: Surf Scooter in Bandon by Steve Dimock / OCVA

Winter Birding

January 17, 2014 (Updated December 28, 2018)

Winter is just getting started, and it’s a wonderful time to look for feathered visitors. Oregon’s wildlife areas offer tremendous opportunities to see migrating and overwintering birds of all kinds. Wherever you travel in Oregon, there are great places to go birding near you — National Wildlife Refuges, nature areas, city parks and even backyards. Get your bird books, binoculars and buddies, and head outside.

A bald eagle sits in a tree at Sauvie Island Wildlife Area.
Sauvie Island Wildlife Area is home to at least 275 species of birds. (Photo credit: George Ostertag / Alamy Stock Photo)

Portland Region

Just minutes outside of Portland, the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area hosts more than 150,000 geese, ducks and swans that migrate or winter over. This birding hot spot is also a great place to see sandhill cranes and great blue herons, among 275 species that call this nearly 12,000 acres home. Not far away, about 14 miles north on Highway 30, Scappoose Bottoms and the Crown Zellerbach Trail in Columbia County are part of rich farmland, favorite stomping grounds for numerous raptors and songbirds. Have your binoculars handy as you trek a section of the 17-mile trail, which stretches from the Multnomah Channel just south of Scappoose to Vernonia.

Migrating geese fly over nesting waterfowl amid a blue mountain background.
The Klamath Wildlife Area is one of several wetland-focused wildlife areas established in Oregon. (Photo credit: Discover Klamath)

Southern Oregon

Klamath Wildlife Area Units in Southern Oregon offer the chance to see rough-legged hawks, swans, American kestrels and northern harriers in wintertime. From November to February, the star of the show is the bald eagle. More than 500 nest in the area during the season — the largest concentration in the lower 48 states. Try the sport of “extreme birding” between February and April, when guides set up a bird blind to camouflage birdwatchers and decoys to entice the migrating mass. The Winter Wings Festival (Feb. 14-17, 2019) in Klamath Falls brings leading birders, keynote speakers, workshops, presentations and more fun to the Klamath Basin for the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The volunteer-run festival celebrates its 40th year in 2019.

Seabirds gather on a rock in the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon Coast.
Search for more than 450 species at 173 birding hot spots along the Oregon Coast Birding Trail. (Photo credit: Christian Heeb)

Oregon Coast

From the cliffs and overlooks at Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge near Tillamook, take in the view of tufted puffins, pelagic cormorants, common murres, and pigeon guillemots. Don’t miss the 19th century lighthouse and uniquely shaped Octopus Tree. The Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a huge resource for anyone who wants to bird-watch on the Coast. Download their Discover Nature app to for a GPS-guided nature-based scavenger hunt; to post and view photographs from other visitors to the same spot; and to capture and view field notes on various seabirds and other species. Find maps, descriptions, species lists and other handy info — namely a checklist for 250 species — for 173 sites along the Coast at the Oregon Coast Birding Trail site.

A raptor flies through its home at the High Desert Museum.
Stop by the High Desert Museum for owl and raptor exhibits in winter and all year round. (Photo credit: The High Desert Museum)

Central Oregon

Watch for bald eagles at Lake Billy Chinook, which is also home to the annual Eagle Watch in February — a free celebration that honors eagles and other raptors that live in the area. In winter or any time of year, stop by Bend’s High Desert Museum, which delights visitors of all ages with its programming and exhibits on owls and raptors through its Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center.  

Two white sandhill cranes fly out of a marsh in Eastern Oregon.
Thousands of species, such as sandhill cranes, can be spotted at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Eastern Oregon

Harney County in the southeastern corner of the state is one of Oregon’s most famous spots for bird lovers, for good reason. Thousands of species can be spotted at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns in January; including trumpeter swans, ring-necked pheasant, belted kingfisher, northern harriers, California quail, black-billed magpie, common raven and various duck species. Make plans for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, which happens every spring (April 11-14, 2019) to celebrate the large annual migration passing through Harney Basin on the Pacific Flyway — one of busiest areas of the western United States for birds migrating north in the spring. In the northeastern corner of the state, a half-dozen spectacular spots nearby Pendleton make for a convenient weekend of exploration; make your overnight base in the city and explore the Northeastern Oregon Birding Trail by day. A bit westward, the unspoiled McNary Wildlife Nature Area in Umatilla offers a diversity of ducks and other waterfowl, as well as songbirds around the ponds. Take it all in on the 2-mile trail system around the marshes tracing the Columbia River.

A gray crane stands in the marshy waters of a wildlife refuge.
At the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge outside of Corvallis, you’ll find thousand of ducks, geese and swans during the winter months.

Willamette Valley

At the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge outside of Corvallis, you’ll find thousand of ducks, geese and swans during the winter months. It’s also a great seasonal refuge for dusky Canada goose. Visit the Cascades Raptor Center, home to rehabilitated birds of prey, in Eugene for family-friendly urban birding. Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in Salem is positioned perfectly at the confluence of the Santiam and Willamette rivers. Walk the 3.9-mile Pintail and Egret Marsh trail loop for commanding views of the wetlands, where wintering birds start to arrive. Just west in nearby Dallas, off Highway 22, the open farmland of the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge (part of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge complex) provides homes for threatened and endangered species and is stopovers for migratory birds. In particular, it’s prime wintering habitat for dusky Canada geese, who are known to nest in the winter only here in the wetlands of the Willamette Valley as well as in nest in Alaska’s Copper River Delta. Visitors can walk the Rich Guadagno Memorial Trail year-round.

Two bald eagles peer through the branches of a tree in The Dalles.
The Dalles is a prime spot to spot bald eagles during their northward migration between late December and early March.

Mt. Hood and the Gorge

Can you imagine anything more majestic than dozens of bald eagles soaring above the Columbia River Gorge? The Dalles is a prime spot to watch these feathered beauties during their northward migration between late December and early March. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope. If you’d like the help of an interpretive guide, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles includes a raptor program that offers close-up experiences with birds of prey, including falcons, hawks, owls and eagles.

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If you go:

Stay posted on birding activity. For the wildlife report about birds and other wildlife activity, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife bird watching page or Oregon Birding Trails — a one-stop resource for up-to-date information, maps and more.

Get ready for spring. Start planning now for one of these spring feathered festivals, which happen every April and May.

Join the birding community. Attend a workshop, guided hike, birding trip or other event at the Audubon Society of Portland or your closest Audubon center. You can also visit the Wildlife Care Center at Audubon Portland and learn  about their rehabilitation efforts of about 3,000 animals each year that are treated and released back into the wild. Bird nerds may especially relish Audubon’s regular rare bird alert.

Consider volunteering. Audubon and other groups host annual Christmas bird counts. The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition hosts lectures about species such as the common murre and black oystercatcher.

About The
Author

Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.

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