: Kathy Munsel, ODFW

Eastern Oregon for Bird Lovers

December 22, 2016 (Updated December 21, 2021)

Editor’s note: Face coverings (ages 5 and up) are required at all indoor public spaces statewide, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more here. 

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.

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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.

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, typically held in April each year.

Past festivals have included 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.

Nez Perce Tribe Conservation Biologist David Moen was the keynote speaker a few years ago, presenting the Yurok and Nez Perce Tribes’ recent efforts to bring California condors back to Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon — which hasn’t happened in 100 years.

As Birding Without Borders adventurer Noah Strycker once said, “Birding, in its many variations, celebrates the infinite details of life on Earth — and birds can help illuminate the world in unexpected ways.”

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 hot spots at Yaquina Head, Cape Meares, Fort Stevens, Boiler Bay and Bayocean Peninsula on the Oregon Coast; Sauvie Island and Oaks Bottom in Portland; and the Upper and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in Southern Oregon.

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson is a longtime journalist and travel writer/editor who is now Travel Oregon’s Content & Community Manager, helping to align content for visitors via social media, print and web. She’s called Oregon home for 25 years and loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.