Western Washington Birding Hotspots

We have a fantastic variety of birding habitats and hundreds of avian species in Western Washington.

One of our most profound U.S. wildlife protection laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, turned 100 this year. This 1918 law has saved several species from extinction and protects hundreds of millions of birds from harmful human activities.

Six million of us age 55 and up take birding trips away from home each year. So to celebrate the Bird Treaty Act’s centennial in western Washington, I reached out to Wendy Walker, community engagement manager of Seattle Audubon, who gathered and generously shared insider tips from experienced local birders.

“We have a fantastic variety of habitats and hundreds of avian species from the long coastlines of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean to expansive wildlife refuges on the Olympic coast to the southwest corner of the state,” she says. “You can spot seabirds on a ferry ride to an historic lighthouse; explore some of the best areas in North America for wintering raptors; or find high species diversity in our city parks. With 25 Audubon chapters across the state, visitors have prime access to local suggestions wherever you go.”

The Seattle Audubon’s service to avian and habitat conservation also began over a century ago, in 1916. Walking in tandem over the past century, this organization and protective measures like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act ensure that we can keep our binoculars focused and field guides at the ready! Below, Walker gives us some terrific birding notes for the three ecoregions in our backyard.

Northwest Coast Ecoregion

Ocean Shores, a six-mile peninsula with multiple habitats, is a shorebird haven particularly during the fall migration. The Ocean City State Park is perfect for camping. Pick a spot on the west side loops, fall asleep to the sound of the surf, and awaken to an intricate dawn chorus.

Bottle Beach State Park is an Audubon IBA (Important Bird Area). You’ll find thousands of birds including western sandpiper, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, red knot, greater yellowlegs, and black-bellied plover. East of the park, explore the willow thickets for migrant passerines and the marshes for Virginia rails.

Puget Trough Ecoregion

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a 762-acre protected river delta between Olympia and Tacoma. There are easily accessible trails along a freshwater pond and a raised boardwalk right out into the estuary. For the height of species diversity, come during spring and fall migration. My favorite sightings there include peregrine falcons and northern harriers hunting the marshes; a nesting great-horned owl; and hundreds of ducks and geese. Join local birders each Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. for guided exploration. While you’re there, check out Junior Duck Stamp winning artwork in the visitor center.

Between Bellingham and Seattle, Samish Flats is the winter migrating raptor hotspot, along with a destination for massive flocks of snow geese and ducks. Visit from late October to late March for high drama. Local birders go for a “five-falcon day” in one trip to see if they can spy American kestrel, merlin, peregrine, and the less common prairie falcon and gyrfalcon.

Take a Washington State Ferry ride to Kitsap Peninsula and explore Point No Point, where you can see the oldest Puget Sound lighthouse in continuous operation. Arrive early at the Edmonds Ferry dock to find excellent birding at the southern boardwalk. Once on the spit, look for ancient and marbled murrelet, and watch the marshes for passerines. The area is known for adding rarities to your life list. You might even see resident or migrating whales along the way.

North Cascades Ecoregion

From the community of Duvall all the way to North Bend, you’ll enjoy a well-maintained gravel trail along the Snoqualmie River. We recently accessed the Snoqualmie Wildlife Area trail at Stillwater and found 50 species within six miles. In the marsh and wooded habitat, we saw osprey hunting the river, Wilson’s and orange-crowned warblers, American bitterns in the marsh, multiple pairs of wood ducks, several red-headed sapsuckers, and a nesting hairy woodpecker.

“No matter where you stay in Washington, you’ll experience rich habitats and impressive species diversity. Come birding with us,” says Walker.

Western Washington bird list highlights

  • Osprey
  • Snowy Plover
  • Black Oystercatcher
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Wood Duck
  • Marbled Murrelet
  • Red Knot
  • American Dipper
  • Pygmy Nuthatch
  • Bald Eagle
  • Dunlin
  • Sanderling
  • Snow Goose
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Trumpeter and Tundra Swans
  • Pacific Wren
  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  • Pigeon Guillemot
  • Ruby–crowned Kinglet
  • Steller’s Jay
  • Whimbrel
  • Tufted Puffin
  • Marsh Wren
  • Black-throated, Gray, and Orange-crowned Warblers
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Black Turnstone
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Short-billed Dowitcher
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Black Turnstone

Angela Minor has lived, traveled, (and birded) in the U.S. (including Alaska), the Caribbean, and seven European countries. Freelance travel writer is her third career, following teacher and small business owner. She writes for travel publications including Blue Ridge Country, Smoky Mountain Living, and Ft. Myers Magazine; serves as field editor with Birds & Blooms and “Park Watch” writer for 10,000 Birds; and authors the Bird Watcher’s Digest state park birding series.

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