Birding in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

For those of you who live in or near west Texas, or plan to visit the area in the future, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a treasure trove for hiking and camping, as well as wildlife viewing and birding, as the park contains three major ecosystems: high-elevation mixed-conifer habitat, mid-elevation riparian and canyon habitats, and low-elevation gypsum dune habitat. There are many different areas you can visit inside the park, each of which is home to its own unique variety of wildlife and birds.

Spanning an impressive 86,367 acres, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the most extensive Permian fossil reef on Earth. The Permian geologic period ended over 250 million years ago, and spanned 47 million years, the end of which marked the largest mass extinction in history. During this time, the world was dominated by two continents known as Pangaea and Siberia, and was surrounded by a global ocean called Panthalassa, which was connected to the Permian Basin, an inland sea that covered the park. The Permian period also marked the appearance of the first large herbivores, carnivores, and ancestors of today’s modern reptiles, including many ancient forms of life that lived in the now non-existent Delaware Sea, one of three arms that branched off of the Permian Basin. So, even if you visit the park on a day when the wildlife and birds don’t seem to be out and about, there are plenty of prehistoric fossils you can discover and enjoy along the way as you explore.

There are 275 confirmed bird species that live in the park, including Great Horned Owls, chickadees, woodpeckers, Turkey Vultures, Greater Roadrunners, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, and Hummingbirds. Other types of wildlife you can expect to find here include elk, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, hog-nosed skunks, gray foxes, and cougars, in addition to sixteen different species of bats.

Though there’s no guarantee that you’ll spot all of the above species during your visit, we’ve created the following list of a few of the best birding areas in the park to increase your odds.

Frijole Ranch and Smith Spring

Smith Spring Trail is an easy, two and a half mile hike that takes you past Manzanita Spring and Smith Spring, both of which provide a consistent water source for large shade trees, and, in turn, a water source for riparian habitat birds. Common, year-round residents you’ll likely come across during your hike include Western Scrub Jays, White-winged Doves, Lark Sparrows, Canyon Towhees and Northern Mockingbirds. Once you reach Smith Spring (a beautiful area with cascading water and lush forests), you may find Northern Flickers, Red-naped Sapsuckers and Lewis’ Woodpeckers. If you visit during the spring or summer, you may even spot Blue Grosbeaks and Eastern Meadowlarks, while your chances of seeing Rufous-crowned Sparrows and Mountain Bluebirds is higher in the winter.

McKittrick Canyon

At just over twenty miles long, the McKittrick Canyon Trail leads you through several different bird habitats. The first portion of the hike takes you up to the Grotto, a limestone cave along the trail, with relatively level terrain alongside a streambed the entire way. During this part of the hike, you can expect to find Chihuahuan Desert species year-round like Bewicks, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Greater Roadrunners, Bushtits, and White-winged Doves. During the spring and summer, you’ll likely find ash-throated flycatchers and Cassin’s kingbirds. As you make your way out of the desert, you’ll begin to see the landscape change into a riparian woodland, giving way to Spotted Towhees, Stellar’s Jays and Red-naped Sapsuckers in the spring, and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Grace’s Warblers, Plumbeus Vireos, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and Hepatic Tanagers year-round.

The Bowl

One of the more difficult trails in the park, this eight and a half mile roundtrip hike takes you along both the Frijole and Bear Canyon trails, leading you through the Chihuahuan Desert, up through a canyon to a treed ridgeline, and back down again. Along with Chihuahuan Desert species, be sure to stay on the lookout for Mountain Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red Crossbills, Hairy Woodpeckers and Pygmy Nuthatches as you trek through Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine forests on your way up to The Bowl.

With three different ecosystems, more than eighty miles of hiking trails, and countless amounts of ancient fossilized sea life, Guadalupe Mountains National Park truly is one of the country’s most diverse areas to hike, camp, and bird. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, dress in layers, and get ready for what is sure to be a great birding adventure!