May 14, 2022 is World Migratory Bird Day – a day to raise awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them. In celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, we are taking at look at some of the beautiful birds that visit Idaho throughout the year.

One of my favorite Idaho memories was in the late spring of 2016 when I was driving through Gem Valley in Eastern Idaho. I had just passed some green irrigated crop fields when I saw a few long-legged figures. I pulled off on the side of the road to take a look through my trusty binoculars. 

A majestic Sandhill crane is spotted in Idaho.

Peering over the grasses were a pair of long beaks and bright red heads on top of long gray necks. Between the two adult birds were smaller, rusty colored fluffs. They were sandhill cranes! I watched for a few minutes as the baby pecked around for food while the adults stood on alert, obviously aware of my presence.

A baby Sandhill crane walks through the grass.

A haven for birds

Sandhill cranes are just one of the many migratory birds you can see in Idaho. Idaho’s variety of landscapes and ecosystems make it a great place to live both for birds and birders alike. The majority of the birds we see in the Gem State are just passing through for a short time and do not live here year round. 

Waterfowl, from Canada geese and wood ducks to trumpeter swans and snow geese, are all migratory birds that move into Idaho for some portion of the year. Raptors such as bald eagles and even snowy owls come down to visit when the time or conditions are right. Shorebirds like the Long-billed Curlew and American Avocet use Idaho’s grasslands for nesting grounds. Songbirds, from the bright and colorful Western Tanager to the black and white Loggerhead Shrike, appear in Idaho as well. Even tiny hummingbirds pass through on their long migratory paths! 

An American avocet wades in the water.

Threats to migratory birds

While the journeys these birds take are inspiring to observe, they are also threatened. Like most wildlife, migratory birds are often negatively impacted by human behaviors. One of the major impacts by humans on Idaho’s migratory bird species is habitat loss, especially the loss of wetlands and riparian habitats. 

Along with feeling the impacts of habitat loss, many migratory raptors are also susceptible to lead poisoning from lost game injured by lead bullets and fishing tackle. Wildlife can unintentionally ingest lead left in the field by hunters, and scavengers can ingest it by eating carcasses or prey that contains lead. These issues have inspired many hunters and anglers across the country to sport lead-free, as more people are working to reduce the inadvertent lead consumption by wildlife.

A bald eagle spots the camera. Bald eagles are regularly exposed to lead from hunters’ ammunition throughout their lives.

What humans are putting on and into the ground is also impacting birds. Some pesticides can impact the hardness of eggshells, which can result in a decline in bird populations. The impacts of pesticides on bird populations inspired legendary environmentalist Rachel Carson to write her book Silent Spring, which documented the full extent of harmful impacts from pesticides and helped start the modern environmental movement. 

Like many other wildlife species, migratory birds are also seeing declines in populations due to poaching. In the Treasure Valley region, shooters are illegally killing Long-billed Curlews at an alarming rate. Population growth and increased urban development is also presenting threats to these birds. Awareness of all of these issues is essential in protecting Idaho’s iconic migratory birds. 

A Mountain Bluebird, Idaho’s state bird, eats a grub. Bluebirds arrive in Idaho from wintering grounds by late February or early March.

How to Help

Luckily, there are things we can do to help out our feathered friends who visit our state!

  • Dimming or turning off our lights at night helps preserve the integrity of Idaho’s dark night skies.
  • Anglers and hunters can choose to sport lead-free.
  • Keeping our cats indoors can help reduce the number of birds predated by housecats.
  • Planting native plants in our yards helps provide biodiversity, food, and shelter for visiting songbirds.
  • If you provide a bird feeder in your yard, make sure to clean it regularly to reduce disease spread.

To stay up to date with how you can take action for Idaho’s migratory birds and other wildlife, sign up for our wildlife campaign emails here!