Birding in the Columbia River Gorge


by Wilson Cady    (photos by sherry Hagen)

Wilson Cady, is a local birder, who lives in the Columbia River Gorge and knows it well.


Spring and summer in the Columbia Gorge provide wonderfully varied birding opportunities. From the lush forests of the western end of the Gorge to the rocky steppes to the east, each change of habitat type has its own avian inhabitants.

The riparian areas and wetlands around the Sandy River Delta, in Oregon, and the Steigerwald Lake Refuge, near Washougal, in Washington, note such species as Wood Duck, American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, and Marsh Wren.


The cottonwood trees serve as nest sites for the beautiful Northern Oriole which builds a pendulant nest of woven grasses, hair, and discarded fishing line.


The Red-eyed Vireo, a bird of limited distribution in the Northwest can be found in the deciduous forests around Mt. Pleasant and Crown Point. This small drab gray and green insect eater is best located by following its questioning calls. The almost Robin-like phrases seem to be asking “Where did you do? What did you see? Why?” over and over, earning this bird the nickname of Preacher Bird.


Other birds commonly found in the mixed Douglas fir, alder, and maple forests of the western Gorge include the Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Swainson’s Thrush, and Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers.

Birding Doug’s Beach area

Great for many species of birds of prey and even Western Bluebirds in the fall among the other drier climate species found here.

      Established December 1975

  As you enter the dry grasslands watch for birds of prey. Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Prairie Falcons, and the reintroduced Peregrine Falcon are seen along the tops of cliffs. Grassland species that you are likely to find include Say’s Phoebe, Chukar, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow and Western Meadowlark.


 Of course, many species of birds are widespread and found in a variety of habitats. The Columbia River is a habitat of its own with Canada Geese, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns found in all sections of the Gorge.

Do not trespass to look for the birds, this pond is home to the endangered Western Pond Turtle and closely monitored. You should also find Ash-throated Flycatcher here. Lesser Goldfinches are also at Locke Lake and at the "park" accessed about a mile up the Klickitat River from Lyle, cross the old Railroad bed on the gravel road and drive down to the river.


Before moving on to the dry grasslands a special mention of the town of Lyle, at the mouth of the Klickitat River, is called for. Most of the species found in the oak/pine woodlands are found about the town and in the Klickitat River Canyon. By driving the side streets and watching for hummingbird feeders, you can find Black-chinned, Anna’s, Rufous, and Calliope Hummingbirds. Occasionally, a Lesser Goldfinch can be seen among the House Finches at bird feeders.


The most reliable spot in the state of Washington to find this bird is .08 miles up the Klickitat River at a small campground along the river. Lewis’ Woodpeckers, Turkeys, California Quail, and Ash-throated Flycatchers are also regularly found along the river here.

Acorn Woodpecker is found at by exiting Highway 14 at Rowland Lake and following that road (Old Highway 8) to the second intersection with Balch Road. Balch Road is a loop road on the left that has two connections about a mile apart, you want to go to the eastern one. Go to the second power pole east of the intersection, this power pole has a yellow metal "No Trepassing" sign on it, park on the shoulder here. If you walk about twenty feet east of the pole and look south you will see a large dead fir tree with a lot of branches on it about 300 feet from the road. This is NOT the tree you want to watch, to the left of it and another 300 feet further back is a tall snag with no branches. Put your scope on this tree and you will see the hundreds of holes made by the Acorn Woodpeckers to store the nuts in, by watching this tree you should see the birds coming and going from it. Lesser Goldfinch can be found by driving up the eastern end of Balch Road to the pond on the left.  

The Bewick’s and Winter Wrens that are common denizens of the damp forest to the west are replaced by Rock and Canyon Wrens. These two birds are will named for the habitats they are found in. The Rock Wren is found among the jumbled boulders on the rocky hillsides and at the base of cliffs. Canyon Wrens prefer the cliffs themselves and are usually heard before they are seen. Their song is a cascade of loud clear descending whistles, slowing at the end.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Canyon Wren

Acorn Woodpecker

As you approach the Hood River-White Salmon area you enter a forest of firs interspersed with Ponderosa pine and Oregon white oak. Here one should look for Wild Turkey, California Quail, Lewis’ Woodpecker and Lazuli Bunting. The Ash-throated Flycatcher is easily found by listening for its loud “Prit Prit” call notes and

watching for the flash of a rufous colored tail. This is the only flycatcher in our area that nests in cavities, competing for these nest holes in the trees are the lovely Western Bluebird. The ponds at the Tom McCall Reserve at Rowena usually have several pair of bluebirds in residence. Another area where they are regularly found on the Washington side is in the vicinity of Catherine and Major Creeks above Rowland Lake.

Western Bluebird




Say’s Phoebe

Prairie Falcon