Bird-watching in Portland

Spot hundreds of avian species at these nearby parks and sanctuaries.

J. Maughn tualatinWaterfowl take flight at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
James Maughn via Flickr

According to IFC’s Portlandia, Portlanders love to “Put a bird on it!” Perhaps this feathered frenzy can be attributed to the fact that more than 200 avian species can be spotted in the Portland area. With a few basic tips and a good vantage point, anyone can spend a rewarding day getting to know some of the Rose City’s soaring citizens.

Tips for birding

An Oregon-centric birding book is instrumental in helping you identify species. It may help you confirm that you’ve spotted the Great Blue Heron, the official bird of Portland!

If you can, bring along binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens to help differentiate the subtle differences between species. A Townsend’s Warbler and a Hermit Warbler both have electrifying yellow and gray plumage, but a closer look reveals the bird’s proper identity to a keen-eyed amateur. If binoculars aren’t in your inventory, don’t worry! With a naked eye and a keen ear — plus a bit of patience and luck— birding can still be a rewarding activity.

A birding kit isn’t complete without a notebook. Before your day in the field, consider drafting a preliminary list of the birds you may encounter in the area. This way, you can quickly search among the known candidates in a field guide instead of having to leaf through the whole volume. A list of birds known to reside in an area can also greatly ease the seemingly daunting task of narrowing potential candidates to one identified species.

Where to bird watch in Portland

Interested in giving it a try? Check out some of these prime birding spots in the Portland area:

Smith & Bybee Wetlands Natural Area

North Portland’s Smith & Bybee Wetlands Natural Area is a 205-acre (83-hectare) preserve, the largest protected wetlands to exist within a U.S. city. With its multiple wildlife-viewing platforms, the preserve is known for diverse species sightings. Here, it’s even possible to see a bald eagle if you’re vigilant.

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

If long-traveled migratory birds spark your interest, 160-acre (65-hectare) Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is for you. Located on the Pacific Flyway — the route that migratory birds travel upon between Alaska and Patagonia — nearly 200 species of birds have been known to frequent this diverse habitat. This refuge is also home to the annual Tualatin River Bird Festival, a family-friendly event filled with educational activities and a showcase of live birds held in May.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, a 140-acre (57-hectare) wetland in Southeast Portland, is a classic bird-watching locale. In addition to the iconic Blue Heron, over 100 species of birds have been spotted in this serene sanctuary, which is an easy bike ride from downtown via the Springwater on the Willamette Trail. 

The Audubon Society of Portland’s Nature Sanctuary

The nature sanctuary at the Audubon Society of Portland is only a five-minute drive from downtown Portland. It contains an informational wildlife center that’s home to several birds and 4 miles (6.4 km) of hiking trails from which to spot species like the remarkably blue Steller’s Jay. The sanctuary also offers classes and bird walks for those looking to delve deeper into the world of birding.

Mt. Tabor Park

Mt. Tabor Park resides upon a dormant volcano in Southeast Portland and is an important bird habitat for the city. Many migratory and residential birds use its green space as a vital oasis within a largely developed area of the city. If you visit in the early dawn hours, you can spot many migrating birds using the park as a rest stop before continuing their journeys elsewhere. Springtime visitors can also take advantage of the Audubon Society’s free bird song walks through the park .

Chapman Swift Watch

To truly witness the power of migration, September’s Chapman Swift Watch is an event to mark on your calendar. Birdwatchers of all ages come to watch as many as 16,000 Vaux’s swifts as they gather to roost for the night inside the chimney of Chapman Elementary School in Northwest Portland before travelling south for the winter.

More information on birding in Portland

You don’t have to travel far to see the remarkable diversity of feathered friends in Portland. For more information and resources on bird-watching in Portland, check out the Audubon Society of Portland.

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