Oregon Birding Hotspots
Oregon is a birder’s paradise. In just a few hours you can move from the rocky coast to lush green forests to the high desert, each one providing a different habitat for the nearly 400 resident and migratory birds that can be found in the state. The Cascade range acts as a natural barrier. Journey to the west of the mountains and find Surf Scoters, Bewick’s Wrens, and Hermit Warblers. Head to the east and look for Ferruginous Hawks, Burrowing Owls, and Mountain Bluebirds.
Check out many of our favorite Oregon birding hotspots. Looking for even more? Explore the designated Important Bird Areas throughout the state, or our favorite places to bird in the Greater Portland Metro Area.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most valuable wildlife habitats in Oregon, providing a vital rest stop for migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway. More than 300 species of birds can be seen on the refuge throughout the year. Recognizing its value, Portland Audubon was founded in 1902 in part to advocate for its establishment as one of the first national wildlife refuges in the west. An oasis of water in the high desert, this 187,757 treasure boasts a lake, wetlands, sage-steppe, riparian areas, meadows and uplands. Spring and fall migration are spectacular. Look for White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, Snow and Ross’s Geese, Golden Eagles, Short-eared Owls, Say’s Phoebes, Sage Thrashers, Western Tanagers and so many more.
While Malheur is a central hub, visitors should explore throughout the Harney Basin, as birds use surrounding agricultural land and natural areas in large numbers.
Zumwalt Prairie is one of the largest areas of Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass remaining in the United States. The Preserve, owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, is a 33,000 acre parcel of the greater prairie covering approximately 160,000 acres or over 200 square miles of land. This area consists of expanses of shallow and deep-soiled bunchgrass prairie dissected by steep canyon grasslands as well as pine woodlands, quaking aspen groves, and spring-fed riparian ecosystems. Birders can look for Ferruginous Hawks, Swainson’s Hawk and Prairie Falcon, as well as breeding populations of Savannah Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark and Grasshopper Sparrow.
South Central Oregon
An internationally renowned wildlife area on the Pacific flyway, the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges in Southern Oregon and Northern California offer wetlands that bring a peak of 1 million birds to the refuge during fall migration. It’s an important nesting area for American White Pelican, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Great Egret. More than 1,000 Bald Eagle winter in the area – the largest gathering of Bald Eagles in the contiguous United States. Like Malheur NWR, Portland Audubon helped establish this refuge in the early 1900s.
South Central Oregon
With 57 square miles of surface area, Lake Abert is one of Oregon’s largest lakes. It is the lowest part of a 860 square mile closed basin, and part of a 49,900-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern designated by BLM. Lake Abert is one of only a handful of inland nest sites for Snowy Plover in Oregon, and hosts tens of thousands of Eared Grebes, American Avocets, Wilson’s Phalaropes, and Red-necked Phalaropes during fall migration. Over 12,000 gulls and 20,000 ducks have been recorded here.
With 18,941 acres of wetlands, meadow, marsh, and open playa in Oregon’s high desert, Summer Lake is a destination with an impressive species list. Folks can explore this important protected habitat by driving its 8.3 mile auto route, or hiking on roads closed to motor vehicles. Look for the Tundra and Trumpeter Swan, American Avocet, Ruddy Duck, Red-necked Phalarope, American White Pelican, Eared Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Marsh Wren and Northern Harrier.
Just off Interstate 5, Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge’s 2,796 acres provide wetland, wet prairie, riparian and agricultural fields as habitat for a wide variety of migratory and resident wildlife. During the winter months, waterfowl such as Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Tundra Swans gather by the thousands. Year-round resident wading birds like Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and American Bitterns can be spotted, and of course raptors like the Red-shouldered Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Northern Harrier and Osprey. This refuge offers miles of boardwalk and dirt trails as well as handicap and stroller accessible viewing platforms.
Like the other two Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges, the William L. Finley refuge (named after Portland Audubon’s founder) was established to provide vital habitat for the Dusky Canada Goose, a species that winters almost exclusively in the Willamette Valley. While it’d a great destination all year round, winter is a wonderful time to visit this refuge to see thousands of waterfowl including Northern Pintail, Mallard, American Wigeon, and Tundra Swan. Also look for Pied-billed Grebes, Virginia Rails, Double-crested Cormorants, American Bitterns, and the occasional Blue-winged Teal.
Visitors to Baskett Slough can enjoy more than 200 species of birds over the course of a year, with ample shorebirds, waterbirds, songbirds, raptors and waterfowl to view. This refuge is also home to numerous threatened and endangered plant and animal species thanks to its once plentiful but now rare Oak Savanna habitat. Look for the Streaked Horned Lark, endemic to the Pacific Northwest, as well as the Fender’s Blue Butterfly and multiple plant species. And of course, look for the Dusky Canada Goose, which winter almost exclusively in the Willamette Valley.
Central Western Oregon
More than 250 species of birds can be spotted at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area throughout the year. Managed primarily for wintering waterfowl, this 5,794 acre wildlife area offers great views of lake and marsh habitat, perfect for spotting shorebirds, wintering waterfowl and plenty of raptors. Wintering waterfowl can be viewed on flooded cropland fields on the southeast section of the area. During the spring and summer, visitors can utilize trails and canoe access sites to explore the various habitats.
Tillamook Bay supports almost 25% of the northern- and central-coast wintering waterfowl population in Oregon, with winter counts of approximately 7,500 waterfowl of 34 species. These include large numbers of Northern Pintail, Surf Scoter, and Bufflehead. Brown Pelicans utilize the Bay from May through December. Western Sandpiper numbers range 1,000-3,000 in September, with Least Sandpiper numbers in the low 100s. Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher are also seen. Great Blue Herons are year-round residents, and there are heron rookeries in the vicinity. The north end of Bayocean Spit hosts a population of State and Federally-listed (as threatened) Western Snowy Plover.
Boiler Bay Wayside, with its rocky basalt-rimmed bay, is one of the best sites to see a whole host of seabirds including Brown Pelicans, Black Oystercatchers, and Marbled Murrelets. From the observation area, visitors can get great views of Gray Whales, as the waves crash against the rocky shore below. This panoramic view of Oregon’s rocky shoreline is sure to delight visitors, and provide ample viewing of local wildlife.
With steep cliffs and old-growth forests of western hemlock and Sitka spruce, Cape Meares State Park and National Wildlife Refuge is a colonial nesting area for Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, and Pigeon Guillemot. It’s also a good place to see Steller’s Sea Lion, Harbor Seal, California Sea Lion, and Gray Whale. Visitors pass through massive old-growth forest to and from the cliffs.
At Fort Stevens State Park, a viewing platform provides opportunities to see sea ducks like Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, and Black Scoter. During fall migration, up to 500,000 Sooty Shearwater migrate past the South Jetty. Visitors enjoy close views of shorebirds, as rising tides cause concentrations behind the South Jetty or in Trestle Bay.
Extending out one mile into the Pacific ocean from the Oregon Coast, Yaquina Head is one of the best locations on the northern coast to see colonial nesting birds, like Common Murre, Brandt’s Cormorant, and Pigeon Guillemot. Nearby shores and rocky beaches are favored haul-out areas for Harbor Seal and California Sea Lion. Folks can also marvel at migrating Gray Whales, and visit the historic lighthouse.
The Coos River estuary covers 54 square miles of open channels and tidal flats around the towns of Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston on the southern Oregon Coast. The Coos River Estuary includes the tidally-influenced extent of the Coos River, adjacent marshes, mudflats, dry sand beach, lowland roosting and feeding sites, areas along the South Slough, Millicoma Marsh, and the North Spit, including the Snowy Plover Critical Habitat Area.Coos Estuary hosts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl during winter and migration periods, and tens of thousands of shorebirds of many species during spring and fall migration. Species of interest include Brown Pelican, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Dunlin, Great Egret, Snowy Plover, and Western Sandpiper, Clark’s Grebe, Common Loon, Long-billed Curlew, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-necked Grebe and Western Grebe. This IBA also includes the North Spit Snowy Plover Critical Habitat area.