Reserve an Olympic Peninsula birding tour and enjoy a diversity of Olympic National Park birds year-round!
Explore summer bird diversity in the Olympic mountains, winter bird diversity on the Salish Sea, and the amazing spectacles of spring and fall bird migration on the Olympic Peninsula with a former neotropical songbird researcher and hawk counter.
Inclusive local birding tours, west of Lake Crescent, or birding guide service rates on ONP guided ecotours
Read about birding with Carolyn of ExperienceOlympic Guided Tours
A teacher helps you to savor Olympic National Park bird biodiversity
Birding guide Carolyn Wilcox loves Christmas Bird counts and participates in both the Port Angeles and Sequim CBCs that has counted upwards of 150 bird species. For comparison, over 300 bird species have been identified in Clallam County alone in one year. Ideally we will bird together and inspire others to find joy in watching birds and create ideal backyard bird habitat!
Seasonal timing of Olympic Peninsula bird watching tours
During the spring, people gather for Olympic Peninsula’s BirdFest. and Neah Bay's Bald Eagle Festival. During late summer or early fall, bird watching organizations like the Washington Ornithological Society and the American Birding Association have met up in Port Angeles to take advantage of fall migration and access to the Olympic Mountains.
In the late fall, rarities often blow in, especially to Neah Bay, which has hosted rare raptors, egrets, kingbirds, warblers, buntings, orioles, sparrows and others. Speaking of rarities, I spotted a Nashville Warbler in my backyard during the winter of 2014-2015!
Olympic Peninsula and Olympic Nationla Park birding resources
Since ExperienceOlympic is located in Port Angles, the Olympic Peninsula bird watching information presented here is anecdotal local experience by birding guide Carolyn Wilcox as well as information from Fred Sharpe’s Olympic Peninsula Bird Checklist. The Olympic Peninsula includes quite a few bird watching resources for both local and visiting birders to Washington State.
The Dungeness River Audubon Center adjacent to Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim is a great facility for Washington birders and is located on the Olympic Discovery Trail. You can pick up maps, like the Olympic driving loop of the Washington State Birding Trail, and a bird watching checklist for Clallam County (used on Olympic Peninsula birding tours by ExperienceOlympic). Dow Lambert maintains an excellent bird photography website (and has been kind enough to include photos included on this page) that includes informational Olympic Peninsula birding links.
Information and Photos of Olympic Peninsula Birds
Loons: I have heard Common Loons yodeling in Port Angles Harbor in the spring and fall. Common Loons are more numerous from October to May but can be seen at all times of the year. Less common in the Port Angeles harbor are Pacific and Red-throated Loons as I tend to see them more often at the new and improved Elwha River mouth. Yellow-billed Loons are rare but can be observed during the winter; and even rarer is finding an Arctic Loon.
Grebes: The lovely Red-necked Grebe is actually quite common during the winter in the Port Angles harbor from about October to April. Horned Grebes are also fairly numerous during the winter while Pied-billed Grebes, Eared Grebes, and Western Grebes are certainly around but not as common.
Cormorants: What fun Olympic Peninsula birds to identify as they roost together on pilings, rocks, boats, and docks! I love it when Olympic Peninsula birds just stand there for you to observe in your spotting scope - how cooperative. We have Double-crested Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, and Brandt’s Cormorant all year and they breed here from roughly June to September. Their breeding plumage is quite spectacular to observe in a spotting scope. Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants are more common in the Port Angeles harbor but Brandt's Cormorant can be numerous locally around the Peninsula.
Brant: These beautiful small geese with necklaces winter exclusively on coastal habitat that includes Dungeness Spit in Sequim. I often observe them on Ediz Hook in Port Angeles as well. North American populations are experiencing long-term decline causing my friend who has researched birds in Alaska to say, "Brant: The goose with a problem." Although they can be viewed in good numbers in winter from roughly October to February, they are in highest numbers during spring migration in March and April.
Greater White-fronted Goose: This is another arctic breeder that will winter on the Olympic Peninsula. It can be found grazing in fields but is more strongly tied to the coast. I have seen flocks of these gray geese from the Old World grazing in agricultural fields in Sequim, sometimes mixed in with Canada Geese. Although you can find these Olympic Peninsula birds singly all winter, look for medium to large sized flocks during migration in May and September.
Other Geese and Swans: The largest of native North American waterfowl, Trumpeter Swan populations appear to be increasing in North America and thus we are more likely to see them during the winter. Unlike Brant that are generally only seen on or near the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it is common to find Trumpeter Swans grazing slightly inland in agricultural fields around Sequim. Like Brant, Trumpeter Swans are generally seen on the Olympic Peninsula from about November to April. It is also possible to see Tundra Swans. Wintering Canada Geese behave similarly to wintering swans and mixed in with these flocks you might find an Emperor Goose or Snow Goose.
Harlequin Duck: We are lucky to have this amazing diving duck year-round and Port Angeles is one of the best places to see them on the Olympic Peninsula! During the summer, pairs breed on the Elwha River and can be observed there from roughly April to August. Harlequins can also be found on Ediz Hook year-round.
Scoters: Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, and Black Scoter can be viewed in greatest numbers from roughly October to April. Surf Scoter is most common, followed by White-winged Scoter, and then Black Scoter, when viewing them in the Port Angeles harbor. I have seen Black Scoter in large numbers in Neah Bay in January and February.
Long-tailed Duck: Another winter resident on the Olympic Peninsula, these beauties dive together and love to socialize when they are not underwater. They stick around from October to April and are pretty reliably seen on Ediz Hook and the Port Angeles harbor. I really look forward to seeing them each winter!
Common Merganser: I include this “common” Olympic National Park bird because they breed here and are found all year in the Port Angeles harbor and Elwha River mouth. Common Mergansers nest in large tree cavities (and other possible locations) on the Elwha River and breeding pairs can be observed on the Elwha river from about April to August.
Wintering Ducks: October to March on the Olympic Peninsula has good diversity in ducks and includes Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. Protected harbors, drainage fields, estuaries, and ephemeral ponds from winter flooding are all good locations to look for wintering ducks on the Olympic Peninsula.
Eagles: Whenever the gulls get vocal outside my house in Port Angles, I look for a Bald Eagle. Their populations seem to be doing quite well and it is common to see them near the Strait of Juan de Fuca or Pacific Ocean. Dead marine mammals are especially popular for Bald Eagles. I have only seen Golden Eagles at a distance in the Olympic Mountains, usually soaring either high above me or far below me. Eagles can be viewed at all times of the year.
Other Raptors: All the raptors discussed breed here and can be seen year-round, with the exception of the Turkey Vulture that is absent during the winter. Red-tailed hawk is pretty common over much of the Olympic Peninsula. Northern Harriers can be seen in Sequim and at Hurricane Ridge. Turkey vultures form kettles during both spring and fall migration as they cross over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Both Sharp-Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are found in higher numbers during fall migration and Sharpies are also found in higher numbers during spring migration in March and April. Northern Goshawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon are uncommon but also breed here. I was pleased to recently add Osprey to my yard list as they are generally uncommon.
Grouse: I have seen a male sooty grouse displaying on snow in the Hurricane Ridge area in early spring – so amazing! Their breeding season starts as early as March. Your best chances of viewing grouse is during the late summer when female sooty grouse can be observed with chicks at Hurricane Ridge. When the female is on nest in early summer, they are practically impossible to find. Ruffed grouse are restricted to lower elevations and easily flush when you are hiking (seemingly much moreso than Sooty). The drumming of the Ruffed Grouse is something that you can feel in your chest like the bass on a car stereo.
Black Oystercatcher: These sassy Olympic Peninsula birds are generally very vocal and easy to view. I wish I could understand what they are saying to each other! Black Oystercatchers are generally more numerous on the coast but also populate the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They can be viewed all year long and breed on the Olympic Peninsula. I once watched a Black Oystercatcher aerial mobbing a perched Bald Eagle while backpacking on the coast and this behavior continued for who knows how long as I hiked away.
Spotted Sandpiper: I loved watching this North American bird when we were wintering in Mexico – it seemed like Spotties were in just about every habitat near water. They can be found near the coast or the Strait of Juan de Fuca during migration. During the summer, they breed on Olympic National Park rivers like the Elwha at almost any elevation. Although they arrive around April, their breeding season is roughly May to July. Looks for their fluffy little chicks foraging along rivers in August.
Wintering Shorebirds: Black-bellied Plover, Black Turnstone (with a Ruddy Turnstone often mixed in), Surfbird, Sanderling, and Dunlin all winter here from roughly from August/September to April. Ediz Hook is a pretty reliable place for close views but it’s hard to compete with Dungeness for sheer numbers. It will be interesting to note if the sand spit that is forming at the mouth of the Elwha River will result in restored habitat for shorebirds.
Shorebird Migration: April, late August, and early September are good times to catch migrating shorebirds on the Olympic Peninsula. Recent life birds for me have been both Hudsonian and Bar-tailed Godwit in Sequim at Dungeness. Ediz Hook can be a good location for watching shorebirds but if you are willing to travel a bit farther, Ocean Shores is amazing.
Olympic Gull: The ubiquitous gull that nests on the rooftops of houses around me is the hybrid Glaucous-winged Gull x Western Gull that lives year-round on the Olympic Peninsula. Some birders on the Olympic Peninsula like to speculate on genetic percentages of hybrids.
Heermann’s Gull: I love this gull because it is so easy to pick out in large hordes of gulls, such as those that can be found at the mouth of the Elwha River. Heermann’s Gulls visit us here on the Olympic Peninsula in high numbers from about July to October. Interestingly enough, Heermann’s Gulls actually breed south of the Olympic Peninsula and then visit us here after breeding but typically can not be found here at all from about January to May.
Other Gulls: California Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls are found on the Olympic Peninsula year-round but in largest numbers during their breeding season in the summer. Bonaparte’s Gull is found uncommonly year-round but in larger numbers during spring migration in April and May and fall migration in August to October.
Wintering Gulls: Mew Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Thayer’s Gulls all winter on the Olympic Peninsula but arrive and leave on slightly different schedules (with the Mew Gulls sticking around for the longest time). If you want to potentially catch all of these wintering Olympic Peninsula birds: then December, January, or February are probably your best winter months. The mouth of the Elwha River is great place to see a large assortment of gulls though the changing sand spit that is forming there from the release of colossal amounts of sediment due to Elwha Dam removal, makes getting close to them a bit of an interesting challenge. River mouths on coastal beaches are great place for large mixed flocks of wintering gulls.
Terns: Caspian Tern breeds on the Olympic Peninsula from about July to September and can be found starting in about April to November. Common Tern is most numerous during migration in April and September. Arctic Tern is most numerous in May and August/September.
Marbled Murrelet: If any Olympic National Park bird is going to compete with the beloved Tufted Puffins it would have to be this indicator of old-growth – the Marbled Murrelet. I especially like them because I probably live in one of the best places to view them. Ediz Hook and the Port Angeles harbor are great locations for viewing Marbled Murrelets year-round. However, I have found that it is easier to view Marbled Murrelets in pairs during the winter when they are not busy caring for young in the tops of old-growth conifer trees in Olympic National Park. Marbled Murrelets often have to fly long distances to find their preferred nesting tree branches and you can hear them flying overhead around dawn. Ancient Murrelet do not breed on the Olympic Peninsula and can therefore only be viewed during the winter in small numbers, especially near Protection Island.
Tufted Puffin: Tufted Puffins are easily everyone’s favorite Olympic Peninsula bird and who doesn’t want to hang out all day long watching them. During the winter, Tufted Puffins move offshore so it is important that you plan your visit during breeding when you can view them in the near shore. Although a few breed on Protection Island, more breed on Tatoosh Island, therefore the platform at the end of the Cape Flattery trail is probably the easiest place to sit and try to find them from about late April to early September. The Cape Flattery trail is in Neah Bay and you want to make sure you purchase a Makah Recreation Permit ($10) in town before venturing out to the trail. You should also take some time out from birding and check out the Makah Museum while you are in Neah Bay.
Pigeon Guillemot: Unlike the other alcids that generally demand your spotting scope, the name “pigeon” is accurate because these Olympic Peninsula birds are literally everywhere all year round and stick close to land. Non-birders always ask me about Pigeon Guillemots because they are so striking with their red feet and the white spot on their wing. You don’t really need any advice on where to see them, just look in the water.
Rhinoceros Auklet: I would highly recommend taking the shoestring birder pelagic trip (at $3.15 one-way passenger fare) from Port Townsend to Coopville as many times as is takes to get you into a sea of auklets (best when not breeding from October to March). You have to get lucky with tides and currents. Rhinoceros Auklet sightings are good near Protection Island where they breed in large numbers. Ediz Hook usually gets at least a few good Rhinoceros Auklet sightings as well.
Common Murre: Common Murres also breed on the Olympic Peninsula, specifically on Tatoosh Island. So while you are looking for Tufted Puffin at the end of the Cape Flattery trail, you can also look for Common Murres. These alcids also can be found off Ediz Hook in the winter. During the summer you really need to get closer to the offshore coastal island locations where they are breeding.
Owls: While hiking in the Elwha, I am always delighted to hear a Northern Pygmy Owl. Sadly, Barred Owls are the easiest owls to hear and view on the Olympic Peninsula. Unlike in California where they have only recently invaded, Barred Owls have been inching out the Spotted Owls for the past couple of decades here on the Olympic Peninsula. Friends who work on the Spotted Owl monitoring crew tragically report that they are documenting the extinction of a species.
Band-tailed Pigeon: One has to be very careful to not make assumptions about flocks of pigeons/doves especially as you head further west on the Olympic Peninsula. I have found that it is prudent to check ground feeding flocks of pigeons near human habitation on the west-end. Although Eurasian Collared Doves are taking over areas with humans, once you get further into the wilderness you tend to only see Band-tailed Pigeons.
Rufous Hummingbird: Rufous Hummingbirds are present on the Olympic Peninsula from about April to October and populate forested sites so if you see a hummer in the forest (not around human habitation), it is probably a Rufous Hummingbird. Anna’s hummingbirds are generally tied to humans and they will stick around all winter thanks to hummingbird feeders.
Nighthawk and Swifts: Common Nighthawk and Swifts are only found on the Olympic Peninsula during breeding season and you should be able to view all of them from June to August. I love the first Common Nighthawk vocalization and sighting of the season: they tend to show up in May. They are best viewed in late afternoon and dusk and although the Elwha River is a great place to watch them, I often hear them and then see them flying overhead in Port Angeles. Although Vaux’s Swifts are much more common, there are some locations on the Olympic Peninsula where you can also find Black Swifts.
Woodpeckers: Our woodpeckers are here all year and breed here as well. The Hurricane Ridge area is an excellent location to view Northern Flicker. Old-growth forests are great locations for viewing Hairy Woodpecker. Red-breasted sapsucker can be viewed reliably in certain lowland habitats. Pileated are very shy and difficult to observe in the forests of the Olympic Penisula - I have had better luck with them in urban parks in Victoria and Seattle.
Vireos: Warbling Vireo is the most numerous breeding vireo but Cassin’s Vireo, Hutton’s Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo also breed in small numbers on the Olympic Peninsula. As with the flycatchers, it is generally easier to make your identification of these Olympic National Park birds by ear so study up beforehand.
Corvids: Hurricane Ridge is a great location for watching Common Ravens and Gray Jays. I once turned my back on a Common Raven at Hurricane Ridge and then had to watch it caching my "Chunks of Energy" in the nearby meadow. On two separate occasions, a Gray Jay has taken food out of my hand as it was headed to my mouth. Clarks' Nutcracker are found rarely. American/NW Crow and Steller's Jay are generally found at lower elevations and Western Scrub Jay will likely become a future yard bird on the Olympic Peninsula.
Flycatchers: There are excellent breeding flycatcher species visible from about May to August including Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. I love birding by bike on the section of the Discovery Trail from Port Angeles to the Elwha River in May and listening for songbirds like flycatchers since they are so easy to identify by ear. Sequim is a great place for Western Kingbird and Eastern Kingbird as well as for blowing in rarities like Tropical Kingbirds around late October or early November.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee: Chestnut-backed Chickadees breed in the coniferous forests on the Olympic Peninsula but you can also view them at feeders as well. They not only seem to be the ringleaders of winter feeding flocks but I have also seen them leading up mixed-flocks of Olympic National Park birds feeding on Pine White Butterfly (Neophasia menapia) in late summer on the Elwha River.
Horned Lark: The Hurricane Ridge area is an excellent location to view breeding Horned Lark and I have enjoyed watching them sing, perform courtship, hunt and feed nestlings and fledglings, and take dust bathes in disturbed soil next to the trail.
Pacific Wren: The Pacific Wren is an Olympic National Park bird I selected for the Experience Olympic logo because I adore them and they are residents on the Olympic Peninsula. When someone asks me about my favorite North American bird, I have to consider all species of chickadees and wrens. The Pacific Wren is just this amazing little bundle of energy that is constantly scolding you when you hike by and weirdly can be heard singing at all times of the year. Their song is so lovely and evolved to penetrate deep into the thick rainforest.
Kinglets: Flocks of Golden-crowned Kinglets are very common year-round on the Olympic Peninsula and are often high in the conifer canopies. Ruby-crowned kinglets are more common in mixed flocks, at eye-level, and don't seem as strongly tied to conifers. Vocalizations are important because of their diminutive size and habit of staying busy gleaning leaves.
American Dipper: This is a great Olympic National Park bird to view and its status as an important riparian indicator species means that it has been getting a lot of attention from researchers due to Elwha Dam Removal.
Thrushes: Varied Thrush is easiest to see while overwintering and during migration because when they are breeding, they seem to disappear deep into the Olympic forest. Their very-easy-to-identify haunting whistles start up in early spring. Swainson’s Thrush and Hermit Thrush also breed here but can usually only be found from about May to August. Hermit Thrush also overwinter in the lowlands on the Olympic Peninsula.
Swallows: Sequim is a great location to pick up all the breeding swallow species from about May to August, which includes Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Violet-Green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, and Bank Swallow.
Warblers: Olympic Peninsula warblers are easiest to observe when they are moving through during spring migration because many of these North American birds will continue moving further North. Warblers congregate in wooded areas along the northern Salish Sea in order to wait for the right conditions to cross to Vancouver Island. Even the smallest little woodlot in Port Angeles can be literally dripping with warblers under the right conditions in May.
Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, MacGillvray’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s Warbler all breed on the Olympic Peninsula and will stay until about August/September. Small numbers of warblers winter in Port Angeles include Myrtle and Audubon's Yellow-rumped, Townsend's, and Orange-Crowned. I even had a Nashville Warbler in my backyard one winter. It is also good to work on birding by ear for these good-looking songbirds but have fun figuring those in the genus Setophaga apart.
American Pipit: It is exciting to watch the aerial courtship display of the male in spring at Hurricane Ridge. Although American Pipit will overwinter here and I have seen them in lower elevations during migration, it is fun to see them in their high elevation breeding habitat from about May to August.
Grosbeak and Tanager: Black-headed Grosbeak tends to be very vocal when they are breeding on the Olympic Peninsula from about May to July. During spring migration in May, there can be huge numbers of them moving through making biking on the Olympic Discovery Trail a great birding ride. Western Tanager also breeds on the Olympic Peninsula and will congregate in woodlots along the Salish Sea during migration.
Finches: Thanks to tracts of mature climax conifers, we have excellent Olympic Peninsula finch diversity (though it could be better minus the timber industry). All of the Olympic Peninsula finches breed here and most are found all year round. However, conifers do not produce seeds with regularity each year and this creates temporal variance in finch observations.
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, Pine Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak are not found in high numbers but you can certainly find them, especially during the winter when they can be seen at low elevation. Purple Finch, Red Crossbill, and Pine Siskin are in fairly large numbers during the summer. Pine Siskins will visit feeders in the winter. Study the flight calls of Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin as they tend to travel in sizeable flocks and this might be your only shot at seeing them.
Wintering Sparrows: Winter is actually a great time to see sparrows on the Olympic Peninsula (especially because of the ease of watching them at Olympic Peninsula bird feeders). One winter, I watched all four species of Zonotrichia on the same day at a Sequim bird feeder (thank you Denny!). In addition to the four Zonotrichia species, Fox Sparrow can be found in higher numbers on the Olympic Peninsula during the winter. Additionally, Olympic Peninsula breeding species like Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and Dark-eyed Junco can be found at the bird feeders too. Savannah Sparrow also breeds on the Olympic Peninsula and can be found during the winter as well (though not at bird feeders).