Birding Central Oregon

Last week, I attended a wildlife conference in Bend, accompanied by Sarah and Andie the dog.

We stayed in a hotel along the Deschutes River and drank my favorite brand of beer at the Deschutes brewpub. After the conference, we drove northwest to the smaller town of Sisters, where we spent two more nights.

We birded the area for several days and found all of the species we had hoped for and more. Our first big find was a flock of at least 70 Pinyon Jays eating ponderosa pine seeds near Sisters High School.

They made an incredible variety of sounds as they moved through the area foraging on the ground and in the branches of large trees.
The next day we found a female White-headed Woodpecker at Black Butte Lodge, also eating ponderosa pine seeds. We usually see several when we visit the area, but she was our only one of the trip.
The species we hoped most to see was the Black-backed Woodpecker, which had been reported in the Black Butte II wildfire site that had burned in July of 2009.

This species, perhaps the most fire-dependent bird in North America, forages for beetles and other insects in trees killed or weakened by fire.

It took two visits, but we succeeded in finding a pair, the first Sarah had ever seen!

The last species we hoped to see is a favorite of mine, the Lewis's Woodpecker.

Named for Meriwether Lewis, this woodpecker acts like a flycatcher in the summer when it catches flying insects on the wing. Pairs breed in either cottonwood forests or post-wildfire areas, where preexisting cavities provide nest sites for this weak excavator. In the winter, populations occupy oak habitats where they can supplement their insect diets with acorns. I can think of few Oregon birds with such complex habitat needs.

On our way home from Sisters, we stopped in the tiny town of Tygh Valley, which is surrounded Oregon white oaks, large cottonwoods, and, we hoped, Lewis's Woodpeckers. It only took us five minutes to spot one perched in a cottonwood snag near a creek west of town. This was the first Lewis's either of us had seen in many years.
We found many other species, listed below, including some that we do not see west of the Cascades where we do most of our birding. This was definitely our best birding trip of the year to date.

Central Oregon Birds:

Great Blue Heron
Tundra Swan

Mute Swan
Canada Goose

Common Goldeneye
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
American Wigeon
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser

Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Rough-legged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon

Belted kingfisher
Black-backed Woodpecker
Lewis's Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Scrub Jay
Pinyon Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Clark's Nutcracker

Steller's Jay
American Crow
Common RavenNorthern Shrike
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Townsend's Solitaire
American Robin

Horned Lark
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Dark-eyed Junco

Western Meadowlark

Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
House Sparrow


  1. Hey Max,
    I think Central Oregon is the best birding around. Why go all the way to Malheur when Woodpecker Wonderland is just over the Cascades! Mark and I toured down to Summer Lake last year and along the way saw so many Lewis's flycatching...I hadn't known they did that! I can't wait to go back!


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