The state of Oregon holds a special place when it comes to natural features. It’s a great meeting spot for birders as the state is home to more than 500 avian species. The diverse habitats and landscapes of Oregon can encourage anyone who’s into birdwatching to make it its next destination. If you’re looking to connect with the natural birdlife in this area, you should start by seeking highlight species that are considered must-see birds for Oregon.
We’ve compiled a list of the best birds to see in the state of Oregon but before you check them out, make sure you’re ready for a birding expedition by getting some essential gear:
- Oregon Field Guide
Regardless of your birding experience, it’s strongly recommended to grab a specialized field guide if you’re serious about exploring the bird species of Oregon. Take a look at this informative field guide written by the famous naturalist Stan Tekiela. It’s packed with high-quality birding content structured in a simple format for quick and efficient identification of Oregon birds.
Having a good pair of binoculars is vital for any birder but there’s more to this hobby than just observation. It can be just as important to be able to capture great photos of the birds you discover in your adventures. We recommend investing in a more high-end camera like this Nikon if you wish to get professional results and enhance the whole experience.
- Waterproof Notebook
The concept of a waterproof notebook isn’t new but it’s definitely a considerable upgrade if you’re used to regular notebooks. Birdwatching enthusiasts can often need a reliable notebook to sketch or take quick notes in a comfortable manner. While there are various models when it comes to all-weather notebooks, consider getting the Birder’s Journal from Rite In The Rain that’s specifically designed for hobbyists.
1. Trumpeter Swan
Despite being the largest native waterfowl and requiring a considerable runway for takeoff, the trumpeter swan flies in a very elegant manner. It features a graceful neck and stunning white plumage that contrasts with its pure black bill. This massive bird shows off its majestic beauty in Oregon, especially during the winter season. While these beautiful swans have been hunted almost to extinction, they’ve made a great recovery in recent times thanks to successful conservation efforts. Birders visiting the state shouldn’t miss a look at the magnificent 8-foot wingspan of the trumpeter swan.
2. Bald Eagle
One of the most distinctive raptors in North America, the bald eagle has an important presence in Oregon. It breeds in almost all of the state’s counties and now enjoys a successful recovery for its population. This bird is part of the sea-eagle family that contains several other species. It’s characterized by its imposing wingspan and overall large dimensions. The white head of the bird stands out compared to the dark brown body. Splashes of yellow are provided by the presence of the raptor’s keen eyes and strong beak.
3. Pacific Loon
The coast of Oregon shelters lots of migratory birds including the Pacific loon. To catch a glimpse of this bird, it’s recommended to search along the coast in the spring and fall seasons. Compared to other loon species, the Pacific has more distinctively rapid wing-beats when flying. The head of the bird is also larger while the straight bill doesn’t seem that strong compared to the yellow-billed loons. Pacific loons tend to stay off the coast in abundant numbers so it’s recommended to get powerful binoculars for reliable observation. They rarely come inland.
4. Eurasian Wigeon
Eurasian wigeons spend the wintertime in Oregon after leaving their Siberian breeding grounds. It’s a sporadic visitor that arrives in flocks together with American wigeons. The duck can be easily distinguished through its chestnut head and distinctive buffy crown (for the males). The gray flank also stands out against the purplish and patterned plumage of American wigeons. One distinctive characteristic of the male Eurasian wigeon is the shrill whistling call in contrast to the female vocalizations that sound closer to low purrs.
5. Greater Sandhill Crane
The tallest bird in Oregon, the greater sandhill crane is hard to miss by any birder considering its specific flight profile and guttural calls. This species of crane features some eye-catching traits that help in visual identification. Birds show a red crown and a light gray body. Genders look pretty much the same but males are larger. Greater sandhill cranes show a dancing behavior in times of agitation that can be confused with a mating display. Look for this beautiful crane in the marsh-meadow wetlands of southeast and central Oregon regions.
6. American Bittern
Easy to miss in its natural marshy habitat, the American bittern spends most of its time skulking through wetlands. It takes a lot of patience and careful observation skills to distinguish this bird among the reeds due to its cryptic plumage. To make things more challenging, this type of heron will often sit in a concealed pose with its bill pointed to the sky. There’s a reason for this behavior as the American bittern is a stealthy carnivore that stalks fish and frogs. Your best to find this bird in Oregon is in the eastern area of the Cascades mountain range.
7. Rhinoceros Auklet
The rhinoceros auklet is related to puffins and shows off a distinctive bill with a single vertical horn on it. This unusual accessory has fluorescent properties and helps the bird communicate. Although this type of auk may not look as fancy as a puffin, it’s still worth the effort required to see it. Rhinoceros auklets populate the entire Pacific coast of North America. There’s a particularly large breeding colony off the coast in Oregon. Keep in mind that this is a pelagic seabird so that means it’s not very likely to be seen from shore.
8. Barn Owl
Known for their distinctive harsh calls that have eerie qualities, barn owls are quite widespread in the state of Oregon. You can only see it at night as this is a strictly nocturnal bird. The pale face and buffy upperparts can help you recognize it. True to its name, this owl can be found to live in barns or similar old buildings. It feeds on small rodents using its capable facial disc to capture the smallest sound cues when hunting in pitch-black darkness. The open areas in the western part of the Cascades represent optimal places to start looking for barn owls.
9. Calliope Hummingbird
Calliope hummingbirds are small, jewel-like birds that visit the mountainous habitats of Oregon in the summer. It’s a treasured species by many birders considering its title as the tiniest long-distance avian migrant around the globe. Finding Calliope hummingbirds can prove to be a more difficult task compared to other hummingbirds in the region. This is mostly due to the bird’s preference for higher elevations. In the breeding season, the more colorful male hummingbird tries to attract a female through U-shaped flight displays. Even if you can’t properly see it, you can hear the bird’s distinctive buzz and sharp zinging call.
10. Williamson’s Sapsucker
Many forests in Oregon provide the ideal habitat for woodpeckers such as Williamson’s sapsucker. The bird favors breeding grounds in old coniferous forests that contain lots of dead trees with cavities for nesting. Male Williamson’s sapsuckers show off an attractive silken black plumage with patches of red on the throat and yellow on the belly. In a fully contrasting appearance, the female bird resembles a small flicker with horizontal barring and a black breast patch. It almost looks like an entirely different bird species. True to its name, Williamson’s sapsucker feasts on the sap of trees obtained by drilling holes in the bark.
11. Rock Wren
With unremarkable pale gray features, the rock wren will probably not grab the visual attention of birders too much. This bird is sought out more for its cheerful song that can breathe some life to many barren areas with exposed rocks. As the name of the bird suggests, this wren lives in habitats that offer plenty of cracks and crevices in the rock. It’s a common breeder in Oregon, especially within the Great Basin area. To recognize it among other wrens, this species can be identified by the buff-tipped gray tail and white to light brown underparts.
12. Western Tanager
Western tanagers boast a flaming yellow appearance with a bright orange-red head. It’s a fairly conspicuous bird that can be spotted in the open coniferous forests of Oregon. This summer resident can also visit urban and suburban areas. It’s not usually found at bird feeders but at birdbaths instead. The brilliant colors of the western tanager can be admired only on the male bird as the female has a dimmer yellow appearance with pale green patches instead of fiery red. Due to this tanager’s tendency to remain hidden in the trees’ canopy, it can be hard to observe it without a reliable spotting scope.
13. Northern Pintail
Large flocks of northern pintails can be seen traveling in the state of Oregon. This is an elegant duck that lives in wetlands and lake habitats. It can be spotted year-round in Oregon, especially west of the Cascades mountain range. Though it’s a fairly common bird in marshy environments, northern pintails populations are declining. If you want to see this type of duck, make sure you’re aware of its distinctive characteristics. The male bird has a long neck and a noticeably longer tail compared to the females. Males lack the patterned plumage and slender profile of the female birds but show off a white breast.
A unique bird of prey that habitually dives into the water to catch fish, the osprey holds the title of Oregon’s State Raptor. It breeds statewide preferring to nest close to rivers and lakes with abundant fish populations. Look for bulky nests on dead trees or utility poles close to water sources to increase your chances of spotting this large raptor. These big hawks can be seen soaring over waterways or shorelines. You can recognize an osprey quite easily by noticing its white head showing a brown line in the eye area. Other important details are the hooked beak and brown back.
15. Horned Grebe
Horned grebes are rare breeders for the state of Oregon. Most populations are visiting migratory birds. Finding this type of grebe is easier in the winter period along the coast. It’s a more uncommon bird for the rest of the year. Nonbreeding adults have a very simple look with alternating white and grayish colors for its plumage. Birders lucky enough to spot a breeding horned grebe will be delighted by observing its stunning black head with slight iridescent tones and cinnamon-colored parts. A golden tuft of hair provides some striking contrast to the grebe’s head.
16. Yellow Rail
Yellow rails are rare birds that can be spotted in Oregon. This species is on the state’s conservation watch list because it’s very uncommon even compared to other rails in the area. The yellow rail lives in marshes and is hard to see through grassy vegetation. It’s certainly considered a very rare species among birders because it takes a lot of effort to find it. Yellow rails don’t fly very often so your best bet is to listen for the distinctive tic-tic vocalizations of the male. Experienced birders might try to mimic the sound by tapping two small rocks in a specific rhythm to get an answer from a bird.
17. Great Egret
Exuding a sense of sophisticated elegance, the great egret is a fairly common presence in the state of Oregon. Nonbreeding birds are usually found close to the coast but breeding great egrets can be spotted in the southern parts of the state. It’s fairly easy to recognize a great egret due to its long legs and S-curved neck. This bird has a strong orange bill and boasts an impressive wingspan. If you want to see this beautiful bird, it’s recommended to visit some breeding grounds. Great egrets show off long feathery plumes that are important for their courtship displays.
18. Marbled Murrelet
Known for having particularly elusive nests, marbled murrelets can be found along the coast of Oregon. Their distribution range is quite limited. The species is declining in numbers due to less suitable habitats for creating their specific inland nests. The seabirds rely on coastal coniferous forests for settling their secretive nests. Marbled murrelets are not pelagic seabirds so you can spot them quite easily from the land. While there are greater populations in British Columbia or Alaska, you can find them in Oregon year-round. Breeding adults have a brown overall appearance whereas nonbreeding birds show black and white plumage.
19. Flammulated Owl
With a very small appearance and preference for foraging at the canopy of trees, the flammulated owl can be a challenging discovery for birders in Oregon. Compared to other owls in the Pacific Northwest region, this bird feeds only on insects. Some notable visual characteristics are the dark eyes and rusty feathers. Another aspect that makes the flammulated owl fairly hard to locate is the particularly low pitch of its characteristic hoot. The eastern parts of the Cascades are routinely used as breeding grounds where you might be lucky to spot the owl.
20. Black-chinned Hummingbird
Found in multiple different habitats in Oregon, the black-chinned species is a must-see if you’re looking to observe hummingbirds. It’s not as brilliantly colored as other hummingbirds but it has a notable purple patch on the throat, right underneath its distinctive black chin. You can only get a glimpse of the vibrant purple color if the light conditions are just right. Inspecting the top of bare branches can be a good idea to find this hummingbird thanks to its habit to perch between feeding bouts. A reliable binocular could be needed as the bird tends to use bare branches from the tops of trees.
21. Hairy Woodpecker
Almost all forested areas of Oregon provide suitable habitats for the hairy woodpecker. It prefers coniferous forests during the breeding season. Birders exploring forests can commonly encounter this woodpecker though it’s also a rare find outside its usual range such as close to the coast. Hairy woodpeckers are bark foragers whose primary diet includes beetles and various insects. They also feed on plant matter so it’s not unexpected to see this small but powerful bird visiting suet feeders or even hummingbird feeders. You can differentiate the hairy woodpecker from the downy woodpeckers by its noticeably longer bill.
22. Gray Catbird
Frequently heard but rarely seen in the northeast parts of Oregon, the gray catbird is another highlight species for this state. This thrushlike songbird has a full dark gray appearance with a bluish tinge. Note the dark cap and rust-colored undertail coverts. Recognizing the call of the gray catbird is a great exercise for birding beginners. As the name implies, the songbird performs a distinctive mew call interspersed with various melodious warblings. Guided by the vocalizations, you can locate gray catbirds into dense thickets where they usually reside.
23. Black Swift
Birders searching for rare birds should consider searching for black swifts when visiting the state of Oregon. This is a particularly challenging bird to find because of its inaccessible natural habitat but also due to experiencing a very sharp decline in population. Black swifts enjoy preying on insects during flight and tend to glide for long distances. These birds can be identified in the sky by their forked tails and darker appearance compared to more common swifts. The state of Oregon is visited by the black swift in the summer, on rare occasions in the spring and fall as well.
24. Pacific Golden-plover
With golden patterns on its upperparts and a very delicate appearance, the Pacific golden-plover represents a great Oregon attraction for birders. This shorebird visits the coastal regions of the state in the fall. It can be seen feeding on open beaches but it’s a fairly uncommon migrant. To recognize this type of plover, you can simply look for some typical characteristics. Pacific golden-plovers have a short bill and a medium size for a shorebird. During the breeding season, males look more impressive with a white stripe marking its black face and reaching the bird’s flanks.
Although not a native species, the chukar is a successful introduction to western parts of North America. This is a ground-loving bird that occupies many habitats in Oregon. It’s found year-round in eastern steppe regions of the state. Chukars make characteristic calls when disturbed. Unless you’re very careful in your approach, wary chukars will quickly become alarmed and run up rocky hillsides. The birds feature sandy brown plumage with some distinctive dark bars and a vibrant red bill. Despite the bold look, it’s fairly easy to miss the bird as it camouflages well in rocky environments.
26. Olive-sided Flycatcher
Relatively large for a flycatcher, the olive-sided species is a common sight in Oregon’s conifer forests. Unless it’s hunting flying insects or sings its distinctive whistle song, this bird spends a good part of its time perching motionlessly on the branches of tall trees. Olive-sided flycatchers have a generally nondescript plumage and tend to prefer sitting near the top of trees. You can recognize the bird by its fairly bulky appearance and pip-pip-pip call notes. These flycatching birds are strong defenders of their territory.
27. Loggerhead Shrike
The loggerhead shrike is a fascinating songbird that acts like a raptor. It has a vicious habit of using thorns or sharp branches to skewer prey or position it to eat more comfortably. This behavior is most likely due to its lack of strong talons. There are a few open habitats in Oregon used by loggerhead shrikes as their breeding grounds. It’s worth mentioning that this species is experiencing a general population decline, especially in northeast parts of the state. Visual identification is done by checking for a hooked bill and a black mask.
28. Western Meadowlark
Western meadowlarks are some of the most treasured birds of Oregon. This is the recognized state bird that shows off a beautifully patterned brown appearance with a yellow breast and a V-shaped black patch. This bird stands out even more through its flutelike melody that emits cheerful tones across open grasslands and meadows. Western meadowlarks have a wide distribution in the desert areas of eastern Oregon. It’s a permanent resident throughout the state. Finding this bird can be often effortless if you scan fences along roadsides or shrubs where it tends to sit perched.
29. American Avocet
There are few shorebirds that can be considered more elegant and graceful than the American avocet. Its long-legged appearance makes a solid visual combination with the upturned bill featuring a similar slender look. Breeding American avocets can look even flashier with their reddish plumage on the neck and head areas. The shorebird is found in shallow wetlands habitats. It commonly breeds in the eastern regions of the Cascades mountains. As long as you’re exploring the correct marshy habitat, it shouldn’t be very challenging to spot an American avocet.
30. American White Pelican
Boasting an impressive wingspan and a huge orange bill, the American white is one of the two species of pelicans that can be seen in Oregon. This bird has a few breeding sites in the southern regions of the state. That’s usually where birders can spot the unique yellow plate forming on the bill of breeding pelicans. While it’s quite a sight to see this bird feeding in the water, it’s even more spectacular to watch the American white pelican flying majestically on its white-and-black wings.