Washington’s 10 Best Bird Watching Spots This Summer

Written by Kirstin Opal
Updated: December 4, 2022
© Jeremy Janus/Shutterstock.com
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Washington, which has around 500 species listed on the state inventory, is hard to surpass when it comes to habitat variety. Along Puget Sound, Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatchers are kept under observation by Mount Rainier’s snow-capped top. 

One of the temperate rainforests in North America, the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula receives around 12 feet of rain annually. The state is divided in half by the Cascade Mountains, while the Columbia River and its tributaries sculpt the Columbia Basin, which is the state’s center and eastern region. 

Numerous Arctic seabirds have their southernmost range along the Washington coast. Therefore the ideal time to go marine birding is between January and October. If that’s not reason enough to pack your binoculars, check out these incredible bird-watching spots in the Evergreen State. 

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Skagit Wildlife Area

The migration of birds to the Skagit Valley is one of Washington’s most breathtaking sights. As these birds gather the stamina needed for the long return voyage in the spring. The fertile farmlands serve as feeding sites. Over 100,000 acres of farmland and the Skagit Wildlife Area are available for you to observe birds all year long. 

The Skagit Birds of Winter Experience officially begins when the migratory birds return in the winter. Numerous terrestrial and marine species that depend on estuaries and riparian areas may be found in the several units that make up the Skagit Wildlife Area, along with populations of anadromous Chinook Salmon and Bald Eagles that are legally threatened.

isolated bald eagle
Bald Eagles can see 4 to 5 times as well as the typical human.

©Randy G. Lubischer/Shutterstock.com

Discovery Park

550 acres of diverse forests, grasslands, rocky and sandy beaches, and freshwater ecosystems make up this Puget Sound shoreline park. The variety of habitats makes this a site of regional significance where you may see over 270 different kinds of birds. 

Many wintering birds may be seen in the open salt sea seen from West Point. This includes a group of hundreds of Western Grebes, Red-Throated and Common Loons, Marbled Murrelets, and Rhinoceros Auklets. 

Winter beach use is frequented by five common gull species. Autumn is an excellent season to see Parasitic Jaegers harassing Bonaparte’s Gulls and Common Terns. Green Herons and Purple Martins may be found by keen watchers. In the winter, Yellow-Rumped Warblers can be spotted close to the North Beach Wetlands.

Wenas

You’re welcome to a celebration of springtime splendor, botany, bats, butterflies, and birds in eastern Washington! Every Memorial Day Weekend, Audubon Chapter members from Washington State and their guests congregate at the Wenas Valley, which is situated on the east side of the Cascade Mountains halfway from Ellensburg and Yakima. 

This relaxed and welcoming gathering includes a range of activities, including excursions for birding, wildflower walks, field sketching, campfire talks, and a special guest speaker to be announced. You can go even if you’re not an Audubon member. This activity is open to the public and is family-friendly. 

Thousands of birders in Washington are familiar with the Wenas Campground. House Wrens, Red-Naped Sapsuckers, Warbling Vireos, Veeries, and Yellow and MacGillivray’s Warblers can all be found in riparian settings. It’s a good idea to search for Calliope Hummingbirds and Nashville Warblers in the wooded hillsides to the west.

Olympic National Park

The Olympic National Park in Washington, which consists of four unique ecosystems, mountains, rivers, forests, and coastline, attracts a large variety of birds. While you might see a few birds while shopping or strolling in Port Angeles if you want to get close to nature and see a wide variety of species, keep reading.

Its lowland old-growth forest is home to more than 1,500 plant species and very old trees. The Olympic National Park’s different ecosystems support a variety of bird species, such as the Peregrine Falcon, Winter Wren, Black Turnstone, Northern Pygmy Owl, and Red-Breasted Sapsucker. Bald Eagles, Rhinoceros Auklets, Western Gulls, and other seaside birds can be seen feasting or building nests along the shoreline. 

One of the most crucial birding sites on the Olympic Peninsula is Ediz Hook, a 3-mile-long sand spit that separates Port Angeles Harbor from the Salish Sea. The ideal environment for migrating ducks and aquatic birds in winter is provided by the shallow maritime waters and protected habitats. 

This is a terrific location all year round, but in the winter you’ll see the most diversity, including Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, gulls, ducks, and alcids. Despite the high volume of human traffic, this location has experienced a rise in bird populations over time.

Peregrine Falcon in flight
Peregrine Falcons can reach speeds of 200 to 240 miles per hour when they swoop.

©Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock.com

Mount Rainier National Park

In the Mount Rainier National Park, there are many different kinds of birds. While some of these birds live in the area all year, the majority only visit during certain times of the year. The sole endangered bird species that live continuously in the park is the Northern Spotted Owl, which is included on the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s list of vulnerable and endangered species. 

Both within and outside the park, Marbled Murrelets have been spotted. They also build their nests there. The Northern Goshawk, Harlequin Duck, and Willow Flycatcher are just a few of the bird species that may be seen at Mount Rainier National Park that is classified as sensitive. 

The park is home to a number of birds that are included on the “List of Species of Special Interest in the State of Washington” by the Washington Department of Wildlife, Non-game Program. Every species found on Mount Rainier should be assessed and potentially tracked, and the federal and state listings should be examined on a regular basis. The documented decreases of several resident-migrant species have attracted attention in North American bird population patterns.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

Visit the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge to spend a tranquil day birdwatching. Consider attending the Olympic Birdfest in early April for two fantastic days of birdwatching on the Washington Coast. This is the ideal chance to put your binoculars back in use.

There are many different bird habitats around the wildlife refuge, and the Olympic Peninsula is a real birder’s paradise if you’re prepared to venture a little farther. Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Black Brants, buffleheads, ducks, songbirds, and owls are some of the avian species that are most frequently sighted. 

Without abandoning the convenience of the Dungeness Bay Cottages, you may enjoy some wonderful birding, but if you want to improve your experience, visit the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. This sanctuary is home to a staggering array of seasonal native species and is one of the longest natural sand spits on the planet! 

Duck with wings open
All ducks, like this Mallard, have waterproof feathers.

©Marta Fernandez Jimenez/Shutterstock.com

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is situated in the upper portions of the “Channeled Scablands” geological formation. A varied animal population of almost 300 species, notably Rocky Mountain Elk, moose, White-Tailed Deer, migrating songbirds, ducks, geese, and swans, are supported by the special topography. 

There are 17 species of waterfowl that use Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge wetlands for either breeding or migratory purposes. Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards, Gadwall, and Cinnamon Teal are the most prevalent breeders. 

Throughout their spring and fall migrations, up to 30,000 ducks, geese, and several hundred, Tundra Swans make a pit stop. The refuge is home to breeding populations of a number of waterbird species, including Black Terns and Eared Grebes.

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge offers sights to visit throughout the year. Waterfowl stop here and may gather in large numbers as it is a significant stop along the Pacific Flyway that they use to migrate north and south. Native birds live in a variety of habitats, including mixed forests, riparian areas, and open meadows.

In the spring and summer, migrating songbirds and other species lay their eggs in these habitats. For national lands, entry is $3.00 or free with the right pass. A variety of bird species may be seen along the long boardwalk that spans the recently restored marsh; some of them are friendly enough to allow you to stroll right near to them. People who have spotting scopes are frequently available to offer you a close-up view of owls.

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge

One of the six major estuarine systems on the Pacific Coast, the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is located near Hoquiam, Washington, and is home to one of the highest populations of shorebirds on the west coast south of Alaska. Willows and deciduous forests of alder and cottonwood flank the estuary, providing the perfect habitat for migrating songbirds.

The county of Grays Harbor is a haven for bird watchers! Bird enthusiasts from throughout the nation frequently go to the area. Many people travel from Westport to seek marine birds on the open sea by boat, while others go birdwatching at Ocean Shores. 

There are several rare birds at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. These include:

  • Mottled Petrel
  • Manx Shearwater
  • Eurasian Dotterel
  • Bristle-Thighed Curlew
  • Bar-Tailed Godwit
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Ivory Gull
  • Least Tern
  • Long-Billed Murrelet
  • Horned Puffin
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • McKay’s Bunting

With its wide variety of habitats, Ocean Shores is home to 300 different bird species.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Birders of all skill levels may enjoy the delights of interacting with animals at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. This sanctuary has something for everyone, whether your objectives are to check something off your bucket list or simply to take in a morning of bird viewing.

The refuge is located on the Columbia River floodplain in the very southernmost area of the Puget Trough ecoregion. The management of several places is done by refuge staff for the benefit of ducks, geese, and Sandhill Cranes. The best birding spots include marshes, riparian zones with trees and shrubs, wet fields, ponds, and oak forests. 

The best time to see birds is in the winter, though. As many as 45,000 geese and 40,000 ducks have been counted in the lakes and flooded regions. Also, a frequent guest has been a Red-Shouldered Hawk that is wintering.

Tips for Bird-Watching in Washington

Because of Washington’s many natural environments, there are numerous birds to see all year long. While the fall migration begins soon after Labor Day and lasts through September, the spring migration begins in April and culminates in May through the first few weeks of June. Several songbirds migrate south at that time. 

Additionally, arctic travelers that breed in Alaska and the Yukon/NW Territories arrive in Washington as birds. To them, our winters are similar to Palm Springs. Based on where you reside in Washington, there may also be elevational migrants. These birds migrate to lower elevations each fall and follow the melting snow in the spring.

Look All Around! 

Frequently, when we consider birds, we envision the sky. However, birds of various sizes and shapes may be seen from all vantage points, including Brown Creepers can be found skulking up the nearest tree trunk, and Spotted Towhees can be seen bopping around in the most recent pile of leaves. 

Over the coming weeks, try returning to a well-known local route many times and focusing on various aspects of the scenery each time. You never know who you’ll run across in unexpected areas!

Start Small

​​There are several birding resources available; to begin started, consider choosing one that matches your interests or routines. For instance, which do you prefer: a magazine in your hands or a phone app? 

There are plenty of helpful smartphone apps that can help. You may borrow a field guide from your nearby library if you want to leaf through a book’s pages. To begin birding, you don’t need a lot of equipment. A set of binoculars will be useful as you become more interested in it, but you don’t have to spend a fortune on them to acquire a good pair for birding.

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The Featured Image

Snow Cap Peeks of the Olympic Mountains.
The Olympic Mountains in Washington are almost as iconic as the Alaska Mountain Range when it comes to their snow capped peaks.
© Jeremy Janus/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

When she's not busy playing with her several guinea pigs, her 14-year-old dog, or her cat Finlay Kirstin is writing articles to help other pet owners. She's also a REALTOR® in the Twin Cities and is passionate about social justice. There's nothing that beats a rainy day with a warm cup of tea and Frank Sinatra on vinyl for this millennial.

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