Birding in Nevada: 5 Best Places to Watch the Spring Bird Migration

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up to your mood this spring, try Nevada birding, birdwatching or just hiking near a wetland.

Research conducted by Eleanor Ratcliffe, an environmental psychology lecturer at the University of Surrey, studied how bird sounds and bird watching contribute to restoring attention span and making you feel more relaxed. She concluded that listening to sounds in nature, and specifically bird calls, contributed to an increased and lasting effect of well-being in people with depression and made the mind and body feel more relaxed overall.

Birdwatching is soulful medicine for modern times, and it’s readily attainable throughout Nevada.

If you’re looking for the peace of mind from bird watching like Ratcliffe mentioned in her research, Nevada is the perfect place to engage in this activity.  And the Nevada Spring bird migration is the perfect time to admire our colorful feathered friends.

In this article, I’ll explore the best places for Nevada birding. If you’re a member of the Nevada Audubon Society you well know what birding is, but for the newbie to bird watching let me explain: Birding is the act of identifying the birds you see in an area and either writing them down or simply taking photos and appreciating the beauty of our flying friends.

To get you started, here are five Nevada birding hotspots to check out during this spring season and beyond:

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Photo by TravelNevada


305 Ruby Valley Road, Ruby Valley, Nevada 89833-9802

Best times to see migrating birds:

Spring birdwatching: March to May

Fall birdwatching: September to November

Located in Northeastern Nevada, this Nevada wetlands features habitation for waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds. Feathered friends that frequent the area are sandhill cranes, American avocets, Wilson’s phalaropes, yellow-headed blackbirds, cinnamon teals, great egrets, Swainson’s hawks, sagebrush sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, and northern harriers, and you may also spot the once-endangered trumpeter swan.

Be sure to look for the nesting canvas backs, which have the distinction of being in the greatest numbers in North America here, and the red head ducks which gather in great numbers West of the Mississippi.

You might also spot coyotes, mule deer, badgers, weasels, muskrats, black-tailed jackrabbits, mountain cottontails, pygmy rabbits, Great Basin rattlesnakes, and gopher snakes. Raptors to look out for are bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and American kestrels.

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Sydney Martinez/TravelNevada

With over 39,000 acres of lakes and marshes (about twice the area of Cleveland, Ohio) and 17,000 acres of marshland and springs (about twice the area of Chicago O'Hare airport) this was a place of prehistoric importance to those ancients who peopled the area. Today, camping and boating is available, and should you decide to go, be prepared for driving on gravel roads. Much of the country on the East side of the Ruby Mountains is ranchland and areas of open range so drive with caution.

Food and lodging are about an hour and a half away in the towns of Wells and Elko, so bring snacks and drinks if it's a day trip.

Other points of interest include the old Star Tungsten Mine found on the West Side of the Ruby Mountains and the historic Bressman Cabin built in 1880 at Ruby Lake.

Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge

Yellow-headed blackbird
Yellow-headed blackbird, Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Zoe Yates


44290 Virgin Valley Road Denio, NV 89404

Best times to see migrating birds:

Spring and Summer birdwatching:  March to August

Fall birdwatching:  September to November

Winter birdwatching:  December to February

At over 500,000 square feet of diverse landscape, the refuge boasts springs, narrow gorges, interesting rock formations, canyons, and rolling hills full of sage and mountain mahogany.

The refuge is attractive to such springtime migratory birds as: Golden-cheeked warblers, black-capped vireos, ruddy ducks, tundra swans, snow geese, greater white geese, greater white-fronted geese, buffleheads, common goldeneye, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, American wigeon, ring-necked ducks, greater and lesser scaups and a couple hundred more!

Also of note is a migratory and non-migratory favorite the greater sage grouse. When you’re driving on the refuge roads, be careful! These birds like to cross the roads. Their mating season is right during the April and May migration season of many other birds. Be sure to follow the 25 mph speed limit for that very reason and to protect all wildlife.

Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge
Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by TravelNevada.

The refuge began in 1931 when the Audubon Society and the Boone and Crockett Club jointly purchased over 34,000 acres of the Last Chance Ranch to protect the area’s Pronghorn Antelope herds. Also found here are flocks of bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, and many other high desert mammals.

The Northern end of the refuge borders Oregon State and it's a very remote area with the nearest towns 34 to 68 miles away depending on which direction you come from: Denio, Nevada or Cedarville, California. Make sure you have a printed map as I can say from experience cell service is nonexistent at least for some carriers, and you will want to know where you are going.

There are free campsites at Virgin Valley Campground, which includes a warm springs pond to take a dip in and solar showers. The Royal Peacock Mine has a payphone and ice and maybe a few other camping-friendly items.

At the Refuge, you are allowed to take rocks off the ground (hand mining only) and no digging or taking arrowheads or artifacts. The opal mines have separate fees for their mining operation and there are also cabins for rent at the Royal Peacock Opal Mine.  The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge is open all year.

Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge

Bird in reeds
Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by TravelNevada


13303 Stillwater Road, Fallon, NV 89406-2613

Best times to see migrating birds:

Spring birdwatching with peak migration:  March to May

Fall migration:  September to November

One of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes with a sweeping mountain range in view, dotted with wildflowers in springtime and teeming with wildlife, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge is a must for those who like to have amenities nearby.

Lying within the ancient valley known as the Carson sink and home to the Native American Paiute Tribe who thrived off the lush wetland vegetation and wildlife since 1100 AD. If you find artifacts while birdwatching, record your location and alert the Refuge so the artifact can be properly recorded and returned to the tribe or left in place.

White pelicans at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge
White pelicans at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by TravelNevada.

During springtime bird migration you might see snow geese, northern shovelers, mallards, American coots, pied-billed grebes, great blue herons, white-crowned sparrows, greater yellowlegs, Brewer’s blackbirds, California gulls, loggerhead shrikes, and many more. Over 260 bird species migrate to the Stillwater National Refuge in spring and fall.

Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge
Egrets at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by TravelNevada

A variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, colonial nesting water birds, and neotropical migratory birds stir up the still water during migration. It’s no wonder the refuge is an important site for bird conservation and observation in Nevada.

Camping sites are nearby at Fort Churchill Campground and Lahontan State Recreation Area. Restaurants and hotels are located only 16 miles away in the historic town of Fallon, home of the Naval Air Station and crops of sweet juicy cantaloupe.

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Ash Meadows, a Southern Nevada birding hotspot. Photo by Rod Colvin/USFWS


8757 Spring Meadows Road, S. Amargosa Valley, NV 89020-9632

Best times to see migrating birds:

Spring birdwatching:  March through May with a summer overlap

Fall birdwatching:  September through November, with excellent opportunity for observation of waterfowl in winter

Within the 23,000-plus acres known as Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge, you will find an enchanting spring-fed alkaline desert upland in southern Nevada. It was established in 1984 and was once home to the Southern Paiute Natives and Timbisha Shoshone Tribes.

The refuge is known for the protection of rare, threatened, and endangered species such as the pupfish found at a feature called Devils Hole, a deep limestone cavern, which is a detached unit of nearby Death Valley National Park.

Ash Meadows
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Travel Nevada

Ash Meadows is a dedicated Ramsar site, which is an international convention committed to conserving wetlands from around the world. It aims to preserve special sites that sustain biological diversity, providing water on which countless species of plants and animals depend. It is an oasis of great significance to the springtime bird migrations including northern harriers, mountain bluebirds, Wilson’s phalarope, yellow warblers, black-necked stilts, American avocets, and many more varieties of waterfowl such as northern shovelers, American wigeons, Cinnamon teals, and gadwalls.

Some notable rare and protected bird species found on the reserve are southwestern willow flycatchers, least Bell's vireos, and ash-throated flycatchers, a veritable treasure for birding in Nevada!

Some other points of interest not to be missed in the area are:

1. The historic stone cabin where proprietor Jack Longstreet lived. He was an old west character respected by the native tribes,

2. State-of -the-art interactive learning stations at the visitor center. The park is complete with wheelchair access and interpretive signs and scenic views along the boardwalk.

3. Endemic species (found nowhere else).

4. Rare desert fish which date back to the Pleistocene epoch reside here.

Remember that Ash Meadows Wildlife Reserve is a remote area so plan accordingly. The nearest amenities are at least 40 miles away in Beatty, Nevada and it’s 90 miles to Pahrump or Las Vegas Nevada, so pack a lunch and review the safety precautions at the end of this article.  There is no camping in Ash Meadows, but the nearby towns listed do have camping and RV parks.

Washoe Valley, Davis Creek Regional Park, and Washoe Lake State Park

Birds at Washoe Lake
Washoe Lake. Photo by Patrick Wilkes

Best times to watch migrating birds:

Spring migration: Late April to early May

Fall and Winter:  October through March is a good time to watch for raptors and water fowl, with ample year-round activity

Located within a  66-mile square radius in South Washoe County, Nevada, Washoe Lake is a haven for springtime migratory birding of great importance. Amongst the ever present wild horse population, you will find a variety of other wildlife including, coyote, raptors, rattlesnakes, skunks,  occasional black bears and lovely dragonflies. You’ll also find high desert flora and fauna inundated in the sweet aroma of desert sage.

Be sure to take deep breaths and take it all in when visiting this favorite Nevada birdwatching area at the base of Virginia Mountain Range, which extends north and northwest to southeast for 22 miles.

In Washoe Valley is located Davis Creek Regional Park where May through August hummingbirds are all the rage, including Anna’s hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, Calliope hummingbird, rufous hummingbird, and broad-tailed hummingbird. Six different species of fly catchers, seven species of warblers, northern mockingbirds, five species of wrens, European starlings, belted kingfishers, and various sapsuckers along with many more birds are recorded visiting this area.

Washoe Lake is actually comprised of two lakes divided by a network of wetlands. At the north end is little Washoe Lake and towards the south is located Washoe Lake. Camping is only at the main area campground within the state park and there’s also a campground at Davis Creek Regional Park.

Teeming with waterfowl, Washoe Lake is a birdwatcher’s paradise. You can hope to see a squadron of pelicans, a majestic sight to behold, I must say, as I saw the regal pod of pelicans last spring and it was unforgettable.  Other notable birds to notice in the area are: Common loons, spotted sandpipers, western wood-pewees, tree and barn swallows, hermit thrushes, western tanagers, warblers, sooty grouse, northern pygmy-owls, and black-backed woodpeckers may find their way on to your birding list.

Magpie at Washoe Lake
Magpies are year-round residents at Washoe Lake. Photo by Patrick Wilkes.

Important to note: Washoe Lake is a significant habitat for raptors year-round. The golden eagle can be surprisingly large at 28 to 33 inches in length with an impressive wingspan of six to seven feet and weighing up to 13 lbs. I’ve seen one that must’ve been the largest ever as it seemed to be at least three feet tall sitting on the side of the road, and it was a bit intimidating. It was most likely a female as raptors exhibit the typical reversed sexual dimorphism in which females are larger than males.

Other raptors in the area are the bald eagle and the rough-legged hawk, which visit during winter.

Amenities in the area are plentiful in the nearby town of Carson City only minutes away. You might want to grab a motel or hotel and take a dip in the Carson Hot Springs while you’re adventuring. Carson City is the State Capitol of Nevada and there are plenty of museums and shopping in the area as well. The nearby town of Virginia City is a time capsule of Wild West history and boasts the legacy of the Comstock, the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States.

There is a plethora of activity within a 50-mile range of this area, located between Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada. You might want to make this a regular vacation spot.

Birding is possible year-round, but the spring and fall months are your best bet for seeing migratory birds. October through March are exceptional for observing raptors and waterfowl such as tundra swans. It is truly a year-round birdwatching source of enjoyment, one of the best wetlands in Nevada so rich in diversity of wildlife and birds.

Other Places to Enjoy Spring Bird Migration in Nevada

Here is a list of other wonderful places to watch spring bird migration in Nevada. We truly have a beautiful state full of surprising natural wonder:

Pelicans at Pyramid Lake.
Pelicans at Pyramid Lake. Photo by Patrick Wilkes.

Pyramid Lake, an important nesting site for the White Pelican and other migratory bird species.

Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Spring Mountains National Recreation Area

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Overton Wildlife Management

Important Things to Bring Along

[Editor's Note: Some of the links in the next two sections are Amazon Affiliate links. It costs you nothing to click on the link, only the cost of buying a product on Amazon, but it allows us to earn a commission so that we can continue to provide you with great free content.]

You’re going to want to bring a few items along that make birding more fun. These include:

The Sibley Birder’s Life List and Field Diary. This will allow you to keep track of the birds you see while birdwatching in Nevada.

• Make the most of your birding with a field guide in reach so that you can accurately identify the birds. Nevada Fall Color recommends the book Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds. We use this book all the time to identify the birds that visit our pond here in Gardnerville.

• It’s much easier to see details and colors on birds if you have a good pair of binoculars. Nevada Fall Color recommends the UncleHu 20x50 High Power Binoculars.

• Check for any apps or websites that might help with identifying and recording your experience. Cornell Lab's All About Birds website is a great online resource for identifying birds and their calls.

Advice to Stay Safe While Birding in Nevada

Oh, and one more thing. it’s important to remember a few key points when birding and birdwatching in Nevada. Many locations are remote, and you’ll want to practice safety first while traveling Nevada backroads and highways. Here are some good tips to follow:

  1. Make sure vehicles are properly maintained and ready for the roads, have a jack, spare tire, a can of fix a flat, a shovel, snow chains.
  2. Have food and snacks, water just in case you get stuck, blankets, sunglasses.
  3. Make sure you understand call reception in the areas you are traveling in. I can’t stress this enough, as I spent a whole weekend wishing I had made important phone calls before I traveled into an area that did not service my carrier.
  4. Consider buying a Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator if you’re going to be traveling to places without cell phone reception. This device allows you to call for help in case of an emergency or to allow friends and family to know you’re safe. (Nevada Fall Color has used this device and found it be fairly easy to use. We enjoy the peace of mind it brings.)
  5. Know the terrain you will be traveling and always carry a printed map as cell service is not guaranteed in remote areas. Yes, I got lost due to not having a printed map and no cell service. Depending on strangers to pass by in a remote area is highly discouraged. Learn from my experience and be prepared. Websites don’t always give correct directions, your best bet is to use a map. Don’t gamble with your safety.
  6. Realize most of Nevada is desert or high desert and can experience drastic temperature changes. Be aware of conditions in the area you will visit.
  7. Take first aid kits. I always bring essential oils that have anti-bacterial and anti-septic qualities just in case. Also bug repellent or citronella candles, matches, and lighters just in case but be very cautious of not starting fires in dry weather conditions. An extra flashlight and batteries are highly recommended.
  8.  Exercise birdwatching etiquette. Stay quiet as birds are sensitive to noise and sudden movements, move quietly, respect all wildlife in the area, keep a safe distance, do not feed the wildlife or leave any trace of your presence being mindful to never leave trash anywhere in nature. Even the smallest thing could endanger the wildlife. Stay on the trails and keep peaceful surroundings.
  9. Birds are best observed in the morning when they are active. Although it’s possible to see birds throughout the day, to have the best experience birding you’ll want to get an early start. As they say, timing is everything.
  10. Learning the birdsongs and calls will help you better identify them.
  11. Dress appropriately: backpack, layers of clothing, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, and always carry water and snacks.
  12. Watch the birds in their environment, pay attention to their nesting habits and behavior. Each type of bird has its own special way of doing things, taking notes you can look back on is something you’ll appreciate in years to come.
  13. Take photos and share them online, people love seeing the birds in their natural habitat. Always remember to prioritize your safety and the bird welfare over the perfect shot.
  14. Be careful of where you are standing. I fell into a crevice while photographing a landscape once and got a nasty scrape on my leg. Always be aware of the ground around you. Do not get lost in the moment. Birdwatching should be fun, not a trip to the ER or worse.  Be safe and enjoy the process.

May your heart be filled with joy during your birding in Nevada. Happy Trails to you until we tweet again!

What kind of interesting birds have you seen in Nevada? We’d love to hear from you. Post your comment at the end of this blog post.

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