Trip Ideas

5 Bird Watching Northern California Hot Spots In Nevada County

Welcome to paradise. A birder's paradise, that is. Our extreme elevation gradient ranging from gently sloping foothill grasslands up to tall alpine peaks allows more than 200 species of birds to breed, winter, or migrate through. If you love birding or birdwatching Nevada County is a must.

Tips & Resources

We’re so glad you’re planning to visit us, on your trip here we ask you to recreate respectfully and sustainably to ensure Nevada County remains beautiful and vibrant by following the 7 principles of Leave No Trace.

Go with the experts – Sierra Foothills Audubon Society in Grass Valley offers guided bird walks and cool maps of local birding hot spots

Pick up a guide to bird watching from our local book stores before you head out

Check out this list of ten Truckee River Watershed Council restoration sites – beautiful streams, meadows, creeks and trails that make for excellent birding and wildlife watching.


By Laura Petersen

Birds, birds everywhere. Whether you’re a newbie, hobbyist or a full-fledged experienced birder, the rich ecological diversity found in Nevada County makes our historic towns and trails a bird watching Northern California paradise.

An Old Hobby Becomes A New Sensation

bird watchers on Orene Wetherall Trail by Woodpecker Preserve
Birdwatchers on trail near the Woodpecker Preserve – Photo by: Laura Petersen – Image appears courtesy: Bear Yuba Land Trust

In recent years, birding has become an overnight sensation among audiences young and old. And for good reason. Watching beautiful birds in their natural habitats is an instant stress reliever and deeply satisfying to the soul. Getting into this form of recreation is naturally accessible and open to people of all abilities and backgrounds. Once you have basic gear like a trusty identification book or smartphone app and a pair of binoculars, you are ready to hit the trail.

Look Up And Notice The World

From the lower-elevation oak woodlands and foothills to the soaring crest of the Sierra Nevada, visitors looking for feathered friends won’t be disappointed. A pack ready for the day will prepare you for hours of enjoyment in nature.

Where To Start

Whether you’re ready to go solo or you’d like to venture out with a guided group, we’ve put together a starter resource list below with a handful of beginner locations and other information to help get you started. But feel free to explore on your own. Any green space or open water source will do. Use virtual maps to pinpoint good spots and plan your itinerary right from home. And remember, always pack out what you pack in!

Did you know? Nevada County is home to four State Parks, all considered wonderful birding destinations in their own right. Wanna avoid the crowds? See our list of winter hikes or beginner-friendly bird watching locales below.

Grass Valley

Condon Park

A Bullock’s Oriole

If you are looking to grab a quick hour of bird identification before breakfast, head to Condon Park. This urban park isn’t exactly the wilderness but it’s easily accessible to downtown Grass Valley and quite birdy!

What You’ll See

Look for sparrows and towhees as well as migrant species like Bullock’s Oriole, Wilson’s Warblers and Western Tanagers along the path and in the willow around the cattail-lined pond. Black Phoebes and Western Bluebirds favor the open areas and Cedar Waxwings can be found in the treetops. Wandering along the trails weaving through the disc golf course, you may spot woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. Be careful of flying discs!

Visit Bear Yuba Land Trust for a map


Black Swan

a green heron a river shoreline
A Green Heron

Similar to Hirschman’s Pond, Black Swan is the result of Hydraulic Mining, a relic of the gold rush era. A towering hydraulic mining cliff looms over a groundwater-fed pond surrounded by a lush riparian strip. Nature is reclaiming this preserve – Blue oaks, foothill pines, buckbrush, manzanita, and toyon are common shrubs of the drier areas.

What You’ll See

This location is birdy almost any time of the year. Be on the lookout for ducks. Hooded Merganser and Bufflehead from late fall through early spring, and Wood Duck, Mallard, and Canada Goose year-round. Green Heron nest in the dense vegetation along the shoreline while Belted Kingfishers and Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in holes in the cliff face.

Visit Bear Yuba Land Trust for a map

Nevada City

Cascade Canal Trail – Woodpecker Preserve

A male pileated woodpecker

This level trail along an irrigation ditch passes through a lower montane forest composed of mature ponderosa and sugar pines, incense cedar, madrone, Douglas fir, and black oak, dogwood and manzanita. 

What You’ll See

As you walk through Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Woodpecker Preserve, listen for the loud thumping of the impressive Pileated Woodpecker. Go quietly and soon you will surely see some visitors and resident birds. Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Common Raven, Bewick’s Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee, Western Tanager and more.

Visit Bear Yuba Land Trust for a map


Road to Castle Pass

The road to Castle Pass offers epic views year round and the chance to see some of the most sought-after birds of the High Sierra, such as Pine Grosbeak, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker. The beautiful Castle Valley meadow and rugged Castle Peak provide scenic highlights. Great for day hikes and snowshoe adventures. It can be crowded, and parking permits may be required. Contact Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Ranger District for updates.

Lower Carpenter Valley

A birdwatching paradise - a river flowing through the Lower Carpenter Valley
Lower Carpenter Valley on a spring day – Photo appears courtesy: Truckee Donner Land Trust

Thanks to Truckee Donner Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and the Northern Sierra Partnership, the Lower Carpenter Valley is now accessible to the public. At the bottom of the valley is a large, wet meadow fed by the north fork of Prosser Creek. Bordering the valley to the north and west is Carpenter Ridge, whose highest point is over 8,900 feet. A 2.75-mile nature trail with long stretches of boardwalk protects the fragile ecosystem. Don’t forget the mosquito repellant! 

What You’ll See

Bring your binoculars and you may spot: Red-breasted Sapsucker; White-headed and Hairy Woodpeckers; Olive-sided Flycatcher; Western Wood-Pewee and Evening Grosbeak. Beautiful wildflowers, too!

Learn more at Truckee Donner Land Trust

Plan Ahead!

To help minimize your impact on birds and other wildlife as well as keep yourself safe, we recommend studying the American Birding Association’s set of guidelines. Get in the habit of a pre-birding routine: Check the weather, consider the sun and insect situation, and look up your local species occurrences prior to any outing. And please leave your dogs at home.


The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.

Learn more at Audubon Org

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

Headquartered in Grass Valley, the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society offers guided bird walks and cool maps of local birding hot spots.

Stop by our local book stores and get reading!

Birds of the Sierra Nevada – Their Natural History, Status and Distribution by Edward C. Beedy and Edward R. Pandolfino

This beautifully illustrated book presents natural histories of birds of the Sierra Nevada, the origins of their names, the habitats they prefer, how they communicate and interact with one another, their relative abundance, and where they occur within the region.

The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws 

This is a wonderful introductory field guide for beginners loaded with beautiful illustrations of Sierra life, including birds! A trusty book that fits nicely in your pack too.

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior by David Allen Sibley

For bird enthusiasts who want a deep dive and to learn how birds live and what they do, this book is for you!

Need provisions? Gear up at our local outfitters

Wild Birds Unlimited

Looking for new optics? Check out this store in downtown Grass Valley.

The Earth Store

Stop by this store designed for the naturalist if you are looking to add to your birding library or want to upgrade your binocs.

Smartphone Apps


Find more birds and keep track of your bird lists while helping to contribute bird sightings to science with this handy tool! A project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


The new Sibley Birds app has arrived with comprehensive, up to date information of over 930 North American species.


Laura Petersen

Laura Petersen has a passion for storytelling and for two decades has chronicled the people and places of Northern California. Fascinated by folk who make a rustic livelihood from the land, her writing examines the complexities of human relationships with nature through topics such as sustainability, food and farming, arts & culture and outdoor recreation. In 2018, she founded Hiking For Good and can regularly be found hiking on trails in Nevada County. Read her work at and contact her at

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