: Kathy Munsel, ODFW

Eastern Oregon for Bird Lovers

December 22, 2016 (Updated August 19, 2020)

Editor’s note: Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.

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.


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 (check for updates on the 2021 event).

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 at the 2018 festival, 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

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters, annual Visitor Guide and other editorial 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.