Grab Your Binocs! Best Places to Bird Watch

April showers bring May flowers, and here in the Pacific Northwest they also bring birds—lots and lots of birds! Luckily, there are also a wealth of locations bird loving families can visit to see masses of migratory and resident avian species. So, whether you’re looking to beef up your Life List, or just have a fun family outing, grab your binoculars and scroll down to find out where the best local bird watching spots in and around Portland are.

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photo: Born1945 via Flickr

Audubon Nature Sanctuary
Just 5 minutes from downtown Portland, the Audubon Society of Portland’s 150-acres of Wildlife Sanctuaries offer more than 4 miles of lush hiking trails to start your search. From the parking area, you can choose from several trails, all of which loop you back to the Cornell Road. Start your journey on Founder’s Trail, and walk the perimeter of Uhtoff Sanctuary. Keep your ears open — that loud knocking you hear is probably a pileated woodpecker, the largest and most showy of our North American woodpeckers. If you’re lucky, you might even hear it’s raucous call; just like Woody Woodpecker!

Where: 5151 NW Cornell Rd.
Hours: Daily, dawn-dusk
Price: Free
Don’t Miss: The Wildlife Care Center, where they take care of injured animals. You and your little chickadees can get a close-up look at their Education Birds, including a great horned owl, a turkey vulture, and a peregrine falcon!

photo: Kelly Colgan Azar via flickr

Mt. Tabor Park
Being a Portlander, you are probably familiar with Mt. Tabor Park. Mt. Tabor has it all: lush forest, sprawling lawns, incredible views, a variety of paved and unpaved trails and a super fun play area for the kiddos. And, of course, there are the 3 open concrete reservoirs that attract a surprising variety of resident and migrating waterfowl and gulls.

Where: SE 60th Ave. & Salmon St.
Hours: Daily, 5 a.m.-midnight
Price: Free
Don’t Miss: The bronze statue of Harvey W. Scott, early editor of The Oregonian, at the crest of Mt. Tabor. The statue of Mr. Scott was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum in the early 1930s, while he was taking a break from carving out one of our national icons –—Mt. Rushmore!

photo: DL Wise Photography via Flickr

Jackson Bottom
Twenty miles away, in Hillsboro, is a prime destination for both dedicated and amateur birders. The Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve has 635 acres of prime floodplain wetland habitat adjacent to the Tualatin River. Like most wetlands, this preserve is teeming with birdlife, including over 200 species of native and migratory birds that have been seen so far. Keep your eyes peeled and maybe you can add a new sighting to the list! A variety of well-marked trails can be used to visit the multitude of ponds, marshes, and sloughs that dominate the landscape, making this a great place to go wandering with the whole family.

Where: 2600 SW Hillsboro Hwy, Hillsboro
Hours: Daily, dawn-dusk
Price: Suggested donation of $2 for ages 10+
Don’t Miss: The Wetlands Education Center, featuring interactive exhibits on wetlands and natural history, for kids of all ages. The Center also has the only bald eagle nest on display in the continental US!

Smith and Bybee Wetlands
You might be starting to think that wetlands are a good place to find birds, and you are right! And Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area is no exception. It is one of the largest urban freshwater wetlands in the country, with over 2,000 acres between the Columbia Slough and the Columbia River, and it is truly an oasis, surrounded by warehouses, commercial buildings, and port terminals. This public park and nature reserve is a haven for wildlife of all kinds, from beavers and river otters, to bald eagles and great egrets. If you and your kiddos are feeling adventurous, you can take your canoe or kayaks out onto the lakes and try to get a peek at one of the 200 western painted turtles that call the wetlands home. That would truly be a life list sighting, as this species is listed as sensitive-critical in Oregon!

Where: 5300 N. Marine Dr.
Hours: Daily, dawn-dusk
Price: $5 Daily Vehicle Fee, or you can purchase a Metro Parks Annual Pass for $40
Don’t Miss: Turtle Walk in the Wetland on Sunday, May 21, 10 a.m.-noon. This is an incredible opportunity to learn about the illusive Western Painted Turtle, and examine shells found on the reserve. This all ages event is wheelchair accessible and fun for the whole family. $6/person or $11/family, registration required.

photo: Jason Lander via Flickr

Chapman Elementary School
Most elementary schools have their share of Birdies, Robins, and Jays; maybe even a Phoenix or two. But a Swift? And how about thousands of them? That’s exactly what Chapman Elementary School can boast, at least around the end of August each year. Chapman has a unique feature: a giant, round chimney that protrudes from the center of the building. This chimney must be a special place to roost, because thousands of Vaux’s Swifts choose to stop there each year during their fall migration to Central and South America. Bring your kiddos and grab a seat on the school lawn or in neighboring Wallace Park to witness this spectacular event. On most evenings throughout the migration period, Portland Audubon volunteers circulate through the crowd, sharing information about the swifts.

Where: 1445 NW 26th Ave.
Parking: Free parking is available at Montgomery Park (located 6 blocks from Chapman) – 2701 NW Vaughn St. The SELCO Community Credit Union also makes their lot available each night after 6 p.m.
Fun Fact: This is one of the largest known roosting sites of migrating Vaux’s Swifts, and one population has returned to Chapman annually since the 1980’s!

photo: Toshihiro Gamo via Flickr

Tualatin Hills Nature Park
If your family is feeling the need to Go West, Young Man, you should take them to Tualatin Hills Nature Park in Beaverton. Just a short 9-mile drive from downtown Portland, you’ll discover more than 200 acres of creeks, ponds, wetlands, meadows, and forests to explore, with about 5 miles of paved and unpaved trails to help you find your way through. Since there is dense forest here, you may have to open your ears to find the birds, but they are out there! Pileated woodpeckers, chestnut-backed chickadees, rufous hummingbirds, wood ducks, western tanagers, red-winged blackbirds…the list goes on and on!

Where: 15655 SW Millikan Blvd., Beaverton
Hours: Daily, dawn-dusk
Price: Free.
Don’t Miss: If you live in the Beaverton area, your kiddos can take advantage of the summer camps and classes offered at the Tualatin Hills Nature Center! Let them discover Super Birds, find out about Frogs, Logs, and Bogs, or investigate their inner scientist with Grossology. Or, you can take the whole family to checkout the Backyard Bats! These excellent opportunities are offered throughout the spring and summer at the Nature Center, all at reasonable prices.

Extra Tidbits: If you’re getting ready to hit the trails with your binocs and your little ones in tow, take a minute to check out this Kids Guide to Oregon Birds from Audubon Portland. It has lots of great pics and fun facts to get them all fired up about birdwatching! And, while you’re on the website, you can download this Portland bird checklist and start your Life List, because, why not? If you want to find particular migratory birds, Audubon also has a Portland Area Spring Migrant Arrivals list to help you figure out when to go looking.

Does your family have a favorite place to play I-Spy something flying? Share your favorite bird watching spots int the comments below.

—Lisa Riley


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