Northwest Bird Identification

Northwest Bird Identification
The Pacific Northwest of North America encompasses a rugged and highly diverse region extending from the Pacific coasts of southeastern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and northern California, inland to the Rocky Mountains. This is a land of rocky volcanic coast, temperate rainforest, mountains, steppe and dry forest. Such a spectrum of habitat naturally produces a wealth of bird life.

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Binoculars Field guide
  • Binoculars
  • Field guide
Step 1
Look for the short, sharp beaks, well-developed talons and strong wings of the Northwest's raptors. These range from diminutive American kestrels (little, brightly colored falcons often seen on power lines) to huge golden and bald eagles. The vast and open spaces of the interior, like the shrub-steppe of the Columbia Plateau, are fantastic places to watch birds of prey.
Step 2
Hone your ear to wade into the complicated, sometimes difficult waters of Northwest songbird identification. These birds usually small, and many are drab-colored and spend time in brushy thickets or tangled canopy, so learning to recognize their melodious, distinctive voices is a good approach.
Step 3
Seek out waterfowl, herons and shorebirds along the Northwest's mighty waterways, from the Pacific surf on the coast to the huge rivers and saline lakes of the interior. Spring and fall bring large congregations of ducks, geese and other Pacific Flyway migrants, many of which seek out wetlands as feeding, resting and staging grounds during their journey.
Step 4
Keep an eye out for seabirds along the coast and its estuaries, which are birding hot spots. In addition to shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors, you have the chance to see seabirds: not only familiar coastal residents like gulls and brown pelicans, but alo rarer, open-ocean wanderers like petrels and, very occasionally, albatross.
Step 5
Use binoculars and a good field guide to key into individual birds' characteristics. Your geographic location and immediate habitat are excellent clues in Northwest birding, as anywhere. For example, a blue-hued jay you flush in a ponderosa pine forest on the east scarp of the Cascades is very likely a Steller's jay, but one spotted in an oak woodland of Oregon's Willamette Valley would require a closer look, as it could be a Steller's or a superficially similar western scrub-jay.

Tips & Warnings

 
Especially for beginners, visiting museums and wildlife refuge visitor's centers are a good means of acquainting yourself with common Northwest birds through specimens and other informative displays. The Pacific Northwest has an immense system of protected reserves, many of which feature avian life prominently. For example, the famous 187,000-acre Malheur National Wildlife Refuge preserves a set of wetlands and meadows amidst southeastern Oregon's high desert that attracts epic numbers of migrating birds.
 
Especially for beginners, visiting museums and wildlife refuge visitor's centers are a good means of acquainting yourself with common Northwest birds through specimens and other informative displays.
 
The Pacific Northwest has an immense system of protected reserves, many of which feature avian life prominently. For example, the famous 187,000-acre Malheur National Wildlife Refuge preserves a set of wetlands and meadows amidst southeastern Oregon's high desert that attracts epic numbers of migrating birds.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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