Big Days

Owens Lake Big Days

Owens Lake Spring Big Day 2012

Birders at Owens Lake Big Day, April 25, 2012
Photo by Michael Prather

Owens Lake is an eastern Sierra Important Bird Area which National Audubon has referred to as a "globally-important wetland in the making." It once was such, but after the fresh waters feeding the lake were diverted for an ever more thirsty Los Angeles, the lake became dry, the habitat evaporating with the water. Because of the issues of air quality caused by the exposure of so much alkali dust, the city is being required to mitigate dust, and the easiest way keep the dust down is to return water to areas of the lake's surface. With the return of water, the birds have also begun to return. Read more about New Opportunities for Birds on Owens Lake on the California Audubon website.

There are two annual Big Days at Owens Lake to take advantage of this returning phenomenon, one for spring migration, in late April, and one for the fall migration, in late August. Check the Owens Lake Big Days page to learn about upcoming and recent events.


The Owens Lake Spring Big Day is an annual cooperative project conducted by Eastern Sierra Audubon and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It gathers data on the number of species and individuals that use Owens Lake each spring for nesting and foraging during migration.

In the past 5 years, the total number of individual birds counted at the lake in spring has ranged from 39,342 to 74,511, with the species count ranging from 66 to 111. These numbers demonstrate the enormous return of birds to Owens Lake as a result of the Los Angeles Dust Control Project. The data for each year are available here (pdf file) - it will be interesting to observe trends emerging after a few more years of data collection.

Western Sandpipers at Owens Lake, photo by Peter Knapp

Western Sandpipers at Owens Lake, Photo by Peter Knapp

Data from the Spring Big Day is used in the management of the birds and their habitat at Owens Lake. The Draft Owens Lake Master Plan calls for the continued protection and even enhancement of wildlife habitat and wetlands. Owens Lake will once again support migrating and nesting birds and it will become an important ecotourism attraction that will help our local economy.

In spring 2012, Andrea Jones wrote a story about our spring Big day for California Audubon: Birding the Owens Lake Big Day.

Michael Prather, the driving force behind the Big Days, has a Facebook page for Owens Lake with many great photos of birds and scenery on the lake throughout the year. He also shares updates on Owens Lake conservation issues, field trips, events, and more on the Big Days.

Here are two links that might be helpful in planning:

For more information and to sign up, contact Mike Prather at 760-876-5807 or Be sure to look for and become a friend of Owens Lake on Facebook for updates and great photos!


The Owens Lake Fall Big Days are in mid to late August. Contact Mike Prather ( to sign up.

The lake will be surveyed for all birds of all species during the peak of fall migration. Small groups will census every bird habitat at Owens Lake in order to have a ‘snap shot’ of a single day. Expect to see thousands of shorebirds at this Important Bird Area, so be prepared. Past counts have totaled 40,000-60,000 birds!

Owens Lake Spring Big Day 2012