Oregon’s lush forests, rocky coastlines & mountainous terrain makes it heavenly for birdwatchers. Discover the top 5 Oregon Birding trails below so you know how to plan a birdwatching vacation to Oregon.
- Most Common Birds — Stellar’s Jay, Lazuli Bunting, Common Poorwill
- Rarest Birds — Hooded Merganser (Common along the coast), Snowy Egret, Rock Sandpiper, American Dipper, Snow Bunting
- Environment of the State — High alpine, old-growth forest, coastline, tidal estuaries, marshland, lakes, rivers
- Best Time For Birdwatching — Spring, summer, fall
Best Birding Trails in Oregon
Oregon Coast Birding Trail
The trail is composed of 173 sites divided into four sections and spans the entire Oregon Coast from the Columbia River on the north and Cascade Head on the south. It includes rocky beaches, tidal estuaries and old-growth forests. It presents exceptional birding opportunities in some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll find anywhere.
Gnat Creek Campground and Fish Hatchery offer a chance to see mountain quail, American dipper, hermit warbler, stellar’s jay and Rufus hummingbirds. Twilight Creek Eagle Sanctuary on the trail comprises 35,000 acres of mudflats, tidal marsh and open water within the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll see tundra swan, Canada goose, bald eagle, great egret and great blue heron.
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is within the Oregon Islands Wildlife Refuge. You can spot tufted puffin, western gull, black oystercatcher, surf scooter, brown pelican, pelagic cormorant and greater scaup. Cape Lookout has eight miles of hiking trails through old growth forest, making it a great spot to see hairy woodpecker, brown creeper, golden-crowned sparrow, gray jay, red-breasted nuthatch, Wilson’s warbler and red crossbill.
Oregon Cascade Birding Trail
This trail spans both sides of the Cascade Mountains making a large loop, with Mt. McLoughlin to the south and Mt. Hood to the north. The two sides of the loop have intersecting trails which form five smaller loops. The trail guides are divided into the five loop sections. The entire trail can be taken as a self-guided driving tour encompassing 1,200 miles of road and 200 birding sites with spectacular scenery in the Oregon Cascades.
Mount Hood Loop
Mount Hood Loop: The trail climbs from the Colombia River to the base of Mount Hood, traversing the Columbia River National Scenic Area. You’ll be able to spot Lewis’s woodpecker, Clark’s nutcracker and Clark’s grebe, which were named for the famed explorers. You’ll see Osprey, Bald Eagle and a large array of waterfowl.
Here is the official Mt. Hood National Forest website.
The Mount Jefferson Loop
The Mount Jefferson Loop: This contains Mt. Jefferson, second only to Mt. Hood in elevation within the state. It features alpine meadows and forests, conifer forests, canyons and dry sage and flatlands. The Metolius and Deschutes Rivers contain riparian areas which are rich with birdlife. You’ll spot harlequin duck, barrow’s goldeneye, white-headed woodpecker, yellow warbler, northern goshawk and white-throated swift in these areas.
Three Sisters Loop
Three Sisters Loop: This portion of the trail explores the Three Sisters Wilderness, which takes its name from three distinctive 10,000 foot volcanic peaks in the Oregon Cascades. It includes McKenzie Pass and Cascade Lakes, with some stunning scenery and a diverse array of birdlife. It contains 50 birding sites where you’ll be able to spot feathered flyers like savannah sparrow, western meadowlark, yellow-headed blackbird, American bittern, ruffled grouse, winter wren, rosy finch, black swift and harlequin duck.
Crater Lake Loop
Crater Lake Loop: This is a spectacular area worth visiting just to see the lake itself, which is the seventh deepest in the world. The trail encompasses several lakes, of which Crater, in Crater Lake National Park, is the largest. Bald eagle, osprey, double-breasted cormorant, peregrine falcon, American dipper, wood duck, Nashville warbler, Pacific-slope flycatcher, Lincoln’s sparrow, yellow rail and northern waterthrush are some of the birds you’ll find in this area.
Mount McLoughlin Loop
Mount McLoughlin Loop: Where the Cascades meet the Siskiyou Mountains, Mount McLoughlin rises almost 10,000 above the Klamath Basin. This ecologically diverse section of the trail contains some phenomenal birding, especially in the riparian areas where you’ll see an array of hummingbirds, nuthatches, warblers and flycatchers. You’ll also find red-necked grebe, yellow rail, pileated woodpecker, least bittern, mountain quail, hermit warbler and red-breasted sapsucker.
About the State of Oregon
With the towering peaks of the Cascade Mountains, a long, rocky coastline, cascading rivers, primeval forests and sprawling grasslands, Oregon is a birdwatcher’s paradise. A diverse array of birdlife resides there, with estimates of anywhere from 500 to 600 species known to live within the state’s borders.
Additional Info on Birds
Special thanks to Joel Geier from OregonBirdingTrails.com who provides us with this additional information:
Steller’s Jay (note spelling) is a good choice at least for the western half of the state, since this is a common species that many visitors look for. In the eastern part of the state its range is mainly restricted to mountain ranges with coniferous forests, and it’s absent from large areas of desert and canyonlands.
Lazuli Bunting is another western specialty bird that many visitors from the eastern states are keen to see. However, it’s rare along the Oregon Coast, and not that easy to find in the Cascades (listed as common for the trail, but this mainly refers to riparian habitats in lower elevations in the foothills of the Cascades). It can be abundant in riparian habitat in some of the river bottoms in the eastern part of the state, but often not easy to see in those habitats. There are sites along the Willamette Valley Birding Trail where this species is far easier to see, for example Bald Hill Park in Corvallis, or William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge.
Common Poorwill is rare west of the Cascades crest, and not that easy to find in the eastern part of the state. The most reliable location that I know of, among sites that are featured on Oregon Birding Trails, is Hot Springs Campground on Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (Basin & Range Birding Trail).
Hooded Merganser can be found pretty regularly in the Willamette Valley, except while females are on nests when they tend to be secretive. This time of the year (March) they are very easy to see at Willamette Valley Birding Trail sites such as William L. Finley NWR, Ankeny NWR, Baskett Slough NWR, and E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area.
Common Mergansers are fairly easy to see along rivers throughout western Oregon.
Snowy Egret is rare in most of the state, but can be found around Coos Bay on the SW Oregon coast, and (during nesting season) at a few sites in the Basin & Range region.
Rock Sandpiper is a rare but annual visitor to a few favored sites on the Oregon coast, and seems like a good choice for this category.
American Dipper is moderately common along streams in the Cascades, Coast Range, and a few places in the Basin & Range and Blue Mountains regions.
Snow Buntings are indeed rare across most of Oregon, except the NE corner of the state which regularly gets flocks in winter. It’s hard to imagine that someone would travel to Oregon to look for one, since the odds are much better in the Upper Midwest. Possibly a more interesting regional bird to highlight might be Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (nests in Cascades), or Black Rosy-Finch (nests on Steens Mtn in the Basin & Range region).
Least Bittern (mentioned in the Mt. McLoughlin loop writeup) has only been reported a handful of times in the past 20 years. It could well count as the rarest bird that might possibly nest in the state.