My 16 Best Bird Watching Spots in Washington You Should Try

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Approximately 500 species of birds have been recorded in the state of Washington. The state has many habitats: the coast, forests, open areas, wetlands, and mountains. Knowing the best places to bird watch in Washington is always challenging, so I wrote this article on the best bird watching spots in Washington.

The best bird watching spots in Washington are along the coast at Gray’s Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and Ocean Shores. Mountainous regions like Mount Rainier are suitable for birds, as are Turnbull and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuges, because of the diversity of habitats.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 16 birding spots in Washington:

Crockett LakeSemipalmated Plover and Merlin
Skagit Wildlife AreaSnow Goose and Gyrfalcon
Ridgefield National Wildlife RefugeWhite-breasted Nuthatches and Sandhill Cranes
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife RefugeCackling Goose and Northern Harrier
Discovery ParkHarlequin Duck and Rhinoceros Auklet
Mount Rainier National ParkPine Grosbeak and Sooty Grouse
Olympic National ParkAmerican Dipper and Pacific Wren
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers
Turnbull National Wildlife RefugeTrumpeter Swan and Hooded Merganser
Gray’s Harbor National Wildlife RefugeDunlin and Western Sandpiper
Ocean ShoresWandering Tattler and Sooty Shearwater
Tokeland FlatsLong-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit
Colockum Wildlife Area Dark-eyed Junco and Northern Flicker
Wenas Wildlife AreaLewis’s Woodpeckers and Golden Eagle
Quilomene Wildlife AreaSage Thrasher and Vesper Sparrow
Little Spokane River Natural RegionHooded Merganser and Great Blue Heron
Best Places to Bird Watch in Washington

Read on to find out my top choices for good bird watching spots in Washington and the types of birds you can find in each location.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Washington
Best Bird Watching Spots in Washington

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Washington

Washington state is known for its high rainfall and forested areas. Other habitats include sagebrush, semi-arid regions, mountains, coastline, ocean, and inland wetlands. Many of the best spots form part of the Great Washington State Birding Trail, which extends from the Nisqually River delta to Cape Flattery. 

1. Crockett Lake

This lake is found on the southern side of Whidbey Island and is known by bird watchers as a prime stopover spot for migrating birds in spring and fall.

Marshy and grassy areas surround the lake, providing different habitats for bird species. The types of birds you can spot here are Pectoral and Baird’s Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, and both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs. 

Besides the many shorebirds at the lake, you can also find raptors like the Peregrine Falcon and Merlin. You can also see Marsh Wrens, Song Sparrows, and White-Crowned Sparrows in the surrounding vegetation.

2. Skagit Wildlife Area

This wildlife area is found in Mount Vernon, Washington. The Skagit Wildlife Area is excellent for wintering waterfowl, particularly for seeing Tundra Swans, Trumpeter Swans, and Snow Geese. 

The optimal time to bird watch in this area is between fall and spring when the waterfowl are most numerous. This is because many ducks, swans, geese, and teal migrate south from Canada during fall to overwintering grounds in the U.S. 

The Samish Unit of the wildlife area is where to spot Gyrfalcons, which are rare in many places. Several other raptors are also seen here, including Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Bald Eagles.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

3. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

This is part of the Puget Trough ecoregion and is known to be a good place for birds. The habitats here include marshes, flooded fields, lakes, riparian vegetation, and Oak Woodlands.

This spot is good at any time of the year because the diversity of habitats means there are always good birds here.

Birds you should watch in this refuge include White-breasted Nuthatches, Sandhill Cranes, House Wrens, Black-crowned Night Herons, Canada Geese, and Tundra Swans.

4. Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge has a variety of habitats for birds, including marshes, tidal flats, estuaries, grasslands, and woodlands. At least 180 bird species have been observed in the refuge.

The birds in this refuge include Cackling Geese and Canada Geese. You are also likely to catch sight of raptors like Northern Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, and Bald Eagles. The falcons and eagles nest in the refuge during winter.

5. Discovery Park

Discovery Park is a piece of land extending into Puget Sound. You can find birds like Barrow’s Goldeneye, Pigeon Guillemot, Harlequin Duck, and Rhinoceros Auklet. These species are all found in the ocean.

You will likely see birds like Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, Wilson’s Warblers, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees on land. In winter, look out for Varied Thrushes and Golden-crowned Sparrows.

6. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier has a bird checklist of 208 species. One of the best spots in the park for bird watching is called Paradise. This is an area on the southern side of Mount Rainier. 

The area consists of beautiful wildlife, meadows, and trees. You can find birds like the Sooty Grouse, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Band-tailed Pigeon, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay, and Pine Grosbeak.

It is worth visiting the highest part of the park, the Sunrise Area, at 6,400 feet. Here, you can find Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches and White-tailed Ptarmigans.

7. Olympic National Park

The best time to visit Olympic National Park is from May to October. The park’s western side is suitable for forest birds because this is where the Hoh Rainforest is. It would be best to look for Band-tailed Pigeon, Sooty Grouse, Pacific Wren, Steller’s Jay, and American Dipper here.

8. Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge 

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is located north of the Olympic National Park. Dungeness is a long spit of land that extends out into a region called the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which then continues into the Pacific Ocean. 

You can see shorebirds on the mudflats and Brant in the Eelgrass. You can also find Long-tailed Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Marbled Murrelet, and Pigeon Guillemot in the ocean.

9. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

This wildlife refuge is located about 20 miles southwest of Spokane. The refuge includes a large area of 18,217 acres and several habitats. These habitats include prairie, wetlands, rocky outcrops, ponderosa pine forests, and marshy areas. 

Several types of waterfowl nest here, including Trumpeter Swans, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Redheads, and Blue-winged Teals.

You should check the marshes in the refuge for Virginia Rail and Sora. These birds can be pretty secretive, but it’s worth checking the reeds to see if you can glimpse one or more birds.

You can spot Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats in the vegetation near the wetlands. Birds in the pine forests and grasses include Pygmy Nuthatches, California Quail, and Black-headed Grosbeak. You can also find both the Western and Mountain Bluebirds in the refuge.

TOP TIP: Birds spend a long time in flight. How do they recognize each other and their babies? Read our complete guides here and here to find out!

10. Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge

At least 213 species of birds have been seen in Gray’s Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is my favorite to visit during spring migration because this is when thousands of shorebirds are present. You can find species like Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins, Red Knots, and Western Sandpipers. 

11. Ocean Shores

There is a couple of good bird watching spots on the southwestern coast at Ocean Shores. The Oyhut Wildlife Recreation Area is an excellent place to see the Snowy Plover and other shorebirds because of the tidal flats here. Oyhut is a 683-acre area with wetlands that are good for birds.

The North Jetty is another spot at Ocean Shores that you must visit because this has a rocky shore, thus attracting a different group of birds from Oyhut. Birds you can see at North Jetty include the Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, and Sooty Shearwater.

12. Tokeland Flats 

This is a good place for bird watchers to see the larger shorebirds like the Marbled Godwit, Willet, and Long-billed Curlew. These shorebirds are bigger and have longer legs than the sandpipers you find on a mudflat or shoreline.

At Tokeland Flats, you can also find Brant in winter and Brown Pelicans in summer. Tokeland Flats is designated an important bird area in Washington State and is well worth visiting. 

13. Colockum Wildlife Area 

This wildlife area is located south of Wenatchee City. This is a 91,603-acre wildlife area that is comprised of rocky slopes and canyons. 

There is an extensive range in elevation at Colockum, from about 500 feet to nearly 7000 feet. This also means there are various diverse bird life habitats, such as grasslands, mixed forests, sub-alpine forests, and wetlands.

You can see birds like Dark-eyed Juncos and Northern Flickers in the forests and California Quail in the grasslands. Keep an eye out for Red-tailed Hawks that also frequent the area and can often be seen flying overhead or perched in a tree.  

14. Wenas Wildlife Area

This area has many habitats, including grasslands, pine forests, and shrub steppe. This is an important spot where migrating birds stop and rest; 212 species of birds have been recorded in the Wenas Wildlife Area. 

The Wenas Wildlife Area includes the Yakima Canyon, where Golden Eagles can be sighted. You can also find Chukar here. Watch for Turkey Vultures, American Kestrels, Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Sooty Grouse, and Red Crossbills. 

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

15. Quilomene Wildlife Area

Quilomene Wildlife Area is situated between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River. It is designated as an important bird area. The sagebrush habitat here is where you can see Sage Sparrows, Brewer’s Sparrows, and Sage Thrashers.

There is some bluebunch wheatgrass where you can find Vesper Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks. You can also scan the cliffs for Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons.

16. Little Spokane River Natural Area

This area is part of the Okanogan ecoregion and is located outside Spokane. The Little Spokane River is an important natural area for birds. The site also includes riparian vegetation, cliffs, and pine forests.

Many bird species can be seen in the Little Spokane River Natural Area, including the following: Ospreys, Hooded Mergansers, Bald Eagles, and Great Blue Herons (there is also a heron rookery in the area).

Other species to look out for include Swainson’s Thrushes, Warbling Vireos, American Redstarts, and Canyon and Rock Wrens.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Washington

There are always birds to see in Washington, regardless of the time of year you visit. However, some groups of birds are easier to see because they are more abundant in particular seasons. 

Shorebirds and Neotropical MigrantsApril to May
Ducks and GeeseDecember to late February
Best Time to Bird Watch in Washington

The Washington State Bird

American Goldfinch - Washington State Bird
American Goldfinch – Washington State Bird

The American Goldfinch is the bird designated as the Washington State Bird. It is abundant and common throughout Washington State.

This is a pretty little bird with golden yellow plumage with black and white on the wings and a black patch on the head. 

This goldfinch species is easy to recognize and often occurs in small flocks. They are mainly seed-eaters and often are attracted to thistle seed feeders.

Bird Watching Laws in Washington

All migratory indigenous birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which means you cannot catch or harm any of these birds.

Birds that are not protected include House Sparrows, Eurasian Collared Doves, non-native pigeons, and European Starlings.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Washington state has a range of different habitats supporting a diverse avifauna.

The state is scenically beautiful, and the various habitats mean you can see a variety of bird species at the top bird watching spots I have discussed. You should definitely plan a bird watching trip to Washington.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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