
a long response including their description of the extremely
loud drilling sound of a woodpecker pile driving holes in
the siding of their homes, and recommendations for siding
repair as well as ways fend off the birds so that they will
go back to the wild and drill tree bark instead of expensive
real estate. But, even the most annoyed homeowner will also
describe in detail the beauty of the woodpeckers!
When venturing out, you can visit the Visitor
Center on Hwy. 89 near Fallen Leaf Road for more information
about the trails and nearby birds. Take the Fallen Leaf Lake
Trail from the Fallen Leaf Road parking area to Fallen Leaf
Lake. The lake is an easy hike just about 1/2 mile from the
You can continue on the trail across the north
shore of Fallen Leaf Lake, about a mile, for a lovely 3-mile
out-and-back hike. Or, you can follow the trail another mile
toward the north along Taylor Creek to the Fallen Leaf Campground.
Another option is following the Rainbow Trail
located at the Visitor Center for an interesting 1-mile walk.
Take it easy here, remember you are at 6,300 feet elevation.
Once you have accomplished your birding, you
can stop off at the The Tallac Historic Site on the way back
to South Lake Tahoe, since it's only a mile away.
Birding at North Lake Tahoe & Truckee &
The Donner Memorial State Park is a popular place
for birding, because it's a habitat for many birds. You can
find White-headed Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch and Williamsonís
Sapsucker, and in the summer you will see the Calliope Humingbird,
Flycatchers, Western Tanager, and lots of other birds, such
as the Dark-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, Spotted Sandpiper,
Chipping and Fox Sparrows, and also many types of Warblers.
The best time of the year for birding at Donner
Memorial State Park is Late April through July. This park
is located on Interstate 80, about a mile west of the Hwy.
89 junction at Truckee. To get there, take Donner Pass Road
to the park entrance.
You can also enjoy camping out here, since there
are 154 available camping sites. Or stay in town. Truckee
is the nearest town, with shopping, restaurants, resorts and
of course food, lodging and gas.
Birding at Carson Pass & Hope Valley
The Carson Pass and Hope Valley areas are great
places for viewing a variety of specialty birds, such as the
Townsendís Solitaire, Cassinís Finch, Mountain Chickadee,
Stellerís Jay, Clarkís Nutcracker, and the Blue Grouse. Also,
during the season from June to October, you will see Prairie
Falcon, Hermit Warbler, Dusky Flycatcher, Mountain Bluebird
and the Green-tailed Towhee. Lest we forget, other noted birds
in this area include the Great Horned Owl and the Hairy Woodpecker,
the Dark-eyed Junco and during the summer the Warbling Vireo.
Four types of sparrows can also be seen, including the Fox,
Lincolnís, Chipping and White-crowned Sparrows.
This area is high on the mountain pass near
South Lake Tahoe. The Carson Pass is 8,574 ft., so it's waay
up there! To get there from South Lake Tahoe, drive over Luther
Pass and take a right when you get to Picketts Junction (on
Hwy. 88). The easiest way to get directions is to just Google
for a map of South Lake Tahoe to Carson Pass.
You can also locate Carson Pass by traveling
55 miles east of Jackson on Hwy. 88. Restrooms are available.
Going this direction, Hope Valley is another 7 miles down
the road to the east of Carson Pass on Hwy. 88.
This is mountainous terrain and not a flat hike,
and the elevation can be between 7,100 feet and 9,000 ft.
in this area. Here you are surrounded by several higher peaks,
including Stevenís Peak, Red Lake Peak, Round Top, and Hawkinís
In the Carson Pass birding area are Red Lake,
Winnemucca Lake, Woods Lake and Round Top Lake.
Also the Hope Valley birding area has two wildlife
viewing areas, one at each end of the Hope Valley Meadows.
To get maps and more information before venturing out you
can contact the Carson Ranger District.
More Birding in Western Nevada
The Audubon Society lists 11 birding areas near
South Lake Tahoe and another 9 birding areas in western Nevada,
so this is truly a birder's paradise. Everywhere you go, you
will actually find unbelievable birding! May you experience
the thrill of an eagle flying across your bow as you cross
country ski next to Spooner Lake, or the excitement of watching
hawks dive bombing for dinner in the same location during
More Nearby Birding Locations
- Swan Lake Nature Study Area
- Peavine Peak near Reno
- Rancho San Rafael Regional Park
- Verdi between Reno and Truckee
- Oxbow Nature Study Area
- East Truckee Meadows (University Farms)
- Virginia Lake
- Galena Creek Regional Park
- Tahoe Meadows and Upper Ophir Creek
- Washoe Valley and Carson City, Nevada
- Spooner Lake at Lake Tahoe
We hope you have enjoyed this short introduction
to birding in the Lake Tahoe and Northern Nevada area. Please
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equipment. Also, please visit this page again, because we
will keep updating it with more information and links for
birders. Thank you for visiting and enjoy your birding at
Lake Tahoe and Beyond!
-- Your Hosts,
Tom and Mary Kay