8 Birds That Live in Deserts

What Do Roadrunners Eat?
© iStock.com/peterjquinn

Written by Emilio Brown

Updated: November 14, 2022

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It is estimated that around 33% of the earth’s landscape, or around 57,308,738 square miles of land, are classified as deserts. Around the globe, you can find a variety of deserts, some extremely hot, while others cold. No more than 10 inches of rain falls in a desert yearly, but the lack of water does not stop animals from living in it. Birds are one of the few animals that thrive in a desert, and here you will learn about 8 birds that live in deserts.

8 Birds That Live in Deserts
These amazing birds have adapted to life without water in the harsh desert.

The little water in a desert is not a problem for some birds, as they are adapted to do well in extreme climates. By adapting to the climate and getting water from other sources like cactus, birds can easily live in deserts, and some species even have special traits that make it easier for them to survive. Let’s take a look at 8 birds that live in deserts and what makes them capable of living in one of the earth’s most extreme climates.

1. Burrowing Owls

Animals That Burrow Underground: Burrowing owl

Burrowing owls are one of the smallest owls in North America.

©Mauricio S Ferreira/Shutterstock.com

Deserts are one of the few habitats the burrowing owl lives in, as they are also found in prairies, grasslands, and other bare open habitats with loose soil. As their name suggests, this bird lives in burrows and overtakes the ones made by animals like prairie dogs, gophers, and tortoises. Burrowing owls rarely dig their holes but may expand on ones previously made by others.  

When fully mature this bird has an average height of around 8 inches, with a wingspan that stretches 20 to 24 inches long. They have a tan coloring that helps them blend into sandy habitats and large yellow eyes. Dawn and dusk are when this species is active, and since they spend a considerable amount of their life underground, this species has a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide when compared with other birds. 

Insects make up a large portion of the burrowing owl‘s diet, but they also feed on snakes, small rodents, and other small animals they find. If they come across extra food, this bird will expand its burrow and leave it for when hungry. 

2. Verdin 

close up of a Verdin

The verdin averages around four inches in length.

©iStock.com/Rodrigo Izquierdo

In North America, the verdin is a desert-dwelling bird that lives in the Mojave, Sonora, and Chihuahuan deserts. This species is primarily found in riparian, scrub, and desert washes. They are found at lower elevations and inhabit plants like catclaws, smoke trees, and creosote bush. Verdin birds do not leave the desert, as they are not a migratory species

Insects and spiders they find on desert plants are what this bird feeds on. They also eat cactus fruit like prickly pears and drink the nectar from flowers to get water. This bird is unique because it builds nests all year round, even just for roosting. Their nests are built in trees, and it is common for birds to have multiple nests so they can lay eggs and rest. A small species weigh around 0.24 ounces and have gray bodies with bright yellow heads.

3. Greater Roadrunner 

Amazing Desert Animals: Roadrunner

The roadrunner is native to the Southwestern desert and gained its name from its habit of running on the road toward cars.

©Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

Greater roadrunners inhabit the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in North America and primarily live in deserts. This species is not great at flying and is only capable of getting air for a couple of seconds. Running is how they get around, and great roadrunners can quickly reach speeds near 26 mph. Greater roadrunners use their speed to avoid predators like coyotes or hawks. They also run quickly to prey on animals like lizards, desert bugs, and rattlesnakes. 

Active during the early hours of the day, but when the sun is at its hottest, roadrunners do not hunt, and they rather rest in the shade to prevent overheating. Great roadrunners stand around 2 feet tall with black and white coloring. This bird has long, thin legs that help it quickly traverse the desert. 

4. Cactus Wren

Animals in Arizona - Cactus Wren

Cactus wren uses cacti since the spikes provide safety for their young.

©Sean R. Stubben/Shutterstock.com

The cactus wren makes its home on tap of cactus and inhabits the Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran deserts in North America. Prickly pear, yucca, mesquite, and saguaro cactus are some of the plants they live on. This small species is around 7 to 8 inches in length, and they have a round shape. Males and female cactus wren build nests out of straw and grass and are social birds often seen atop its cactus.

Beetles, desert lizards, fruits, seeds, and grasshoppers are what this species eats. The diet of this species gives them the water they need, so they do not have to rely on the desert. This bird uses cacti since the spikes provide safety for their young.

5. Common Raven 

raven in flight

Corvids, such as ravens, are among the few animals that regularly use tools to obtain food.

©iStock.com/Piotr Krzeslak

Ravens are a bird that can survive in a desert. Their bodies are great at regulating heat, and the raven’s diet of bugs, carrion, and eggs help them gain water in the dry habitat. The jet-black coloring of the raven makes them stand out. They have around 25 inches and a 3.5 to 4-foot wingspan. 

The intellect of the raven outshines most birds, and they are believed to be as smart as chimps and dolphins. Ravens can solve simple problems and even use simple tools to get food.

6. Common Ostrich 

Do Birds Pee

Ostriches are extremely heavy, weighing between 140 to 320 lbs.


The height and weight of the ostrich outsize every other bird on earth, which is also why this species cannot fly. In Africa, deserts are one of their main habitats. Ostriches also inhabit woodlands, savannas, and other dry arid habitats. Taller than most humans, ostriches ‘ height ranges between 5.6 to 9.2 feet tall, with males slightly larger. Even with their size, they can run up to 43 mph. They are extremely heavy, weighing between 140 to 320 lbs.

One common myth ostriches are known for is sticking their head in the sand, but they do not do this. If scared, this large bird will flee or even play dead. Desert plants, flowers, fruits, insects, and lizards are what the ostrich eats. Living in the Sahara, they face predators like lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs, which is why they can run so fast. 

7. Golden Eagles

golden eagle in flight

Griffons, although mythical, have wings like an eagle.

©Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.com

Golden eagles live in open habitats like deserts and grasslands. This bird lives on the continents of North America and Eurasia. The golden eagle is dark brown and gets its name from the gold coloring on its head. Their wingspan grows to be 5.9 to 7.7 feet large when mature, and they stand around 3 feet tall. Strength, wisdom, and courage are a few things the golden eagle represents. This bird is a powerful symbol and can even be seen on the Mexican flag. 

The golden eagle eats small mammals and birds. They can lift up to 11 lbs, and pairs will even hunt cooperatively. The golden eagle is a top predator in the desert or any other habitat. The golden eagle is an adept flier able to reach speeds up to 200 mph and reach heights 20,000ft above sea level. This bird has no natural predators due to its size and how high it flies. 

8. Red-tailed Hawk 

Animals That Molt - Red Tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk’s distinct tail feathers result from the molting process.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

North America is the home of the red-tailed hawk, and they live all across the continent. This bird species is very adaptable and can live in deserts and other habitats like forests, grasslands, and marshes. Hawks can easily adapt to a desert habitat and enjoy the open space since they can easily spot prey from above. This species can spot prey up to 100 feet in the air and dive up to 120 mph. 

The red-tailed hawk is the most common prey bird in the North American deserts. They are opportunistic feeders, eating any small animal they can successfully hunt, such as mice and lizards. Weighing around 2.4 lbs, this bird can lift prey weighing up to 4 lbs. Red-tailed hawks have orange/red colored tail feathers and have large wingspans, around 3.4 to 4.8 feet. 

Summary of 8 Birds That Live in Deserts

NumberDesert Birds
1Burrowing Owls
3Greater Roadrunner 
4Cactus Wren
5Common Raven 
6Common Ostrich 
7Golden Eagles
8Red-tailed Hawk 

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About the Author

Spiders, snakes, and lizards are my favorite types of animals, and I enjoy keeping some species as pets. I love learning about the various wonders nature has to offer and have been a writer for 5 years. In my spare time, you can find me getting out into nature.

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