How to Find Birds in the Alpines of Alta

SkiLift.jpgIt’s ski season! Join Tracy Aviary’s conservation team to look at birds that live in the Alta Ski Area

Skiers aren’t the only ones on the slopes of Alta...

As snow enthusiasts of all kinds flock into Little Cottonwood Canyon to take advantage of the world’s best powder, there are many other critters that are zipping about in these mountains. Among them are, of course, birds. We are blessed to have quick access to mountains that peak up and over 11,000 ft. These places are an alpine home to birds that are not as readily seen in many other parts of the world!

What are some of the birds that fly alongside skiers in northern Utah? The golden eagle is a truly special one. It is one of the best-known raptors on the continent and an emblem of many countries around the world including Germany, Austria, and Mexico. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Tracy Aviary’s Conservation Ecologist, Bryant Olsen, spots them frequently.  Another fun bird with a view of the slopes is the red crossbill. This bird’s beak would have put Darwin into a frenzy of scientific curiosity. The points of the beak cross (hence its name) kind of like a pair of crossed fingers. This is a unique adaptation that makes the bird a specialist in eating pine, spruce, and fir cones. The bird will position the points of it's beak under the scale of a conifer cone. When it bites, it's powerful muscles combined with the beak’s shape is able to pop the scale up to reveal the seed with ease. 



 Golden eagles have unique features, just like humans. Each individual has just a slightly different positioning of white feathers on its body. Photo credit: Jeff Bleam,


Slow ski to see the birds...

Golden eagle and red crossbill are just two of the many fascinating, and at times colorful, winter birds that you can spot on the ski slopes. Next time you’re on the slopes and taking a break to breathe in the crisp, mountain air, try taking a gander at the view immediately around you. 


These skiers are on a birding pit stop to take a look, and a photo, of a Steller’s Jay. You can join the action at one of our upcoming Birding on Skis events.

For those curious about Little Cottonwood Canyon’s wildlife, Tracy Aviary teams up with Alta Environmental Center to offer Birding on Skis. Once snow powder allows for skiing, Bryant takes his birding endeavors to the mountains by slapping on a pair of skis to slow-roll the slopes in search of birds. Anyone who takes up the opportunity to join is never disappointed; Bryant is one of the leading birders in the state of Utah and has endless skill and patience to point out countless feathered creatures in trees, bushes, and in sky that we often miss on first glance. For those inclined to sound, Bryant can also point out the individual tunes that contribute to the symphony of birds found in the alpine forests that the ski slopes interweave. 


How to ski and bird...

Birding on Skis events take place on the second Friday of each month, running from December through April. The adventure always launches from the bottom of Collins Lift at Wildcat Basin at 9am and goes until around 12pm. Skiers of all skill levels 12 years and up are welcome!  You do not need a pair of binoculars to participate – we can help you with the birding gear you’ll need. While participants will need to rent or provide their own skis, you can always register for a free ski lift pass for the event itself, or a 50% off day pass to continue skiing once the guided tour is over.

Upcoming dates are: Friday, Dec 13 and Friday Jan 10. 

Click HERE to register for a Birding on Skis event.

BirdingSkis_Binocs.jpgNot sure about your ski skills? No worries! We go out with beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers. 


Learn More

Alta Environmental Center – Check out the Alta Environmental Center to learn more about Birding on Skis and other birding events with Tracy Aviary in the Alta Ski Area.

Bird with us. –Tracy Aviary hosts bird walks all across the Salt Lake County. 

Lucila Fernandez is the Conservation Outreach Biologist with Tracy Aviary’s Conservation Science Team. Her main objective is to connect people of all backgrounds, experience levels, and interests to the many ways that we can all be protectors of birds and the habitats they live in. By using a recipe of education, marketing, and science activities, Lucila works with the Tracy Aviary conservation team to share on the role of community/citizen science as a bridge between environmental research and the public. Additionally, she works with individuals to help determine the sorts of conservation commitments that are most practical to adopt. Learn more about conservation outreach by clicking the following link:  



-Lucila Fernandez, Conservation Outreach Biologist