Harney County is perhaps the most celebrated hub for birdwatching in Oregon, home to the annual Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, held each April. (Photo credit: Larry Andreasen)
A spectacular array of birds can be spotted her at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Pacific Flyway. (Photo credit: Larry Andreasen)
Bird lovers will swoon at the variety of species that can be spotted in Harney County, from trumpeter swans and belted kingfisher, to California quail and black-billed magpie. (Photo credit: Christian Heeb)

The last time you were at a natural area, you may have taken the binoculars out and been lucky enough to spot an egret, raptor or bald eagle.

At its simplest form, that’s what birding is: spotting them and identifying them.

At its most extreme, birding verges on obsession. It’s an exercise in patience and observation, noting the finest details about a bird’s song, color, wingspan and flight pattern.

Perhaps the most celebrated hub for birdwatching in Oregon, however, is Harney County in Southeastern Oregon. Located on the Pacific Flyway — one of four major migration routes in North America — the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Malheur National Forest are where you can spot a spectacular array of birds, en route to their breeding grounds.

Here in Harney County, bird lovers will swoon at the variety of species that can be spotted at the refuge in January, including trumpeter swans, ring-necked pheasant, belted kingfisher, northern harriers, California quail, black-billed magpie, common raven and various duck species.

Have those binoculars handy to spot bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, rough-legged hawks, mourning doves and at least three species of owls. Around trees, you’ll see woodpeckers, and in March the flocks of geese start to arrive.

Since 1981, bird enthusiasts throughout the region have come to celebrate their passion together at the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, held each April.

In recent years, the festival has amped up its offerings for experts and novices alike. There are guided birding tours by horseback, birding with llamas, birding from a working cattle ranch, birding and a rock tour, and more. Birding is also an easy entry into deeper discussions of biology, habitat restoration, natural history, wildlife conservation and art.

One of the biggest bird nerds in the world, 30-year-old Eugene native Noah Strycker, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s festival, April 8-9, 2017.

Last year he completed his Birding Without Borders quest: a whirlwind tour of 41 countries and seven continents, during which he broke the world record for the number of bird species recorded in one year. He recorded 6,042 species, more than half the birds on Earth.

“Birding, in its many variations, celebrates the infinite details of life on Earth — and birds can help illuminate the world in unexpected ways,” Strycker wrote in a November blog post for the National Audubon Society.

“In the context of other headlines this week, I think a global birdwatching record is especially symbolic: It shows that no one is truly isolated, and that great things are achieved by working together across all kinds of borders.”

Inspired? It’s easy to pick up the basics: Grab a pair of binoculars and a bird identification guide, take a class, visit the Audubon Center of Portland or download a birding app.

Then get outside! Oregon is home to a whopping 532 bird species, with hotspots at Yaquina Head, Cape Meares, Fort Stevens, Boiler Bay and Bayocean Peninsula on the Coast; Sauvie Island and Oaks Bottom in Portland; and the Upper and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in Southern Oregon. Find more inspiration more about bird-watching trips at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and winter bird-watching across Oregon.


about author Jen Anderson

Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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  1. Elisabeth Lake says…

    I have been to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and love it. The birds are amazing. I have been photographing birds for years and it is nice to be able to get so close to such a diversity of species. Love those eagles!

    Written on January 4th, 2017 / Flag this Comment
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