Top Ten Spots for Spring Birding

West: Happy Hunting Grounds: The Snake River Valley, Idaho

The rugged swath of canyons the Snake River cuts into southern Idaho's sagebrush grasslands holds a unique place among the world's great birding hotspots. Each year, as the days lengthen and spring verges on summer, nearly 1,000 pairs of raptors descend on the Snake River Valley to nest—a greater concentration of breeding birds of prey than you'll see anywhere else in North America.

At the BLM-managed Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, 15 species of raptors—from golden eagles to ferruginous hawks, kestrels, and burrowing owls—nest on canyon walls and tree limbs. Another nine species pass through during migration. Which birds of prey you'll see most of may vary from year to year—the nesting success of each species depends largely on the ups and downs of their favorite foods. Townsend's ground squirrels do very well in this area, and prairie falcons are abundant as a result; the golden eagle population varies in accordance with the population cycles of black-tailed jackrabbits. You'll do your best birding in mid-March and May (many raptors are sitting the nest through April), in the early hours of the morning when the birds are hunting most actively, and with a high-quality pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.

Just the Facts

Birding Hot Spots: Some of the best places to find raptors in and around the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation area include the Ted Trueblood WMA, C. J. Strike Reservoir, and Bruneau Dunes State Park. Also check out Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge and Craters of the Moon National Monument.

More Idaho Outdoors: You can bird this rugged country's canyon vistas from the roadsides, but a more memorable way to get to the wild spirit of this country is to float the Snake south of Boise and other Snake River Valley rivers such as the Bruneau, Boise, or Owyhee. North of Boise, a raft trip through Hell's Canyon is one of the continent's wilderness classics. Another Boise-area highlight is fishing Silver Creek's trout, in Boise National Forest.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »