Moab Happenings Archive
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Winter Eagles and Hawks, Oh My!
by Damian Fagan

During winter, there are several great areas to look for birds of prey, eagles especially, in Canyon Country. Eagles and other raptors “share” winter habitat where their territorial disputes are fewer than those during the breeding season. One reason for this cohabitation probably lies with the fact that many of these hawks and eagles are winter residents only. A majority of these birds will head north once their breeding season begins.

Three of my favorite winter “raptoring” areas are: along the Colorado River, out along I-70 in the Cisco or Green River Desert, and in town.

The river and its tributaries attract bald eagles which feed on fish and waterfowl. It is not uncommon to see several bald eagles, often comprised of several age classes, roosting in one tree. These birds hunt the shallow backwaters or ice-free sections of the river for fish and waterfowl. Though floating the river may be an option to view these birds, Highway 128 snakes along the river from Moab up to I-70 and provides safe pullouts to view these magnificent birds.

Highway 128 connects to the vast open stretch of the Cisco Desert along I-70, near the “town” of Cisco. Long disrespected because of its “bleak terrain,” these grasslands and shrublands teem with wildlife, even in winter. Small rodents and mammals, along with larger species like badgers, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and pronghorn, forage for food and prey amongst the small hills and arroyos that texturize this area. The prey base is significant as viewed by the variety of predators that occur out there. Red-tailed, ferruginous, and rough-legged hawks represent the soaring hawks or Buteos, while golden and bald eagles constitute the larger birds of prey. Notably absent are turkey vultures which have not yet returned from their wintering grounds farther south. Utilizing perches on power poles or small cliffs that dot the landscape, these birds of prey use their incredible eyesight to search for prey or to scan for gatherings of ravens and magpies, scavengers congregated around carrion.

Though the interstate isn’t conducive to stopping and looking at birds, there are sections of the old highway that parallel the interstate between Crescent Junction and Thompson Springs which provide good viewing opportunities. Depending upon current conditions, these sections may be passable in winter, just travel with care. The same holds true for roads that branch off from Cisco, down to the Colorado River and Fish Ford, be aware of the conditions.

In addition to these birding hotspots, looking for raptors in town or the Moab Valley can also be very productive. The Matheson Wetlands Preserve offers some wooded habitat for the smaller sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawk, two raptors known for their bird hunting skills, as well as marshy areas that Northern harriers prefer. The sharpie and Coop are also common in town, streaking through backyards to terrorize backyard bird feeders. Adept at navigating with their long, rudder-like tails and short, broad wings, these accipiters prey on sparrows, finches, doves, woodpeckers, and other smaller birds. Their larger relative, the Northern goshawk, also migrates through the area and is considered a good birding find in winter.

So, bundle up and enjoy watching these wintering eagles and hawks and be impressed by their tenacity for surviving these wintery conditions. Good birding!

Damian FaganA natural history writer.
Former Moabite, now based in the Pacific Northwest, Damian Fagan is a freelance natural history writer and nature photographer who focuses on the flora and fauna of the American Southwest and the Pacific Northwest. Of course, this gives him a good excuse to go hiking.

Calling All Birders!

Canyonlands Field Institute’s traditional bird-watching event is back again this year! The Eagle Float is our yearly raft trip dedicated to those of you who don’t mind waking up a little early to see the magnificent waterfowl of the Colorado river. Anybody is welcome, from serious birders looking to check off a few bucket list species, to outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience a fun, relaxing float through a beautiful canyon.

Photo credit: Chuck BenshoofThe trip includes a shuttle service from the trip ending point, Westwater Ranger Station, to the trip’s launch point at Loma boat ramp in Colorado. We are also excited to provide naturalist-guides to captain the rafts, as well as bird experts to provide unique interpretation. Oh, and did we mention the delicious lunch?

Canyonlands Field Institute is a Moab based non-profit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for students of all ages to learn in the outdoors! The Eagle Float marks the first outing in our 2022 Adult Seminar Series. These seminars take place throughout the year, visiting various cultural and archeological sites and learning from guest experts. We believe you are never too old to learn about your surroundings! Proceeds from our adult seminar series are directed toward underwriting the opportunities that Canyonlands Field Institute provides to kids from all over the country to explore Moab’s beautiful surroundings.

Whether you keep your dog-eared Sibley Bird Guide always close at hand, or you can’t tell a grebe from a pelican, this trip will be sure to capture your imagination. The serene sandstone of Ruby Horsetheif canyon pairs well with the crisp, clean winter air. Be sure to bundle up, and feel free to bring a thermos full of a hot beverage. If you have any questions or wish to save a spot, visit or call 435 259-7750. Happy Birding!
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