Birdwatching: A “Cheep” and Fun Activity

A Guide to Western Birds

By Candice Armstrong


Birdwatching is a fun and inexpensive hobby that you can enjoy anywhere. It’s a great way to get outside, get back in touch with nature and experience its beauty. There are thousands of bird species and subspecies, and they vary across the nation. This article looks at the best areas for birdwatching in the Pacific Coast states.



The Oregon Cascades Birding Trail is a self-guided, driving tour of 200 prime birding locations located along both sides of the Cascade Mountains.

Birds to watch for: blue heron, osprey, bald eagle, spotted sandpiper, northern pygmy owl, numerous species of woodpeckers and warblers, Clark’s Nutcracker, black-capped chickadee, fox sparrow, Barrow’s Goldeneye, gray jay and western meadowlark. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are too many to name.

The Oregon Coast provides a great way to see hundreds of migratory birds throughout the year. Prime locations include Astoria, Newport, Tillamook, Cannon Beach, Gearhart and Port Orford.

Birds to watch for: tufted puffin, marbled murrelet, common murre, black oystercatcher, auklets, sandpiper, dunlin, whimbrel, snowy plover and killdeer, as well as common waterfowl and, of course, western seagulls.


pileated_woodpeckerTennant Lake Wildlife Area is 720 acres of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife land about one mile outside of Ferndale.

Birds to watch for: pied-billed grebe, hooded merganser, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, marsh wren and American bittern.

Discovery Park in Seattle has 534 acres of forest, thickets, meadows and a three-mile shoreline.

Birds to watch for: pileated woodpecker, pacific wren, Savannah sparrow, red-breasted merganser, rufous hummingbird, ruby-crowned kinglet, dark-eyed junco, barn owl, spotted towhee and song sparrow.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a 4,000-acre river delta in Olympia with forest, salt and fresh water wetlands, meadows, salt marsh and mudflats.

Birds to watch for: northern harriers, great horned owl, western tanager, yellow-rumped warbler, marsh wren, northern pintail, American wigeon, cackling geese and green-winged teal.


Gambel%27s_Quail_c26-2-020_l_1Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge has 870 acres of multiple habitats in Salton Sea.

Birds to watch for: fall sandpiper, Gambel’s quail, northern shoveler, Pacific Northwest song sparrow, snow egret, fall greater yellowlegs, burrowing owl, American white pelican, black-necked stilts, finch, and American kestrel.

El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach has ponds, streams, tree-covered pathways, and springtime flowers and butterflies.

Birds to watch for: great egret, green heron, hooded oriole, common yellowthroat, Hutton’s vireo, warbling vireo, olive-sided flycatcher, red house finch, sharp-shinned hawk and mourning dove.

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge has wetlands, grasslands, vernal pools and meadows. The best time to visit is late November to mid-February

Birds to watch for: snow, Ross’s and greater white-fronted geese, northern pintail, green-winged teals, gadwall, ruddy duck, oak titmouse, yellow-billed magpie, white-tailed kite, bald eagle and golden eagle.

Helpful bird watching tips:

  1. Invest in some binoculars. Here is a great resource for helping you pick the perfect pair.
  2. Get a pocket guide. Read about the birds first to familiarize yourself with the birds you are seeing.
  3. Start a Journal. Keeping track of birds you have seen is a great way to learn more about the birds and their migration patterns.
  4. Basic clues you can look and listen for are the bird’s silhouette, coloring, plumage and its songs or calls.
  5. In addition to the birds’ plumage and coloration, you can use the shape of a bird’s bill to identify it. For example, shorebirds have slender bills to use for probing in the sand and birds of prey have sharp, hooked bills for tearing meat.
  6. Clothes that are dull in color and blend into the background are the best clothes to wear on a bird watching expedition. Avoid any fabrics that can squeak, rustle or snag easily.

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