Owens Lake Wildlife

We actively manage our operations to keep streams and adjacent lands sustainable while ensuring optimal water quality and reliable water supply to our ratepayers in Los Angeles. This  holistic approach greatly benefits fish and wildlife species as well, since the habitats they depend on within the watershed are maintained in good health. Another effective measure that helps wildlife and plants thrive is to simply keep the land undeveloped, as the LADWP has done for almost a century.

Wildlife studies and monitoring are performed by the LADWP’s watershed resource specialists who also participate on conservation teams with other agencies such as the Sage Grouse Conservation Planning Team. Over 30 years ago, the LADWP helped organize the Interagency Committee on Owens Valley Land and Wildlife that brings together more than a dozen federal, state, and local agencies to protect wildlife and other natural resources in the Eastern Sierra environment.

Many wildlife species treasured in the Owens Valley can be seen at the Wildlife Viewing Areas along Highway 395.


Throughout much of its history, Owens Lake was a haven for birds. During annual migrations, waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds stopped here to rest and feed. Now the City of Los Angeles has transformed Owens Lake into an important migratory stopover location once again, and dust mitigation efforts have created a productive habitat for birds and other wildlife in the Owens Lake area.

In spring and fall, tens of thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and other migratory bird species stop in the area to feed on various bird delicacies like alkali flies and brine shrimp. Thousands of western and least sandpipers stop here in spring before traveling north to breed on tundra in Alaska and Canada. Returning in fall, these small shorebirds often log over 5,000 miles during their annual trek! American avocets, snowy plovers, and black-necked stilts stay even longer, remaining to nest and raise their young. Northern shovelers and other waterfowl arrive in autumn, as they leave their breeding areas to the north. Some of the birds travel from as far away as Canada and South America. Among the species spotted in the area are the Peregrine Falcon, Horned Lark, Ruddy Duck, Snowy Plover, Western Sandpiper, California Gull, and many more.

Owens Lake "Big Day" Bird Count

Twice yearly the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, LADWP staff, local agencies, and volunteers record all bird species and individuals in the 48-square mile Owens Lake Dust Control Project Area plus Sulfate Well. Called the “Owens Lake Big Day Bird Surveys,” the counts are conducted each spring and fall when many birds stop, feed and rest at Owens Lake during migration.

Although all bird species are recorded during the surveys, waterbirds such as shorebirds and waterfowl are of particular interest to stakeholders. Data from Big Day surveys helps guide wildlife habitat management decisions while water conservation efforts are implemented at Owens Lake, and while dust control requirements continue to be met.

The data is also used to refine Owens Lake habitat suitability models. Habitat suitability models will be used to monitor changes in habitat availability for waterbird guilds during implementation of the Owens Lake Master Project, a long-term collaborative project with the goal of reducing the water usage for dust control while preserving habitat for shorebirds including the special status Snowy Plover and waterfowl. 

Owens Lake Bird Festival

The Owens Lake Bird Festival is a celebration of the thousands of migratory birds as they travel through the Owens Valley and of the rich and precious natural environment of the Eastern Sierra. With over 30 outings offered, the Bird Festival covers topics including birding, botany, photography, geology, local history, and more. Over three days, over 150 participants will explore the unique natural landscape surrounding the Lone Pine.

For more information or to purchase tickets to this year's event, head over to Friends of the Inyo

Audubon Birding Ethics

Avoid causing unnecessary disturbance or stress to birds.
- Use a telephoto lens and maintain enough distance to allow your subject to behave naturally. Blinds offer a great way to watch and photograph or film birds without disturbing them.

- Never advance on birds with the intention of making them fly, whether they are lone birds or flocks of birds. This disrupts natural processes such as resting, foraging, or hunting, and causes them to expend energy unnecessarily.

- If your approach causes a bird to flush (fly or run away) or change its behavior, you’re too close. Some birds may “freeze” in place rather than fly away, or may hunch into a protective, aggressive, or pre-flight stance. Watch for changes in posture indicating that a bird is stressed, and if you see these, back away. If focused on you, birds may miss a predator.

- Learn the rules and laws of the location. If minimum distances exist for proximity to wildlife, follow them.

- Use flash sparingly (if at all), as a supplement to natural light. Avoid the use of flash on nocturnal birds (e.g., owls, nightjars) at night, as it may temporarily limit their ability to hunt for food or avoid obstacles.

- Before sharing locations of specific birds with other photographers, videographers, or birders, think carefully about potential impacts to the birds or their habitats, both individual and cumulative.

- Remove GPS data from your images/videos for rare or sensitive species like owls.

- Concern for birds’ habitat is also essential. Be aware and respectful of your surroundings. Avoid trampling sensitive vegetation or disturbing other wildlife.

- Do not use drones to photograph or film birds, especially at their nests. Although drones can be useful for researchers and biologists documenting bird populations (such as at island nesting colonies), drones in general can be very disruptive to birds. They are also illegal in national parks and some state parks.

- Be cautious with remotely triggered cameras. Setting a trap around a fresh kill or cache is generally acceptable, but supplying bait or other lure in order to attract an animal is not. Never use direct flash, which may temporarily blind owls; a flash with a filter that lets only infrared light through is acceptable.

Beach-nesting birds (shorebirds and seabirds) require special care. 
- Respect and give space to the boundaries of roped-off nesting areas.

- Maintain a minimum distance of 25 yards from beach-nesting birds, especially solitary flightless chicks but also adults brooding, feeding, or incubating chicks. Parents frightened from their nests leave young vulnerable to swift predation from gulls and other animals, as well as deadly temperature extremes.

- Situate yourself so that you are not in a direct line from the nest area to the water, which can inhibit the family and/or chicks from heading down to the waterline to feed. It is vital that chicks feed as much as possible to gain enough weight to survive their upcoming migration. If the young are feeding at the shoreline, take special care to keep your distance so they don’t hurry back to the nest area/dunes.

- Accompany shorebird and seabird chick photos and videos with detailed captions that explain how you respected their space and needs. Leading by example is a critical component of ethical photography/videography. 

Show respect for private and public property, and consideration for other people. 
- Enter private land only with permission. On public property such as parks and refuges, be aware of local regulations, hours, and closed areas.

- Be respectful of birds located on private land but viewable from a public vantage point, and also respect the privacy of these private landowners. If they are uncomfortable with your presence, leave.

- In group situations, be considerate of other photographers, videographers, and birders watching the same bird. Remember that your desire to photograph or film the bird doesn’t outweigh the rights of others to observe it. Remember also that large groups of people are potentially more disturbing to birds, so it may be necessary to keep a greater distance.

Compiled by Melissa Groo, Kenn Kaufmann, and Jim Verhagen with the help of Walker Golder, Sean Graesser, Erik Johnson, Stan Stenner, Tara Tanaka, and the Audubon photo and social media teams. For additional information please visit, Audubon.org