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Habitats of the Americas

Habitats vary all over the New World, from Arctic climes, to deserts, to mountains, to tropical rain forests. Each habitat has its own characteristic avifauna. Here we present some of the varied habitats found in the Americas, and some of the birds you might see there.

Additions to this page will be posted periodically, so check again to see new places and the birds that live in them!

Habitats Table of Contents:

Islas Ballestas and Paracas, Peru


Birds cover the rocks of the Islas Ballestas, even when they are difficult to distinguish and identify through the fog.


Peruvian Boobies are among the most common species on the Islas Ballestas.


The nearby Paracas Peninsula is extremely arid, with essentially no vegetation, and hence few land birds.


The cold Humboldt Current flows northward from Antarctica along the west coast of South America, bringing rich nutrients to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. In this current, just off the south-central coast of Peru, lie the Islas Ballestas (Ballestas Islands), just offshore from the Paracas Peninsula.

Because of the cold offshore current (one of the major components of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation), the climate here is cool and foggy, despite being only a few degrees from the Equator. The air here is chilled by the cold current, creating a climate with little or no rain, ever, surprising despite the fog! But nutrients carried by the current grow fish, and the fish attract sea birds in great numbers.

With little rain, and many birds, the bird droppings over the centuries accumulated into deep deposits of guano. The guano was an important source of fertilizer at the end of the 19th Century, and was mined and shipped to the United States and Europe.

A few of the bird species you might expect to see here include some of the northern-most penguins in the world (the Galapagos Penguin is still farther north). Most of the birds occur in great numbers. The Paracas area is a major wintering ground for many shorebirds that breed in North America. Other birds are:

  • Humboldt Penguin
  • Wilson's Storm-Petrel
  • Peruvian Pelican
  • Peruvian Booby
  • Guanay Cormorant
  • Red-legged Cormorant
  • Blackish Oystercatcher
  • Tawny-throated Dotterel
  • Chilean Skua
  • Kelp Gull
  • Gray Gull
  • Band-tailed Gull
  • Gray-hooded Gull
  • Inca Tern
  • Seaside Cinclodes (a land bird!)

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Grebe Lake

Grebe Lake, which did have Horned Grebes on it, and many Ospreys. August 1998.

Burned forest

Forest burned in the 1988 forest fires still has many dead trees standing, and pink fireweed flowering . August 1998.


Yellowstone National Park is one of the treasures of the United States. It is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and has some of the most interesting and unbelievable sights, too, such as swooshing geysers and blurping mud pots.

Ten years ago, great fires swept through the park, burning many thousands of hectares. Although the park was not really hurt--fires are a natural part of its environment--many people feared much damage had been caused. Indeed, even ten years later, there are many areas of standing, dead trees.

But when the trees lost their canopies, light came to the forest floor, and grass and shrubs could grow. This provided food for animals, and also insects. And insects are food for birds. So in some ways, the park is now perhaps better for wildlife than it was before the fires.

A few bird species you might see if you visited here during the summer are:

  • Horned Grebe
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Osprey
  • Gray Jay
  • Clark's Nutcracker
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • MacGillivray's Warbler

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Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Beagle Channel

Beagle Channel

Lapataia Bay

Lapataia Bay, Ushuaia National Park. Here there were sea lions, steamer ducks, and cormorants.

Beech forest

Southern beech forest on Tierra del Fuego.


Ashy-headed and Upland geese on shores of Bahia Lapataia.


Off the southern end of South America, across the Straits of Magellan, is the island of Tierra del Fuego. Its southern boundary is the Beagle Channel, named for the ship that carried Charles Darwin (and FitzRoy and many others) on their exploratory voyage around the world in the early part of the 1800s.

The Beagle spent much time surveying this area. The city of Ushuaia lies on the shore of the Beagle Channel.

The climate here, so close to Antarctica, is cool, as you would imagine. The summer (December and January) is short, and although the winters are not extremely cold, due to the moderating effects of the surrounding ocean, they are long and snowy.

Although most people think of South America as being "tropical," Ushuaia is definitely very temperate. As with most temperate areas, the avifauna is not as diverse as in lowland tropical rainforests such as Amazonia, but because of the isolation of Tierra del Fuego, most bird species found here are unique.

A fascinating book to read about life growing up by one of the first settlers of Ushuaia is The Uttermost Part of the Earth, by Lucas Bridges.

A few bird species you might see if you visited here:

  • Great Grebe
  • Wandering Albatross
  • Rock Cormorant
  • King Cormorant
  • Ashy-headed Goose
  • Upland Goose
  • Kelp Goose
  • Flightless Steamer-Duck
  • Flying Steamer-Duck
  • Austral Parakeet
  • Magellanic Woodpecker
  • Blackish Cinclodes
  • Gray-flanked Cinclodes
  • White-throated Tree-runner
  • Thorn-tailed Rayadito
  • Rufous-backed Negrito

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Sonoran Desert, Arizona, U.S.A.

Sonoran Desert

A view from the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Sonoran Desert

Cholla (in the foreground) are used as nest sites by several desert birds, including Cactus Wrens and Curve-billed Thrashers.


Covering some 120,000 square miles (310,776 square km), the Sonoran Desert stretches across southwestern Arizona, southeastern California, and much of Baja California and Sonora, Mexico. Although the hottest of North American deserts, a bimodal annual rainfall pattern results in a relatively rich abundance of plants and animals.

Thanks perhaps to Hollywood westerns, the saguaro cactus is thought of by many people as the signature species of the Sonoran Desert. Rising like giant green dinner forks with uneven tines, saguaros may reach 50 feet (15 m) in height and live 200 years. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers excavate nest cavities in saguaros, providing future homes for other cavity nesting desert birds such as Elf Owls.

Other common plants of the Sonoran Desert include cholla, prickly pear, and barrel cactus, creosote bush, desert saltbush, bursage, and palo verde and mesquite trees.

Some bird species you may expect to see in the Sonoran Desert include:

  • Cactus Wren
  • Gila Woodpecker
  • White-winged Dove
  • Gambel's Quail
  • Gilded Flicker
  • Inca Dove
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Elf Owl
  • Costa's Hummingbird
  • Harris's Hawk
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Lucy's Warbler
  • Phainopepla
  • Verdin

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Lowland Pine Savanna, Honduras and Nicaragua

Savanna in Nicaragua

East of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, 15 January 1995

Savanna in Nicaragua

About 25 km southeast of Waspam, Nicaragua, 13 January 1995

Savanna in Honduras

About 5 km east of Ahuasbila, Honduras, 1 March 1992


A habitat that was severely affected by Hurricane Mitch in late October, 1998, is the lowland pine savanna of northeastern Honduras and northeastern Nicaragua. This unique habitat is the southernmost extension of natural pines in the lowlands of the western hemisphere. (Pines extend a little further south in the mountains of Central America, and have been introduced by Man throughout South America.)

The savanna is composed primarily of Caribbean pine (Pinus caribea) and grassland, with gallery forests of broad-leaved species along the banks of rivers and watercourses. Hurricane Mitch crossed right over the lowland pine savanna with 240 kph (150 mph) winds and heavy rains.

To a birder from North America, many species that occur in the lowland pine savanna would seem familiar. This area is near the southern extent of the range of many species from North America. On the other hand, it is also a tropical habitat, and has many species a North American birder would not be familiar with, too. Some species on the list are species that would be associated with gallery forests in the savanna.

Some of the following species are migrants that winter here but breed in North America; those are marked with an asterisk. A few of the bird species you might expect to see here are:

  • Roadside Hawk
  • Black-throated Bobwhite
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Yellow-naped Amazon
  • Red-lored Amazon
  • Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Fulvous-bellied Antpitta
  • White-collared Manakin
  • Fork-tailed Flycatcher
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Brown Jay
  • Gray Catbird*
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Grace's Warbler
  • American Redstart*
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Scarlet-rumped Tanager
  • Montezuma Oropendola
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Yellow-backed Oriole

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Tallgrass Prairie, Oklahoma, USA


Tallgrass prairie north of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. This is the southern end of the Flint Hills, which extend northward to Manhattan, Kansas.


Flowering prairie southeast of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Tallgrass praire can be a lush, thick, green forest, head high by fall. Although many species of birds can be found around the edges of the prairie or along watercourses, where there are a few trees, the most abundant species out in the open prairie itself are a relatively small number of ground-nesting species.

The virgin tallgrass prairie pictured here covers a gently-rolling terrain. It has never been plowed, but does harbor some exotic plant species, and is grazed by cattle.

A few bird species you might see if you visited here during the summer are:

  • Killdeer
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Greater Prairie-Chicken
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Common Nighthawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  • Bell's Vireo
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Henslow's Sparrow
  • Dickcissel
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Orchard Oriole

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Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Canyon north of Guadalajara

Canyon at north edge of city of Guadalajara. Air is somewhat hazy from smog.

Canyon and Guadalajara

Canyon at edge of Guadalajara, with city visible in background.

Guadalajara is a city of some 5 million people in the central Mexican state of Jalisco. Although it is a BIG city, it ends abruptly to the north at the Canyon of the Oblatos. This canyon provides habitat for a number of resident and migrant species.

The area around Guadalajara is normally arid, and a major agricultural crop in the area is agave, used for making tequila. These photographs were made in early February.

A few bird species you might see if you visited here:

  • Russet-crowned Motmot
  • Tropical Kingbird
  • Bright-rumped Attila
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Gray Silky-Flycatcher
  • Yellow-winged Cacique
  • Varied Bunting
  • Hepatic Tanager

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Alpine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains , New Mexico , USA


Truchas Peaks (far distant), Chimayosas Peak (middle), and Barbara Peak (closest, left side), looking west from Jicarita Ridge, 12,500 feet, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico.


See if you can see the two ptarmigan in the above photo (HINT: one is below and to the right of the marmot, second is to the right of the first).


White-tailed Ptarmigan in New Mexico, July 2006.


Picas are small (rat-sized) rabbits that are often seen scurrying around in the boulder fields of the alpine.


White-crowned Sparrow nest.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, north-central New Mexico, contain the largest amount of Rocky Mountain alpine habitat south of Colorado. Hundreds of elk and bighorn sheep can be seen grazing on the ridges and peaks, as well as lots of marmots and picas. Several of the peaks surpass 13,000 feet.

The alpine habitat of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is also the home of White-tailed Ptarmigan, the southern-most extent of their range. White-tailed Ptarmigan are the only ptarmigan species endemic to North America, and the only ptarmigan species found south of Canada. Like other ptarmigan, they change color with the season, gray/brown in the summer, and white in the winter.This allows them to blend in with their surroundings exceptionally well.

Click to hear the "chuckle" call of a male ptarmigan recorded on location in July 2006 (WAV file)

Other birds that can be seen in the Sangre de Cristo alpine include:

  • Golden Eagle
  • Prairie Falcon
  • American Pipit
  • Up to three species of Rosy-Finches
  • Horned Lark

Slightly lower, below the timber line, the following are just a few of the bird species that are also somewhat common:

  • Hermit Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Western Tanager
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk
  • American Dipper
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Plumbeous Vireo
  • Dusky (Blue) Grouse
  • Steller's Jay
  • Clark's Nutcracker
  • Williamson's Sapsucker
  • Black Swift
  • White-throated Swift
  • Violet-green Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Common Poorwill
  • Cassin's Finch
  • Band-tailed Pigeon

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