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Where to Go Birdwatching in Lake Tahoe

Last updated: May 2024

Birdwatching is its own kind of bliss – especially when you’re surrounded by the rare beauty of Lake Tahoe. Be it in a peaceful meadow, deep in the mountains, along the Truckee River or on Lake Tahoe’s peaceful shores, there are a lot of prime spots to explore.

We’ve gathered up all the details on the best birding spots to check out, along with tips on what to look for once you’re there. For those new to birding, we also put together some general tips to help you enjoy your time with nature.

What to Bring on your Lake Tahoe Birdwatching Trip

How passionate you are about birding will determine how much gear to bring. We’ll keep this list light with suggestions on how to gear up more if you like.

  • Binoculars: The basics will work for your birdwatching trip, but higher-end options will provide significantly better images, warranties, waterproof housing and feel.
  • Field Guide: The National Audubon Society has a great field guide or you can rely on an app like the Audubon Bird Guide or a site like AllAboutBirds.org. The Merlin Bird ID app can also identify the birds by their song.
  • Birding Basics: With lots of walking comes the need for comfortable shoes. A walking stick may be good to have too, along with basics like a hat, water, sunscreen and bug spray.
  • Record Book: More serious birders are devout about their log books. As you get more involved, you may find it fun to keep a record too.
  • Spotting Scope:  For especially serious birders, this is essential for spotting things like bald eagles a quarter of a mile away, which is helpful if you want to participate in the Mid-winter Bald Eagle Count.
Photo Credit: Ming T. Poon

Responsible Tips

Along with an appreciation for the rare natural beauty of Lake Tahoe, comes the desire to preserve it. While you’re out and about, keep these tips in mind.

  • Keep Wildlife Wild: Don’t try to catch, touch or feed the birds.
  • Keep to the Trail: Staying on the trails will help preserve the natural environment for those who thrive there.
  • Bring Some Water: Birdwatching, while relaxing, can take some time. Make sure to bring a reusable water bottle and enjoy some fresh Tahoe Tap.
  • Pack Out What You Packed In: Make sure to take all of your belongings with you.
  • Check Out Local Gear: We have many birdwatching enthusiasts from North Lake Tahoe businesses who are happy to provide you with the gear you’ll need for your birding adventure.

Now you’re ready! See below for the best of Lake Tahoe birdwatching spots to start your adventure.

Best Birdwatching Spots in Lake Tahoe

Wilderness and old-growth forests are best, but even in the town areas, you can spot birds like the Red-tailed Hawks, Mountain Chickadee, American Robin, California Gull and Canada Goose. In the winter, Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are also common around Lake Tahoe.

Spooner Lake

There are more than 12,000 acres of forested, open space in this natural oasis. There are 50 miles of trails to explore with Marlette, Red House, Flume and Tahoe Rim Trails being the most popular. The Spooner Lake Loop Trail is fairly short at 2 miles and winds through meadows and aspen and fir forests.

  • Best Time of Year: May through July
  • Bird Species: Osprey, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Brown Creeper, and Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted and Williamson’s Sapsuckers and Downy, Hairy, and White-headed Woodpeckers. If you catch the spring migration, you might spot Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper, Western Wood-Pewee, Tree and Barn Swallows, Hermit Thrush, Western Tanager, Warbling and occasionally Cassin’s Vireos, and a variety of warblers.

Tahoe Meadows and Upper Ophir Creek

A lush alpine meadow with nearby forests, this area has two good birding trails you’ll want to check out. There’s a one-hour trail that goes around the perimeter and another three-hour loop that follows Ophir Creek along the south side of Tahoe Meadows.

  • Best Time of the Year: May through September
  • Bird Species: Western Tanager, Hermit Warbler, Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers, American Dipper and Mountain Bluebird

Skylandia State Park & Beach

Just 1.5 miles east of Tahoe City, this is a 24-acre California State Park with hiking trails plus a beach, pier and swimming area.

  • Best Time of Year: spring and summer
  • Bird Species: Common Merganser along the shore and Woodpeckers, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee along the trails

Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District

A local favorite, this area is rich with mountains, lakes, forests and a river to roam. Legacy Trail is a popular trail here. Running along the Truckee River, it’s part of the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail that runs from Truckee to Reno.

  • Best Time of Year: spring and summer
  • Bird Species: Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee and a variety of Woodpeckers, plus Bald Eagles in the winter

Donner Memorial State Park

Surrounded in beautiful pines, there are several hiking trails near Cold Stream Canyon and China Cove. In the winter when snowfall allows, they will usually create a trail through the area perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

  • Best Time of Year: spring and summer
  • Species: Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee and a variety of Woodpeckers, plus Bald Eagles in the winter
Photo Credit: Ming T. Poon

Common Lake Tahoe Birds to Watch For

If you’re new to birding or new to the area, you may not be as familiar with the bird species found in Lake Tahoe. Here’s a brief look at what you’re likely to find on your hike:

Steller’s Jay

These bright blue beauties are a sight to behold. They’re also super smart, curious, quite loud and common throughout Lake Tahoe, especially around campgrounds and parks.

Mountain Chickadee

This tiny bird has a long, grey tail and round belly with white cheeks and eyebrows, and a black cap, throat and streaks along its eyes. They’re super friendly and will fly right into your hand, although wildlife experts would prefer you didn’t encourage that. For a special tour of Chicakadee Ridge and the chance to feed chickadees responsibly, contact the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino.

White-headed Woodpecker

One of Tahoe’s signature birds, they are often found on Ponderosa and Sugar Pines where they look for pine seeds to eat. They have a white head and neck with a black body and white stripe along the wing. Males have a red spot on their heads.

Common Merganser

The male of these large ducks has an iridescent green head with a grey body and the females and babies have a rust-colored head, white chest and gray body. They’ll dive to catch fish and the females will often carry their babies on their backs.

Bald Eagle

Coloring-wise, male and female Bald Eagles are very similar with white heads,   brown bodies and yellow legs and bills. The only real noticeable difference being that females tend to be a third of the size of males. It’s fascinating to watch them hunt over Lake Tahoe’s lakes, rivers, marshes and creeks. If you’d like to participate, they also organize official Bald Eagle Counts for them in the winter.

Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed hawks are also a common sight soaring over Lake Tahoe, marked by their bulky proportions and trademark rusty-orange feathers. This bird of prey is known for its piercing call and status as a widespread, North American top predator.

Plan Your Birdwatching Trip to Lake Tahoe

The beauty of birding is definitely in the beauty of nature, but it’s also in serenity you find there and the thrill of its discovery. Listen to our Birdwatching Spotify playlist to get you in the mood, then come and visit Lake Tahoe to take it all in.