Bird-Watching in Boulder
Welcome, bird lovers! You’ll feel right at home in Boulder, where we’ve been fervently protecting bird and wildlife habitats since 1967, when the city became the first in the country to tax itself for the purposes of land preservation.
Boulder is located exactly where the mountains meet the plains, creating a unique and biodiverse environment. The area’s protected habitats are a boon for birders, who have a good chance of spotting species that will significantly add to any birder’s Life List.
Where to Go Birding in Boulder
The Boulder branch of the Colorado Birding Trail (which is actually a network of many trails across the state) is called the Flatirons Trail. It lists 19 individual bird-watching sites in the Boulder area. Here are a few recommended highlights.
Please remember to stay on trails, don't feed the birds or wildlife and follow these Leave No Trace principles to tread lightly.
There are some 24 ponds between these two preserves, which are located a half-mile apart in northeast Boulder. Lesser traveled than some of Boulder’s more mountainous hikes, these quieter sanctuaries are perfect for bird-watching, with swaying cottonwood trees, lush grasses and teeming wetlands. Sawhill Ponds even has strategically located bird blinds for viewers. And near the Walden Ponds parking area, a walkway at Cottonwood Marsh gives visitors an inside look at tree swallows in nest boxes. You may see osprey, Eastern screech owls, great horned owls, cormorants, bald eagles, bitterns and herons, wood ducks and Eastern kingbirds, among many other species — and this is the only known nesting spot for the least bittern in Colorado.
Please note: Sawhill Ponds, as well as the west side of Walden Ponds, will be closed starting October 2023 for a multi-year utility project through March 2024. Learn more.
Here is a helpful bird list for Walden Ponds.
Fantastic views of the Flatirons are just one reason to visit this gentle, shady path that runs alongside South Boulder Creek. The trail’s namesake, the bobolink, can often be spotted here May through mid-July, as this is one of the bird’s few nesting sites along Colorado’s Front Range. To the west of the path, you’ll be able to peer into a canopy of cottonwood trees and creek-side marsh for water and forest birds. To the east is prairie land, with swaying grasses that protect ground-nesting species.
This network of trails east of Boulder sits beside an active farm, with cattle and horses (and beekeeping in warmer months). For the best bird-watching, start at the north trailhead, by Teller Lake No. 5, which has an observation deck. From here you can continue on through prairie land to the South Teller Farm area or go north to the White Rock Trails area, where Boulder Creek provides riparian habitat. Keep an eye out for eagles, northern harriers, prairie falcons, red tail hawks American coot, kestrel, American avocet, belted kingfisher and more. This trail is wheelchair accessible.
This scenic recreation area is a popular spot for boating, standup paddleboarding, sunbathing and water recreation all summer, and fees are in effect between Memorial Day and Labor Day. However, some of the best birding happens in the fall, winter and early spring. You may see osprey, eagles, Forster’s tern and California gull, or the more rare long-tailed jaeger, red-necked grebe, Pacific loon, Arctic tern and ruff. Nearby Coot Lake is another good area for bird-watching and is something of a hidden gem.
This pretty little lake is nestled among neighborhoods and parkland in the foothills of North Boulder. As you start on the flat, pleasant, looping trail, you’ll enjoy the distant Flatirons and the scenic foothills reflected in the water. Keep an eye out for paragliders, who use the top of the Wonderland Hill Trail as a launch point. At Wonderland Lake, you may spot lesser scaup, bushtit, yellow-rumped warbler, pine siskin, or northern shoveler and, more commonly, red-winged blackbird, a variety of swallows, sandhill crane, Western and Eastern meadowlark and more.
Get a new north-facing perspective on the slanting Flatirons formations from this scenic spot just south of town next to high-mesa landscape. Dowdy Draw is popular with hikers and mountain bikers, while across the street at South Mesa Trail are peaceful picnic spots and a cottonwood-shaded branch of South Boulder Creek. Be on the lookout for blue grosbeak, blue-gray gnatcatcher, red-eyed vireo, yellow-breasted chat, spotted towhee and summer appearances of lazuli bunting.
Google Map Directions to Dowdy Draw (South Mesa is across the street)
Between the craggy walls of spectacular Eldorado Canyon, a world-renowned rock climbing and hiking destination just 20 minutes south of Boulder (and just a few miles up the road from Dowdy Draw, above) await sightings of canyon wrens, white-throated swifts and violet-green swallows. The waterway that carved the canyon, South Boulder Creek, is another hot spot for sightings, which may involve Western tanager, Lewis’s woodpecker, golden eagles, warblers and many others. Park entry fees apply.
Important: Timed-entry reservations are required in Eldorado Canyon State Park on weekends and holidays from May 15-Sept 15. Passengers who ride the free Eldo Shuttle do not need reservations and are guaranteed entrance to the park (park fees still apply).
Guided Bird-Watching Hikes
Join exceptionally well-informed bird experts on outings through Boulder’s open space. Their field trips usually take place early in the morning and are free.
The city’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) department regularly hosts a series of guided nature outings, including bird-themed events. The topics are ever-changing, with past events that have included “Wings of Spring: Waterfowl Watching” and “Birds of Costa Rica.”
Not only is this an excellent place to pick up birding supplies such as binoculars and spotting scopes, but the store also offers free bird-watching events that are open to the public.
The county’s oversight of a broader geographical region offers another excellent opportunity for guided hikes and events. Topics have included “I Spy Beaks and Feet,” “Spring Migration Bird Walk” and “Wetland Waders Bird Walk.” These are free but require registration through the Discover Boulder County volunteer and event registration program.
Nearby: Bird City USA
Just 20 minutes from Boulder is Colorado’s first official Bird City: Lafayette, Colorado. The town was designated as such because of its bird-education program, annual World Migratory Bird Day celebration and habitat protection efforts. At Waneka Lake, which is home to the Greenlee Wildlife Preserve, birders have identified over 250 bird species.
What to Bring Bird-Watching
• Small notepad for recording observations and sketching.
• Hiker-friendly binoculars (small and lightweight) that bring in plenty of light for early morning and evening outings.
• Bird identification booklet or smartphone app for birding.
• Lightweight clothing appropriate for the season. Wear muted earth tones and avoid bright colors that will draw attention.
• Water, snacks and sunscreen. Boulder’s elevation is 5,430 feet above sea level. You will need to drink more water than usual if you are coming from sea level, and sunscreen is crucial here.
Check out live footage of nesting osprey at Boulder County Fairgrounds.