Habitats of Southwestern Utah
Southwestern Utah is more than just red cliffs and beautiful scenery, it is also a great place for birds. Due to the incredible variety of habitat in our area, more species of birds can be seen here than in any other part of Utah. This includes many specialists that can only be found in certain habitat types. Most habitat types in this area are defined by elevation and proximity to water. Habitat types range from Joshua tree forest to Ponderosa pine, to subalpine scrub. The Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Mojave deserts converge in the southwestern corner of the state, and a unique mix of plant and animal species can be found there. We are also located along a major migratory flyway, and the availability of water here allows many species to stop and rest a few days before continuing their journey. Taking the time to become familiar with what species to expect in each habitat can help with identification and location of likely places to find target species.
In the extreme southwestern portion of the state, we find mojave species of plants such as Joshua tree, sand sagebrush, creosote brush and various cacti. Some species of birds common to this corner of the state include phainopepla, Abert's towhee, crissal thrasher, brown-crested flycatcher, costa's hummingbird, black-chinned sparro and vermilion flycatcher.
The pinyon-juniper belt us found from elevations around 4,500-6,500 feet. Sagebrush and grassland is found between stands of trees, though there is little undergrowth in thicker stands due to chemicals released by the trees to prevent competition with other plants. Some sagebrush specialists include sage grouse, sage thrasher, gray flycatcher, brewer's sparrow and the sage sparrow. Species that prefer the pinyon-juniper trees include the juniper titmouse and pinyon jay.
As you move higher in elevation (6,500-8,00 feet), pinyon-juniper stands will give way to scrub oak, big-tooth maple and ponderosa pine. Compared to the Pinyon-Juniper belt the species diversity increases significantly, due in part to the higher diversity of plant species, and the increase in forage and cover. Many of Utah's bird species can be found in this habitat type, though many of these species are not limited to the oak-pine habitat. Some birds to watch for include the spotted towhee, Woodhouse's scrub jay, and Virginia's warbler.
From about 8,000-feet to the treeline, you will pass through aspen-fir communities, then through primarily fir and spruce communities before reaching the elevation where trees are unable to grow. Some species to look for include goshawk, mountain bluebirds, gray jays, red crossbills, blue and dusky grouse and broad-tailed hummingbirds.
Water here is a very limited resource for birds. Along streams and other bodies of water there is usually a narrow band of broadleaf plants such as cottonwood and willow, surrounded by dry desert habitat. Riparian habitat such as cottonwood-willow communities will attract species not found away from this area. Some species to look for at lower elevations include the Southwester Willow Flycatcher (endangered), yellow-breasted chat, and common yellowthroat.
There are a few other micro-habitats worth mentioning. While limited in number and size, there are patches of wetland habitat that attract species such as red-winged blackbirds, rails and marsh wrens. Larger bodies of water such as ponds and reservoirs attract a variety of waterfowl, gulls, wading birds and shorebirds, especially during migration. Cultivated fields can be productive areas to look for birds of prey, shrikes, and sparrows along fence lines and shrubs.